Digital transformation holds the key to Ukraine’s future

Ukraine has demonstrated impressive digital resilience but UK experience, networks and frameworks can help take Ukraine’s digital education even further. Diana Rakus, Bo Kelestyn, and Jess Humphreys explain

Diana Rakus is head of the Expert Group on Investment Attraction and project lead on IT Education at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

Bo Kelestyn is Associate Professor at the Warwick Business School and co-leader of the Leadership for Educational Transformation programme for education leaders from Ukraine

Jess Humphreys is director of the Warwick International Higher Education Academy at the University of Warwick

Digital technology is transforming education in the UK. In Ukraine, digital is what is giving Ukraine a significant advantage on the battlefield and in the classrooms ensuring the next generation of innovators are engaged and being nurtured now, ready to rebuild the country post-victory.

In December 2023, the Ukrainian government hosted Diia Summit (the last one took place just days before Putin’s full-scale invasion started), laying out a “digital first” future for Ukrainians. Part of that future already involves a ground-breaking mobile app Diia that connects all citizens to the country’s public services and has transformed over 130 government services, including 70 since the start of the full-scale invasion. Introduced in 2020, it reached one million users in just four days, now boasting more than 20 million users. A recent report by the Centre for Sustainable Development at Brookings lays out the key components of Ukraine’s digital resilience, celebrated in different parts of public and private sectors across the world.

Digital will play a key role in rebuilding Ukraine post war, which includes an ambitious vision for edtech, digital literacy, lifelong learning, personalisation, and enterprise education, but the reform of digital transformation in education and science commenced back in 2020. The Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) is working closely with the Ministry of Digital Transformation (MODT) under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology, also Minister for Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov.

Digital leadership

One of the key goals of the government is to increase the role of digital in its economy. High tech sector in Ukraine has set the course for constituting 70 per cent of Ukraine’s GDP by 2030. This has ripple effects for the education sector. New forms of institutions such as SET University, “relevant higher education”, Sigma University and Projector Institute are emerging offering postgraduate programmes, micro masters, short courses and accelerator programmes specific to digital and IT skills.

MODT-led CDTO Campus initiative, is a unique programme for nurturing digital leadership in Ukraine with the first cohort of students having started in winter 2024. MODT has already delivered the IT Generation project, reskilling 1877 Ukrainians without work experience and IT knowledge into technological specialties, with participants successfully finding jobs in Ukrainian and international companies. Another success story is the Re/start in cyber, a three-month programme providing free cybersecurity training, a sought after skill needed to secure Ukraine’s victory. The flagship UK-Ukraine TechBridge is also expected to bolster Ukraine’s tech talent.

This also includes the now staple Diia.Osvita (Education), platform for short educational courses and experiences, and the new Mriia (“dream” in Ukrainian), an innovative educational app which provides a personalised learning space for every learner. Mriia, initially announced as a pilot by President Zelenskyy in September 2023, it has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in February 2024, so we can expect more updates and news about this innovation in due time.

Homegrown EdEra supports the development of teachers, alongside partnerships and training such as Google Tools for Education, Microsoft cloud services training, Transformation of Digital Pedagogy (HP IDEA), and online course for enhancing digital competencies for teachers by UNICEF. Digital is an equaliser, providing access to quality education, knowledge, and opportunities that would not be possible without funding for devices, the establishment of the All-Ukrainian Online School and Professional Education Online to maintain core development of both learners and teachers.

Help with remaining challenges

Despite these incredible successes considering the impact of the invasion and the pandemic, major educational challenges remain.

First, digitisation of data, centralisation of storage and management to create transparent and effective student experience, ensure transparent and data powered decision making and innovation. This includes support with moving institutions towards user-centred and relevant information systems to support Ukraine’s debureaucratisation of education management, and sharing digital transformation best practices and leadership development that would support Ukraine’s alignment to European standards.

Second, digital pedagogy to enhance the student experience and the value of HE qualifications. There is a need for equal opportunities to develop digital competencies and skills (including skills for developing high-quality digital content) among academic and professional services staff.

Third, financially sustainable access to devices and equipment to bridge digital divides between regions and socioeconomic circumstances.

And fourth, cyber security and resilience of education and its (digital) infrastructure.

Here are a few key areas where the UK HE sector can offer support:

  • Technology enhanced learning (TEL) training frameworks, resources, and mentoring as well as digital pedagogy training courses. Many academic development departments, teams and centres offer training in this area and these may be opened for auditing or to obtain micro credentials (the provision is often available remotely, developed in response to the pandemic) to colleagues in Ukraine with support for TEL projects. This also includes digital leadership mentoring and knowledge exchange programmes, which could encompass a range of topics from design thinking and learner-centred design, to data and governance, and cyber security.
  • Engaging with the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), a collaborative community of practice that provides opportunities for professional development, including webinars, conferences and a professional recognition scheme. ALT also hosts a series of open access publications including the ALT blog and the Research and Teaching journal.
  • Jisc has pledged its support for Ukraine focusing on three key areas including the security and safety of our UK member institutions, global connectivity across research and education networks, and access to education and research for displaced students, staff and researchers. Jisc and its Digital 2030 framework can support the development of bespoke and aligned to European frameworks standards. The model of Jisc can also support Ukraine with developing ways in which to recognise and celebrate innovation and leadership and build effective staff learning communities.
  • Review existing device scrapping policies, instead donating them to learners and educators in Ukraine to close any gaps in access to education in time of war.

As Ukraine moves closer to its vision of becoming the most accessible digital state in the world, we can expect to see and learn several lessons from its digital leadership, and education is one of the most exciting and promising areas. Educators in the UK are invited to explore opportunities to learn from the experience, approaches and frameworks that got Ukraine this far and set the course for Ukraine to become one of the most innovative digital education ecosystems too.

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