The escalation of tensions in Ukraine has been capturing the headlines in recent days. One of the lesser discussed dimensions is the strain internal displacement has put on education. After our 2019 report on migration and displacement, we revisited the issue in our new regional report for Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Estimates of the number of those affected and their education situation are difficult to make. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there are 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region. However, social and political factors means that these estimates are often contested. In Ukraine, for instance, where IDP registration is necessary to be eligible for access to social benefits, the IDMC estimate of 730,000 IDPs reflects those living in government-controlled areas, while the government estimate of 1.5 million includes those living in areas that it does not control
UNICEF reported that 280 education institutions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions had been damaged by October 2015. In the cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kiev and Zaporizhzhia, which host the most IDPs, education institutions faced challenges such as shortage of classroom space and lack of resources to provide food and transport. While grassroots volunteer organizations, civil society and host communities responded to IDPs’ immediate needs, poverty reduced the likelihood of youth attending upper secondary and tertiary education. According to the IOM, IDP households earned 30% below the subsistence level set by the Ministry of Social Policy.
The government has responded in multiple ways, including creating additional preschool and secondary places, moving 18 state universities from the east of the country and Crimea, and simplifying IDP admission and transfer procedures. Under legislation passed in May 2015, the government also partly or fully covered tuition for registered IDPs below age 23 and provided other incentives, such as long-term education loans and free textbooks and internet access. A 2016 Cabinet of Ministers circular approved a unified IDP information database under the Ministry of Social Policy to shed light on displaced populations’ needs.
The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan focuses on actions in areas within five kilometres of the area the government does not control and throughout the area it does. Provision of equipment to damaged schools, social and emotional learning, and teacher training on stress management are among the activities envisaged. The plan also involves efforts to recognize the certification of all students whose education was interrupted.
However, there are also other issues that the response plan does not address. For instance, Crimean Tatar IDPs have been widely dispersed throughout Ukraine. Official procedure dating from 2002 states that there should be at least eight children learning a national minority language for a school to organize classes. This limits Tatar children’s opportunity to be taught in their language.
Conflict has heavily affected education infrastructure
In Georgia, where the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that the Russian Federation committed serious human rights violations during the 2008 war, the IDMC estimate of 300,000 IDPs is difficult to verify. Some returnees may still be counted as IDPs because IDP status, as in Ukraine, entitles people to some benefits.
In the case of those displaced from Abkhazia, the government established separate IDP schools in segregated neighbourhoods and even a separate education administration in the mid-1990s. This approach was criticized for deepening that population’s exclusion and offering lower-quality education. A 2007 strategy aimed to gradually close these schools and shift their students to mainstream schools, but data on IDP enrolment rates have been hard to obtain.
Learning achievement surveys and household surveys, such as the 2013 Integrated Household Survey and the 2018 MICS, have been the primary sources of data on IDPs. According to the latter, IDPs represent just below 5% of the population. While children and adolescents have the same primary and lower secondary completion rates as their non-displaced peers, 74% of IDPs complete upper secondary education, compared with 81% of non-IDPs.
As with all inequalities and exclusion, COVID-19 has added an extra layer of complications to this situation. And as with all crises, education should be on the priority list for recovery.