Amid the sound of air-raid sirens and the threat of missiles, Sofiia Yakymenko logs onto her computer for an online lesson.
- More than 120 Monash University student teachers have joined an international initiative to educate Ukrainian children affected by war
- The program was initiated by Smart Osvita and provides online classes to thousands of children
- The university is encouraging Australian educators to register interest if they want to be involved
The 12-year-old takes two to five online classes a day from her home in kyiv about anything from atmospheric science to how to practice yoga.
These classes are held by teachers from all over the world, including from Monash University in Melbourne.
“I walk a lot, I read a lot – but mostly I take online classes,” she said.
With ambitions to be a biologist, the lessons have been a lifeline for Sofia since school stopped when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Her mum Yuliia Lashko is a physicist and has found comfort in the classes too.
“There’s no guarantee any missile does not hit your house,” she said.
“But it’s important to understand there are much more good people who can share something good.
“They remind us we do not stay alone and our children have a future.”
Monash University provides lessons
More than 120 Monash University student teachers have been involved in providing online lessons for Ukrainian children who are living in the war-torn country or have fled abroad.
Maria Pakakis is one of the student teachers who ran a session about Mars from the Victorian Space Science Education Centre, where they have a simulated Mars surface.
She said 30 students joined the session, where they spoke about all aspects of the planet.
“It was a privilege and a pleasure — they were definitely eager to learn and asked some really great questions,” Ms Pakakis said.
“They were amazing considering what they’re going through.”
Michael Phillips has been Monash University’s faculty of education digital transformation associate professor and said the program started after Ukrainian organization Smart Osvita — an online learning NGO — approached him to run virtual classes.
Dr Phillips quickly said yes and within 24 hours of sending the word out to his students more than 100 put their hands up to teach.
He said he has 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 that and see there are people who are wanting to support and help in any way gives them a sense they are not alone in this,” Dr Phillips said.
But he says remote learning also has a significant place at home and is an essential platform for teachers of the future.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but Victoria’s biggest school is a fully online school with 5,500 students,” he said.
“And what we’re realizing with issues like COVID and the flu is the place of online learning isn’t going to go away any time soon.”
‘We’re going to keep going’
Smart Osvita international volunteer program coordinator David Falconer is continuing to search for ways the program can be not only expanded in Ukraine, but in other places affected by conflict.
Mr Falconer is an educator based in northern Canada who started working with the kyiv-based NGO soon after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“They invited me to coordinate the recruiting effort and to invite educators for the online learning program,” he said.
After approaching educators around the globe, he has since involved more than 20 institutions and organizations that are now teaching thousands of Ukrainian students.
They have even facilitated lessons hosted by Canadian film director Sergio Navaretta and astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Despite many children living in a war zone, Mr Falconer says the internet has been reliable thanks to Elon Musk’s low-lying satellites providing high-speed connections.
“We have kids joining lessons from bomb shelters – not for days, but weeks,” he said.
But it has not come without its challenges. Dr Falconer says the team has thwarted attempts by mysterious hackers attempting to derail the lessons.
“They’re wanting to disrupt these sessions because this program is successful and they want us to stop,” he said.
Mr Falconer is continually looking to grow the program and provide specialized tutoring for high school students in Ukraine.
He is also currently working to develop a similar program for children affected by the conflict in Burma.
But for now, Mr Falconer is calling for Australian institutions, organizations and individuals to get in touch if they want to join the effort.
“We’re going to keep going as long as it takes,” he said.
“You see those faces, you hear those voices, and you don’t forget.”
If you are interested in getting involved, you can register with Monash University here.