Amid the sound of air raid sirens and the threat of missiles, Sofia Yakymenko logs on to her computer to take an online lesson.
- Over 120 student teachers from Monash University have joined an international initiative to educate war-affected Ukrainian children
- The program was launched by Smart Osvita and offers online lessons to thousands of children
- University encourages Australian educators to express interest if they wish to get involved
The 12-year-old takes two to five online classes a day from her home in Kyiv on everything from atmospheric science to yoga practice.
These courses are taught by teachers from around the world, including Monash University in Melbourne.
“I walk a lot, I read a lot — but mostly I take classes online,” she said.
With ambitions to become a biologist, classes have been a lifeline for Sofia since school was halted when Russia invaded Ukraine.
His mother Yuliia Lashko is a physicist and also found solace in classes.
“There’s no guarantee a missile won’t hit your house,” she said.
“But it’s important to understand that there are a lot more good people who can share something good.
“They remind us that we are not left alone and that our children have a future.”
Monash University offers courses
More than 120 student teachers from Monash University have been involved in providing online lessons to Ukrainian children who live in the war-torn country or have fled abroad.
Maria Pakakis is one of the student teachers who led a session on Mars from the Victorian Space Science Education Centre, where they have a simulated Martian surface.
She said 30 students joined the session, where they talked about all aspects of the planet.
“It was a privilege and a pleasure – they were really keen to learn and asked really good questions,” Ms Pakakis said.
“They were amazing considering what they’re going through.”
Michael Phillips has been an associate professor of digital transformation at Monash University’s School of Education and said the program started after Ukrainian organization Smart Osvita – an e-learning NGO – approached him for hold virtual classes.
Dr. Phillips quickly said yes and within 24 hours of sending the word to his students, over 100 raised their hands to teach.
He said he had been able to equip his young teachers with the skills to teach virtually, guided by “trauma-informed practice”.
“For [people in Ukraine] being able to experience it and see that there are people out there who want to support them and help them in any way makes them feel like they’re not alone in this,” said Dr Phillips.
But he says remote learning also has an important place at home and is an essential platform for future teachers.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but the biggest school in Victoria is a fully online school with 5,500 students,” he said.
“And what we’re realizing with issues like COVID and the flu is that the place for online learning isn’t going away any time soon.”
“We will continue”
Smart Osvita’s international volunteer program coordinator, David Falconer, continues to seek ways to expand the program not only in Ukraine, but also in other conflict-affected locations.
Mr. Falconer is an educator based in northern Canada who began working with the Kyiv-based NGO shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“They invited me to coordinate the recruitment effort and invite educators for the e-learning program,” he said.
After reaching out to educators around the world, he has since involved more than 20 institutions and organizations that now teach thousands of Ukrainian students.
They even hosted lessons hosted by Canadian director Sergio Navaretta and astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Although many children live in a war zone, Mr Falconer says the internet is reliable thanks to Elon Musk’s low-altitude satellites providing high-speed connections.
“We have children taking lessons in bomb shelters – not for days, but for weeks,” he said.
But this did not come without difficulties. Dr Falconer says the team thwarted attempts by mysterious hackers trying to derail the lessons.
“They want to disrupt these sessions because this program is a success and they want us to stop,” he said.
Mr. Falconer continually seeks to develop the curriculum and provide specialized tutoring to high school students in Ukraine.
He is also currently working on developing a similar program for conflict-affected children in Burma.
But for now, Mr Falconer is calling on Australian institutions, organizations and individuals to get in touch if they want to join the effort.
“We will continue as long as it takes,” he said.
“You see those faces, you hear those voices and you don’t forget.”
If you would like to get involved, you can register with Monash University here.