“When you wake up at 4:30 in the morning to the call: ‘Ira, run away, the bombs are flying’, a state of shock sets in,” says Iryna Veklenko, a computer science teacher and deputy director at Lubenska Secondary School Number 3 of I-III Grades #3 in Poltava, providing her account of the February 24 Russian invasion.
The teacher recalls that no warning systems were operational in the city before the outbreak of war. Nobody knew anything. “Then they told me not to go to work,” says Iryna. “The first day was the same for many of us: ATMs, shops and the gasoline station.”
The first two weeks of war at school were vacations. Then the school resumed online classes. Schoolchildren are already used to this format – COVID-19 has already made us all adapt to it; but new realities pose new challenges.
Children connected to online lessons both from home and from shelters. Lessons were often interrupted by an alarm. “When there was no alarm, but the planes could be heard, the children would say, ‘Oh, the plane is flying!’ “This is probably ours, because there is no alarm,” says Iryna.
New Realities, New Needs
Even now, our memories of the first days of the war are blurred. At that time, there was generally no clear understanding of what to do; even more so in terms of how to teach children.
However, the first shock passed, and it became obvious: in addition to continuing the educational process in the usual format, it is also important to prepare children for life in new conditions, because the war forced reevaluation.
One is to know what to do in emergency situations. Whereas, earlier it was treated purely as theory, this knowledge gained considerable practical importance as anything can happen during war.
Online courses as a learning tool have also been rethought. Previously, they were considered as additional material. Now, it is almost the only source of topical information such as, for example, landmines. Creating an online course is faster than releasing an updated curriculum.
Fortunately, it is not a problem to identify an online course on any topic. The civil sector has already prepared a considerable number of high-quality educational materials. One of the sources of information is the Zrozumilo! Online Educational Platform created by the East Europe Foundation.
About Complicated but Interesting Topics
Iryna emphasizes the main goal is to prepare children for emergency situations; but, not scare them. It is important to teach schoolchildren to not become confused at critical moments.
To that end, teachers conduct lessons and activities dedicated to road safety, the basics of civil defense and landmine safety. The materials prepared byEast Europe Foundation with the support of the USAID HOVERLA Project are also handy.
“At school, we already showed students the video lesson, ‘Caution: Mines’, and some students independently mastered the online course, ‘Civil Security and Emergency Preparedness’”, says Iryna.
The teacher adds that children are fascinated by new formats, such as a course in the style of the computer game, Minecraft.
“If it’s some kind of cartoon or a video with snippets of a game – Minecraft or something else – they start discussing it,” Iryna says.
Iryna attended the online training, ‘How to Tell Students About Mine Safety and Prepare Them for Emergency Situations?” She was convinced she should have a good understanding of the topic.
“I work with children. And, if I myself don’t know the rules for handling explosive objects, then I won’t be able to explain it to the children and I won’t be able to do anything if an unforeseen situation arises,” she explains.
Since the outbreak of Russia’s full-scale war, Iryna has been observing moods and emotions of students. Several of her students occasionally have panic attacks during air raids. Often this is connected with the fact that one of the child’s parents is a soldier.
“I took an online course by psychologist Svitlana Royz about the psychological safety of children and adults during an air raid at school,” says Iryna. “It helps to cope with such situations. I would recommend this course to my fellow educators.”
The war changed children’s attitudes and their approaches to education.
“I have mastered new formats and platforms to better explain topics in lessons, particularly about actions in emergency situations and psychological health,” says Iryna. “Everything changes, only the desire to win as soon as possible remains unchanged.”
This material was prepared by East Europe Foundation within the framework of the Online Safety Classes for Children Program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the generous support of the American people through the USAID HOVERLA Project. The content of this text does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the U.S. Government.