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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

Oct 6, 2023

The need for continuous learning in crisis-affected children

In times of war and conflict, no matter who emerges as the victor, children always end up as collateral damage. 

The displacement, disrupted education, witnessing death and destruction—these are all too much for a very young mind. The absence of a safe space is highly distressing for children. Without the necessary immediate intervention, the damage could be irreparable, the consequences could be lifelong.

In Ukraine, nearly two thirds of children have been forced to flee their homes because of the war that has been ongoing for almost 20 months now. These children, especially those who have fled alone, are at a higher risk of being subjected to abuse, abduction, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.

The continued disruption in children’s education is also a great cause for concern. According to UNICEF, only one third of school children in Ukraine are fully learning in-person. Three quarters of preschool age children in frontline areas are not attending early education. 

Meanwhile, more than half of children from preschool to secondary school age are not enrolled in national education systems in countries hosting refugees.

We also have to take into consideration that the war in Ukraine happened at the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic, which means Ukrainian students are already facing four years of disrupted learning. This has caused a deterioration in children’s results in core subjects.

Latest available data showed that up to 57 percent of teachers report a decline in students’ Ukrainian language abilities, up to 45 percent report a reduction in mathematics skills, and up to 52 percent report a deterioration in foreign language abilities.

The necessary interventions must happen now.

The UNICEF is continuously working with governments and partners on the ground in Ukraine and countries hosting refugee children and families to help increase access to quality learning.

Actor Orlando Bloom, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2009, reported at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last September that UNICEF is rebuilding 80 schools and kindergartens in Ukraine that will provide 28,000 children access to full time learning.

Meanwhile, since schools in areas where there are still active fighting cannot reopen yet, there is an urgent need to improve and expand access to digital learning opportunities.

In line with this, Bloom announced his personal commitment to raise $20 million for UNICEF Ukraine to provide 50,000 laptops for Ukrainian schoolchildren.

We must understand, however, that this situation is not limited to Ukraine. Around the world, 222 million children in crisis-affected areas are in need of education support, based on a 2022 report of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) — the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. Of this number, 78.2 million are totally out of school. These are children in areas struggling with the devastating impacts of armed conflicts, Covid-19, and the climate crisis.

We cannot sit idly by because this is about our future. Children in conflicts and emergencies must get back to learning as soon as possible, even initially through digital channels, but eventually through physical interaction.

Being inside a classroom with their peers provides children a sense of normalcy, a feeling of safety, and a chance not only to learn but also to build friendships, to dream of a better tomorrow.

No child deserves to be caught in a war, or be a collateral damage. Through our urgent collective efforts, we can still turn their nightmares into viable dreams.

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