TVET in Ukraine

Education under fire: Vocational training and education in Ukraine during times of war−The example of Sumy region

Since February 24, people in Ukraine have been living and working under the conditions of a full-scale war by the Russian Federation. One of the focus regions of ILO’s work on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) was the Sumy region in northeast Ukraine. As the invasion started TVET had to be completely suspended for two weeks and educators needed to rearrange the educational processes. Today, as Russia’s troops have completely left Sumy*, TVET teachers are rushing to catch-up with their classes and students. We talked to Natalia Samoilenko, director of the Methodological Center for TVET in Sumy region, about the war losses of vocational education and training, current educational processes, and prospects for vocational education during the war.

News | 17 May 2022

© Shuvayev

According to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, since the beginning of the war, 1,635 institutions have been damaged (among them 93 TVET schools) and 126 educational institutions (incl. 7 TVET schools) have been destroyed completely (as of May 10, 2022) in the country. Due to damaged infrastructure and the ongoing threats of attacks, for the time being, TVET is delivered completely via remote training in 18 out of 25 of the regions while in the 7 remaining regions it is organised in a blended format.

What is happening now with TVET schools and the Methodological Center in Sumy region?

Today, the system of vocational education and training operates at full capacity, but in a remote format, including all of the 26 educational institutions in our region. During the active hostilities, 5 TVET schools sustained significant damages from bombing and shelling with windows and doors shattered, but fortunately no buildings were destroyed. As of now, our efforts are focused on restoration and continuation of education. Our number one priority is to keep TVET going.

Did many students and teachers flee the region?

We are keeping in touch with each and every student. In Sumy region 7,781 young people study in vocational schools, and most of them stayed within the region. About 6% have relocated, but they continue to follow our classes online. Some students live in remote villages. Due to the damaged communication infrastructure, they have difficulties joining the online classes. We therefore apply an individualized approach to each of our students, for instance by sending paper assignments via postal mail and conducting telephone consultations with students that we cannot reach through e-Learning. None of our TVET teachers left the region, all continue to provide training remotely.

The Methodological Center for TVET is a regional support hub, which provides assistance, training and guidance for TVET educators. What was your immediate response to the war?

It came as a thunderbolt, leaving everyone shocked and horrified. On February 24, Russian troops had already invaded Sumy region. We kept in touch with the TVET teachers and school administrators by messaging services. There was no panic among them, despite the imminent physical threat and the confusion the war cause. Everyone offered mutual support to one another.

Our primary task was to provide assistance to educators. While we gave the students a two-week vacation period, we arranged for the teachers a series of online counseling sessions with local psychologists. They practiced self-help techniques and learned about ways to support students and ease the stress they are experiencing. We also placed all necessary information and recommendations on wartime education on our updated website, and our teachers and trainers can access it any time.

How do you support teachers in delivering e-Learning?

We have integrated our experiences with e-Learning that we acquired during the COVID-19 pandemic into the current provision of TVET during the war. Our existing expertise made it much easier for us to adapt to the new situation, as we gained knowledge on creating e-content during our participation in the project "E-TVET in Ukraine: Training continuity and modernization during COVID-19 and beyond", which was implemented by the ILO in 2020 and 2021.

For instance, we continue to create electronic lessons for the curriculum of the occupation "Electrician for repair and maintenance of electrical equipment". Our Methodological Center also keeps receiving requests to facilitate teacher training, following the training course "E-Pedagogy for TVET teachers and Trainers" (developed by the above-mentioned ILO project).

Our fundamental principle is “I study myself and teach others". Therefore, we resumed our professional development courses for teachers, such as the IT Competencies School, the Methodological School and the School of Young Teachers. The war could not stop the teachers’ drive for self-development and they kept on sending assignments and following-up with their students during the first months of the war.

What wartime-related difficulties does TVET education face?

We strive to close the learning gaps due to the suspension of practical training, we well as to ensure continuity of TVET. There are many difficulties we need to tackle, such as organizing work-based learning, because companies and factories have either reduced their production or have not yet resumed their operations. Vocational education is focused on practice, the qualification of a skilled professional depends on practical skills. We are in the process of finding solutions.

Do you have strategies in case of different war scenarios? Long-term or short-term?

We all believe the war will not drag on for a long time. There are no long-term plans, but we are adaptable and flexible. We have already started an enrollment campaign with a regional chatbot launched to assist applicants finding all necessary information for application. 

Virtual tours will be conducted, and young people will be able to submit their application documentation remotely, to avoid the risks involved in appearing in schools physically. The safety of our students is our utmost priority.

What will happen to vocational education in your opinion?

Looking at the situation in the region, I can state that there is already a great demand for TVET skills, in particular in occupations related to the construction industry, such as painters, carpenters, millers, turners. 

At the same time, we review and adapt educational programs, particularly short ones. When the war is over, there will be a great need for rapid quality training. Among them are electric gas welders, occupations for road construction, electricians, cooks, confectioners. We are working to ensure that these occupations can be mastered both online and offline.

There will be a need for specialised professionals in the manufacturing sector. Factories have currently switched their production to meet the wartime needs, but ultimately, they will look for specialists to produce industrial products and goods once the war is over.

Vocational and technical education, in particular in the Sumy region, demonstrated a high level of resilience. This is a region where active hostilities have taken place since the first days of Russia’s invasion. However, we believe we need to see this war not only in terms of the devastation it causes, but also an impetus for bringing about new developments. The potential of TVET is huge, and our responsibility is beyond doubt, as Ukraine will need specialists to rebuild destroyed cities and infrastructure.

The country of Ukraine counts 695 vocational education institutions, with around 300,000 students; 15,500 preschool institutions; 14,000 primary and secondary schools and 336 higher education institutions.

*At the time of publication. The situation has been constantly changing.