Around the Globe

Ukraine: Teaching against the odds

Teachers from Ukraine are doing whatever it takes to keep students learning during war. Whether they have fled or remained, they are finding new ways to educate their students. They are going above and beyond – often without a salary – to keep learning alive. According to the Ukraine government, by mid-March, 379 schools had been damaged and 59 destroyed during the Russian invasion.

Teachers who have fled Ukraine say that war-time distance learning helps students feel a sense of connection, purpose, and routine. Fleeing Ukraine only weeks ago, teacher Nadia Pavlenko has set up online learning with her students from Poland. Her students are now refugees.

“These classes with my children are like a bridge to my past life in Ukraine,” Pavelenko told CNN. She continues to teach her students despite no longer receiving a salary.

From Moldova, teacher Alexander Parcalab connects with his class on Zoom. Half have fled Ukraine while half remain. In the afternoons he teaches at a makeshift school set up for Ukrainian children in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

In neighbouring Poland, head of the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) Sławomir Broniarz said “we are heading for an education tsunami”, warning that up to 50,000 new teachers could be needed to cope with the influx of children who have fled Ukraine. More than 85,000 new Ukrainian students have registered at Polish schools and this could rise to hundreds of thousands in the coming weeks.

In Ireland, Ukrainian teachers will be fast-tracked through registration to ensure schools are ready to meet the needs of Ukrainian children and families. The UK is looking to follow Ireland’s lead, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi saying his team is looking for ways to recognise the qualifications of Ukrainian teachers so they can commence work as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, teachers in Russia have been ordered to teach students that the invasion of Ukraine is a ‘special peacekeeping mission’ and that NATO poses a danger to the Kremlin. Speaking out against the war in Ukraine is costing teachers and other workers in Russia their jobs.

Kamran Manafly, a geography teacher in Moscow, was fired after posting on Instagram that he did not “want to be a mirror for state propaganda”. Upon his return to school the following day to collect his things, he was barred from entering. The BBC reports seeing a video of children coming out to the school gate to say goodbye while applauding him. Amid concerns for his safety, he has fled the country.

Global solidarity for Ukraine has been building, with unions and unionists from around the world condemning the war. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held a Global Day of Action and was joined by unions from around the world. Outside the Ukraine Consulate in Sydney, IEUA NSW/ACT Acting Deputy Secretary Pam Smith said “the IEU stands in solidarity with workers and their unions in Ukraine and with the families, communities and refugees in the face of a devastating attack on their nation. As an education union, we are particularly alarmed about the impact on children, schools and early learning centres, and also the impact on teachers and education staff”.

Hope turns to despair for Afghanistan’s girls

For girls across Afghanistan, Wednesday 23 March was set to be a day of hope and excitement. It was the day the Taliban regime had promised to re-open secondary schools to girls. Yet hope turned to despair as girls returned to campus only to be ordered to go home. The Ministry of Education released a video congratulating all students on their return to class the night before girls were set to return. Yet a last-minute change in policy was announced on Wednesday morning stating that secondary schools would remain closed for girls until new plans were drawn up in compliance with “principles of Islamic law and Afghan culture”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the decision was “profoundly disappointing and damaging for Afghanistan.” He went on to urge the Taliban regime to “open schools for all students without any further delay”.

Education International reports that since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, the ban on girls’ education has resulted in 200 million days of lost learning. The Taliban regime’s policy reversal means there is no end in sight.

“The policy reversal is deeply disturbing and is a direct violation of girls’ right to education," said David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International. "It impacts the lives of millions of girls and deprives an entire country of the immense contribution these students can make towards a better future. Educators in Afghanistan and around the world will not stand for it. The international community will not stand for it.”

In a tweet by Human Rights Watch, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafai said: “The Afghanistan that the Taliban are envisioning is the one where girls do not receive their education. That is an Afghanistan where we do not have educated women”.

Katie Camarena