Thousands of ORT students are returning to their classrooms across Ukraine this month, despite the continuing attacks on the country.
Many will be enjoying lessons in person for the first time since the start of the war more than 18 months ago. Others are continuing to take part remotely, using online learning platforms.
All ORT schools in the country have opened the academic year with face-to-face classes running alongside hybrid options, except in Odesa and Zaporizhzhia, which remain too close to the front line and face a wider range of security issues.
Shoshana Kandel, Head of World ORT’s International Coordination Unit, said: “The impact of the war is still heavily felt at all our schools. A significant number of people have fled their home cities and are currently categorized as ‘internally displaced’ – effectively as refugees within their own country. Others who left Ukraine soon after February 2022 remain abroad but are also restarting classes online.”
Ukraine’s children have faced significant learning loss due to repeated setbacks since 2020. They are now entering their fourth consecutive disrupted academic year. A recent UNICEF report revealed that 57% of Ukrainian teachers have seen a deterioration in their students’ Ukrainian language abilities. Up to 45% have lost skills in math and more than half have deteriorated in foreign languages.
ORT schools appear to be faring better thanks to the direct support provided, teacher training and the efforts taken to protect students during their time on-site at school. Parents have reported these as being among the reasons they have registered their children to learn at reopening ORT schools.
The huge influx of people to Kyiv means that at the city’s ORT Educational Complex #141, a new class has opened in the 6th grade entirely to accommodate children who have moved to the city.
The school basement is undergoing major refurbishment works, similar to in many older buildings in Kyiv, to make it suitable for use as a shelter. The plans will allow the school to bring back all children whose families want them to engage in face-to-face learning. The complex works are expected to be finished in the coming weeks.
To further ensure safety and maintain a sensible balance of students in the school at any time, the high school is encouraging more distance-learning days for teenagers. The total number of students resuming in-person classes is now more than 1,000 – almost double the number from the last academic year.
At the Jewish State Educational Complex ‘ORT-Simha’, also in Kyiv, the balance is different, with the majority of the school’s 350-plus students remaining abroad and learning online.
At our schools in Chernivtsi and Bila Tserkva, the majority of families and children have returned home and are back to in-person schooling.
Unfortunately the circumstances in Odesa and Zaporizhzhia remain more critical. The government is overseeing the renovation of a basement at the Odesa ORT Zhabotinski School #94 with the intention of completing the work by October 1.
Ms Kandel added: “We are hopeful that the school will return to in-person classes by mid-October, pending the successful completion of these renovations. Our main need will be to restock the shelter and purchase necessities such as furniture, mattresses, blankets, warm clothes, and food supplies.”
An alternative building is being sought for the ORT ‘Aleph’ Jewish Gymnasium in Zaporizhzhia. Constant air strikes on the city are making it hugely challenging to find premises with suitable shelters for students and staff and are also disrupting online learning. Around 425 ORT students in the city are registered for the new school year.
In total, ORT Ukraine expects to educate around 3,800 students this year – although the number is ever- changing due to the circumstances. Around 400 ORT teachers will be guiding our students, with all but a handful working in Ukraine.
“Maintaining Jewish education is a major concern for us,” said Ms Kandel. “This is due to the ongoing shortage of Jewish studies teachers from Israel and the lack of local teachers specializing in Jewish studies.
“Ukrainians are already looking ahead to the winter with concern. It is likely that in Odesa the resumption of in-person classes will require new equipment and electrical repair work – a more powerful generator may be necessary. Greater use of these facilities will likely lead to additional challenges and the need for more repairs and funding.”