14th March 2024

Engaging Displaced Ukrainians with Education Salvatore Nigro, CEO of JA Europe

Following the recent second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, millions of Ukrainian refugees continue to grapple with the challenges of displacement.

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Engaging Displaced Ukrainians with Education Salvatore Nigro, CEO of JA Europe
education and school concept little student girl studying at school

Following the recent second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, millions of Ukrainian refugees continue to grapple with the challenges of displacement.

According to the UNHCR’s Education Policy Brief titled ‘Education on Hold’, it’s highlighted that among the 5.9 million Ukrainian refugees dispersed across Europe, 30 to 50 percent are children.

Shockingly, only approximately half of these children were able to enrol in schools in host countries during the academic year of 2022-2023.

This statistic is particularly alarming, especially in light of a recent study published in the Lancet Public Health journal, which reveals that each year spent in education reduced the risk of death by 34%.

It underscores the urgency to not only review the progress we’ve made in providing education, skills-based programmes, digital literacy programmes and social opportunities for young refugees but also to scrutinise the ongoing challenges and underlying factors contributing to lower enrolment rates and reduced engagement in education.

The ‘Education on Hold’ report findings shed light on the reasons behind the low enrolment rates of refugee children in their host countries. These factors include language barriers; a lack of information on available education options; hesitancy among parents to enrol their children in host countries as they hope to return home soon to Ukraine; and uncertainty about eventual reintegration into the Ukrainian education system.  

After two years of upheaval, uncertainty, and displacement, it’s understandable that education may not be the primary concern for young Ukrainian refugees. However, the responsibility lies with us, governments, schools, and organisations, to actively engage with Ukrainian youth. Addressing these challenges is critical for the wellbeing and future prospects of these young individuals.

At JA Europe, we moved quickly to offer educational support to young people and address the disruptions in education. We partnered with UNICEF in September 2022 for the ‘UPLIFT’ project, focusing on providing work readiness programmes, digital education, and support for social cohesion in 14 European countries for displaced Ukrainian youth.

The goal is to improve their personal economic opportunities, helping them settle wherever they choose. Digital education is a key part of this.

In modern society, digital literacy skills are a critical tool. A report by the EU shows that while more than 90% of jobs in Europe require basic digital knowledge, approximately 32% of Europeans still lack these basic digital skills.

By empowering young, displaced Ukrainians with digital literacy education, we can ensure they are adequately prepared to play an active role in the economy, regardless of the disruption. With access to digital resources and training, displaced Ukrainian youth can transcend geographical barriers, empowering them to pursue educational, and later, career opportunities despite their circumstances. Also, digital literacy not only equips youth with essential skills for the modern workforce but fosters resilience and adaptability in an ever-evolving global landscape.

As part of the UPLIFT initiative, we have worked with many Ukrainian influencers and others across Europe to build a bespoke digital education platform.

Accessibility is crucial to ensuring that no child is left behind. That’s why we’ve prioritised making our content available online and creating a digital network for students.

The ‘Education on Hold’ report also found that half of displaced Ukrainians are not enrolled in local schools but study online with their teachers back home. This shows online resources are undoubtedly helpful, as they increase accessibility.

We’ve also worked closely with out-of-school organisations to support those who have found it difficult to attend local schools.

And for those displaced children who want to learn in-person, we also deliver in-person innovation camps and face-to-face programmes.

Additionally, in host countries like the Czech Republic and Romania, we have been involving Ukrainian teachers who are displaced. This has been a brilliant opportunity to create a sense of home for the Ukrainian students and an opportunity for teachers to continue their skills development and training.

Social cohesion also plays a substantial role in understanding the challenges refugees face upon reaching host countries. Stripped away from familiar environments and friends, the social and mental impact on refugees is profound.

Ensuring that refugees feel comfortable and supported in their host countries is crucial to preventing the lasting effects of social exclusion. This requires investment in both policy and practice, along with ongoing support for programs like the ones that JA delivers.

As part of UPLIFT, we actively involve local youths in our in-person programs and strive to provide bilingual workshops. This is important as the ‘Education on Hold’ report highlights that language barriers are a key reason behind low enrolment rates. It also goes a long way to fostering integration and social cohesion among peers.

The youth of today will be the next generation of leaders, making positive contributions to our European economy. This potential should not be any different for Ukrainian youth; however, they require opportunities and the appropriate support to capitalise on them.

Our focus should be on addressing key factors influencing Ukrainian youth’s engagement in education, including social cohesion and accessibility. By continuing to deliver entrepreneurship and real-life skills-based programmes that are available both online and in-person, we not only work towards securing their future but also contribute to their overall development.

Categories: Articles, European Business News

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