Education unions from Ukraine and other European countries, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, local authorities in neighbouring countries, and international organisations came together in Warsaw on May 3 and 4, to step up collaboration to ensure that education continues for all Ukrainian refugee students. Since the beginning of the war on February 24th, nearly 6 million people have fled the country, with UNICEF estimating that half of the refugees are children.
“The solidarity shown to those fleeing the war in Ukraine has been absolutely outstanding. We must do everything in our power to sustain it for as long as it takes. Education unions are working tirelessly with all stakeholders to ensure that every student displaced by the war in Ukraine has access to quality education while abroad, that every refugee teacher receives the support they need to navigate this crisis,” explained David Edwards, Education International General Secretary.
Organised by Education International in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and hosted by Zwiazek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego (ZNP), EI member organisation in Poland, the event brought together a wide range of stakeholders in Ukraine and countries receiving Ukrainian refugees for an initial policy dialogue on the best ways to meet the educational needs of Ukrainian students.
The meeting was opened by David Edwards (Education International General Secretary), Andreas Schleicher (Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills and Special Advisor to the Secretary-General of the OECD), and Larry Flanagan (President of EI’s European Region – the European Trade Union Committee for Education).
Mapping challenges and needs
The first part of the event featured speakers from Ukraine and neighbouring countries now hosting large numbers of Ukrainian refugees.
In an online intervention, Andriy Vitrenko, First Deputy Minister for Education and Science of Ukraine, provided participants with an update on the situation of education in Ukraine, stressing that over 100 educational institutions, 10 to 15% of all education institutions in the country, had been destroyed, with many others severely damaged.
The First Deputy Minister also spoke of the online resources the Ukrainian government is making available in order to support the education of refugee students, including online classes and school books in Ukrainian. Olha Chabaniuk, Vice President of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine, EI member organisation in the country, spoke of the impact of the war on education and the teaching profession. The union leader stressed that because many Ukrainian teachers are women, a significant part of the profession has now fled the war to neighbouring countries.
Information on the needs of Ukrainian refugee students and the challenges facing host communities was also provided by education unions in countries bordering Ukraine which have received millions of refugees since February 24th. Participants heard from representatives of EI member organisations ZNP and KSN NSZZ “Solidarnosc” (Poland), OZPSAV (Slovakia), PSZ-SEH and PDSZ (Hungary), and "Alma Mater" NTUF (Romania).
From hosting refugees in union buildings, to organising donations and volunteering at border crossings and reception centres, education unions and their members have shown great solidarity with those fleeing the war.
Local authorities also took the floor to present the situation in their jurisdictions and the measures put in place to support refugee access to education. Joining from Poland, Wojciech Bakun, Mayor of Przemyśl, and Andrzej Suchenek from the Department of Education of the City of Warsaw, spoke about support offered to Ukrainian refugees in their cities and the needs that must be met as a matter of urgency. Katarína Kremser, from ZMOS, an Association of municipalities in Slovakia, provided insights on the situation of refugees in Slovakia, highlighting areas that need immediate attention. All speakers stressed the need to increase financing for the schools now welcoming thousands of new students who require dedicated support.
Learning from previous refugee crises
Participants also heard from education unions, local authorities, and international organisations sharing best practices from previous refugee crises in Europe and beyond.
GEW, EI member organisation in Germany, and Silvana Safouane from the Ministry of General and Vocational Education in Hamburg shared the lessons of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, noting that the measures put in place since 2015 in order to include refugee students have helped accelerate the response to the current crisis.
The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), EI’s European region, presented the outcomes of their project “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education” which looked at educational responses to the 2015 refugee crisis in Spain, Serbia, and Belgium.
Further information and learnings on supporting refugee students and teachers were shared by international organisations present in the event: the OECD, UNHCR, UNESCO-IIEP, and SIRIUS – Policy Network on Migrant Education.
Moving forward to ensure access to quality education for all refugee students
Participants discussed possible solutions to the current challenges and reaffirmed their commitment to all refugee students and teachers. Education International member organisations will continue to coordinate and work across borders to ensure all refugee students have access to quality education and all refugee teachers are supported throughout this crisis.