Children’s lives and learning are at stake. On February 25, the day after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s Education Ministry announced “extraordinary holidays” and closed all schools across the country, with no notice of reopening. The conflict instantly suspended the education of 5.7 million children between the ages of 3 and 17, many of whom had already missed out on months of education due to deadly attacks on schools in eastern Ukraine, or Covid-19 school closures. A million children have already fled the fighting in Ukraine, with many more scrambling for shelter within the country.
If telecommunication providers within Ukraine and in countries receiving refugee children were to zero-rate designated educational websites – that is, to provide children free access to learning and psychosocial support, without charging them for data – they could help provide immediate relief for children who have been pulled out of their schools and homes to access some remote emergency education, now.
Telecommunications providers should prioritize providing free access to the educational content already created by the Ukrainian Education Ministry for children to continue learning during Covid-19 school closures. For children who have lost safety and routine, helping them to finish what remains of their school year using familiar content in their own language is critical. Making access free would provide some relief for displaced and distressed parents. Telecommunication providers can also temporarily provide free access to select general educational resources, which would benefit not only children impacted by the crisis, but also children living in host countries and communities.
To help people communicate with loved ones and search for life-saving information, the Ukrainian telecommunication regulator has temporarily released spare radio frequencies to mobile phone networks to relieve congestion, and, with Ukrainian telecommunications providers, launched domestic roaming services to ensure people can stay connected.
In turn, more than twenty major European telecommunication providers have rapidly provided free connectivity services to refugees, including distributing pre-paid SIM cards on arrival and providing free international calls to Ukraine.
These commendable efforts can be extended to help protect children’s education in the early stages of this emergency, as host countries work to ensure uprooted children’s access to school.
Past and current humanitarian crises have taught the world that when children lose their access to education, they risk losing their futures. Telecommunication providers can help stop the hemorrhaging of children’s futures, today.