“People are just doing their work. They see that they can be helpful for their community in this way,” an adult education representative in Ukraine says.
Adult education providers in war-torn Ukraine have had to get used to their lives changing overnight since Russian troops began an invasion in February. But for teachers and tutors the ethos remains the same – developing skills and supporting communities.
Whether it is assembling first aid kits, sewing clothes for troops or psychological support, adult educators in the eastern European nation have stepped up to do what they can to help those repelling the invasion.
A special recognition award was given by Learning and Work Institute to the Ukrainian Adult Education Association at the Festival of Learning awards this week.
Oleg Smirnov, a representative of the association – the body that represents and supports providers of adult education and helps develop policy around lifelong learning – told FE Week: “The first weeks were rather nervous. Still there were members at local level who continued their activities, and we had examples of people in Nikopol in south Ukraine, just a few kilometres from the nuclear station captured during the first phase of the war.
“The adult education centre there had sewing machines and they enrolled 40 to 45 women just for short courses for a few days and started to sew clothes for the army, for local defence groups, some kits for medicine, first aid kits. They started to sew what defence groups needed.
“Some other adult educators we know tried to provide psychological support. There were some individual sessions and some special sessions using art therapy. They worked online with those people who stayed in occupied territories or those who were moving to western regions.
“It was very helpful for people because of all the missile attacks and artillery in the eastern regions. Even in the western regions when you have these attacks from Russia, it is unpredictable which people will be around you and what can happen. They were very popular during the first weeks, and they are still popular.”
Some have stayed in occupied territories, others have moved to the western side of the country. Smirnov says some adult education establishments in the western city of Lviv have seen learner numbers double or triple in size as a result of the displacement of people. In some cases, educators have moved to neighbouring countries such as Poland or the Czech Republic.
But despite the dispersal of teaching staff, online teaching developed during the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed them to continue providing support remotely. Some courses can be kept online, while other support mechanisms for those who have fled the conflict, such as explaining how to transfer money and how to engage with local authorities, have continued.
“There were several organisations in occupied territories, they couldn’t leave those territories during the first days,” Smirnov said.
“One of our colleagues was captured and they spent around 40 days captured by Russian troops, and then she was liberated. A lot of teachers and educators left the country but they now work online, or at least they work for Ukrainians abroad. We have several colleagues who moved to Germany or Poland and they are now very active in those cities co-operating with local authorities, local communities, to adapt and to help other Ukrainians staying in those regions.”
Despite the ongoing conflict, Smirnov and his team continue to plan for the future and life beyond war.
He said: “We are sure that in general for the country it will be possible to liberate those territories which are occupied. There will be possibility for people to return to their places, and I am sure that adult education will have much more attention from local authorities. There will be more understanding of what it means, what non-formal adult education can do for the development, especially in local communities.
“There is one idea also that our partners on the local level could be organisations which will initiate some discussions with other stakeholders on what are the educational needs for the next several months, what are the educational needs for the period after the war, for the rebuilding of ruined cities, what kind of professions will be needed and what kind of specialists should be attracted.”