Ukrainian teachers keep schools running amid increased workload, fewer resources
As Russia’s war in Ukraine forced a cut in public funds, Ukrainian schools are forced to keep operating with fewer resources, while teachers face an increased workload to ensure lessons reach all children.
“My job has become more difficult, physically and psychologically, as well as more dangerous,” said Vasyl, a 40-year-old teacher of astronomy and physics in Kyiv.
Vasyl is now teaching around 180 students both in-person and online. Many other teachers conduct classes online alongside face-to-face ones as school buildings were ruined in the war.
Russian troops destroyed 180 schools and over 1,300 educational institutions, Ukrainian education minister Oksen Lisovyi said in July. While the number of children attending class in person has risen from 1.3 to 2.3 million since the last school year, an estimated 1.7 million are not returning to school full-time this year, according to a Save the Children report.
The toll of combining remote and in-person learning is significant.
“It is physically demanding for both teachers and students,” Marharyta, a 20-year-old English teacher in Kyiv, said. “Teachers have to do twice as much work.”
Fewer resources for schools
At the same time, schools and teachers are also confronted with strained public resources.
State funding to public schools, which comes in the form of educational subsidies, has sharply fallen as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine since February 2022. Funds are instead steered toward defence expenditure, a Ukrainian government report shows.
As a result, local governments – which already subsidised public schools – have to cover more of the expenses previously covered by the state, including teachers’ salaries.
“Local governments are forced to divert their own resources to pay teachers’ salaries without funding the implementation of their own powers, life support systems, etc.,” said Oleksandr Slobozhan, executive director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities.
Territories that were formerly occupied by Russian troops did not receive educational funds from the state during the last round of subsidy payments, Slobozhan said.
“The territories that Ukraine has de-occupied are currently suffering the most,” he said, adding that these communities have no resources to pay for teachers’ salaries.
Slobozhan pointed to the Chkalovske community in the Kharkiv region, which was occupied by Russian troops from February to September 2022. Since December 2022, the community has applied for redistribution of funds they missed while occupied.
“Unfortunately, the issue is still unresolved,” Slobozhan said.
The state can provide separate subsidies, or microgrants, but this requires municipalities to foot part of the bill. Local governments that are unable to co-finance with the state don’t qualify for this type of support.
Adjusting to war times
Still, most schools across the country continue operating despite the cut in funds.
While teachers’ salaries have not been adjusted to inflation, six of the seven teachers who spoke to Euractiv earn the same salary as before the war. Some schools lowered teachers’ salaries, and many struggled to cover other needs.
Marharyta, for instance, said her school made reforms to its budget, including not paying for a substitute if a teacher is on sick leave.
One Ukrainian woman, Inna, told Euractiv that the technical school in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia where her son goes managed to repair computers and purchase licensed software for students, but still lacks funding for things like lab equipment, textbooks and a generator powerful enough to last the winter.
When the school couldn’t afford classroom renovations, a teacher invested her own money to get the classroom in order, Inna said.
“The classes are large, but the building is quite old. There is no bomb shelter, so during an air raid, the children simply go down to the basement,” she told Euractiv.
“But no one complains, children go and study offline,” she said.