Vocational education and training in Ukraine reformed with Finnish support even in the middle of war

Education and qualifications Vocational education and training Ukraine
The aim of the EU4Skills – Better Skills for Modern Ukraine project implemented under the leadership of the Finnish National Agency for Education has been to support the reform and modernisation of vocational education and training (VET) in Ukraine. The project was launched in 2020 and will be completed in May 2023. However, further cooperation is already being planned.
Ryhmä opettajia seisomassa Ukrainan lipun kanssa valkoisen infinity wall-taustan edessä
On a study tour to Finland, Ukrainian teachers visited LIVE Vocational College in Leppävaara. In the photo taken by student Toni Juusola, the group is posing with their hosts in front of LIVE's "Infinity Wall”.

In the project seminar “Developing the education sector in Ukraine: Supporting and rebuilding the Ukrainian education sector” held in Helsinki on 21 April 2023, lessons learnt from the nearly completed development projects on basic education and VET were summarised and future prospects were also outlined.

-The EU4Skills project has been Ukraine's first multi-actor project in the field of VET. It was natural for Finland to assume the responsibility for the key development areas because we had just completed a similar extensive reform ourselves, explained Director Samu Seitsalo from the Finnish National Agency for Education.

At the initial stage of the project, Finland was responsible particularly for the reform of the vocational qualifications and curricula and for the development of teacher education and education for the management of educational institutions. In a competitive tendering process organised for the implementation regarding teacher education, a consortium led by Omnia Education Partnerships (OEP) was selected as a partner. The consortium consists of Omnia Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo region and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. However, the Russian war of aggression, which began in February 2022, affected the implementation and objectives of the project and along with the war, the focus was no longer only on the development of VET, but also on providing emergency assistance.

In the project, a total of 33 online courses were produced for the training of teachers and management of educational institutions, and a total of 20 online self-study courses in VET. The content of these courses focused on topics such as reconstruction, entrepreneurship and ITC. During the first three months, approximately 19,000 students studied on the courses. The most popular course has been the emergency first aid course. 

-We appreciate the swift response of our Finnish partners to the challenges caused by the pandemic, thanks to which digital and distance learning were added to our cooperation forms in 2021, said Ambassador Olga Dibrova from the Embassy of Ukraine, who opened the seminar. - This has also been extremely valuable later when the cruel war started by Russia has deprived hundreds of thousands of children and young people of the opportunity to go to school. Many of them have been able to continue studying digitally.

Finland’s strengths and way to collaborate held in high regard

In a discussion led by Education Ambassador Marjaana Salli, the participants reflected on what has been the additional value provided to the multi-actor project specifically by the Finns. What would not have been achieved without Finland’s participation?
Hanna Autere from the Finnish National Agency for Education, who is in charge of Finland’s share of the project, considers that Finland’s input in has been particularly strong in two areas: - Firstly, the Finns have had important expertise in following through a reform aimed at modernising VET. The cooperation therefore made it possible to increase the Ukrainians’ understanding of what competence-based, flexible, continuous learning is, describes Autere.

- Secondly, the pandemic and the war revealed the benefits of online learning, and Finland’s example showed the Ukrainians how it is possible to implement online learning that builds an activating learning path based on multiple media and in connection with which it is possible to test competence, so that online teaching is not only a collection of online materials used in teacher-led learning, continues Autere.

Finnish education technology companies were also engaged in building digital multidisciplinary modules. An exceptionally diverse consortium of actors has therefore been involved in the EU4Skills project. What added value has multi-actor cooperation provided?

Mervi Jansson from Omnia Education Partners considers that the results which were now achieved would not have been possible without an agile consortium. -Finland’s low level of hierarchy and the culture of doing things together made it possible to reorganise the programme quickly after the war started, describes Jansson.

Hanna Autere also believes that the precondition for successful development work was the involvement of a wide variety of actors. - A matching person/discussion partner could be found in the Finnish consortium at all levels from the ministry to individual teachers. Long-term cooperation provided a better result than visits of frequently changing short-term specialists.

Study visits helped to understand the model of flexible and inclusive education

Ukrainian education managers and teachers made two study visits to vocational institutions in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and Tampere at the turn of the year. The participants of the first visit were the director general of the Directorate of Vocational Education at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, the director the Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment and directors of VET from the Ministry and local government. Among the places in which the group familiarised themselves with VET were Omnia Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo region, and with teacher education, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. They were particularly interested in visiting Tampere Adult Education Centre TAKK, which specialises in VET for adults. 

- In Ukraine, VET is mainly targeted at young people. With the state of war, we also needed to begin to train adults on short and intensive courses, commented Iryna Shumik, Director General of the Directorate of Vocational Education at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, on the situation in her country. Hanna Autere also confirms that the state of war showed how modular qualifications or smaller competence units can be used to respond faster to new competence needs and especially to retraining needs.  

During the second study visit, the group of Ukrainian teachers were most interested in the visit to LIVE Vocational College in Leppävaara. In the College, the visitors were familiarised with the education of persons requiring intensive special needs support. The different forms of personal support, studying in education and training preparing for qualifications and in small groups mainly by carrying out practical tasks was something the Ukrainian teachers had not seen before. At Omnia, the teachers had a chance to learn about eight different fields of VET and also to meet students of VET during visits to workplace education and training places. 

Hanna Autere says that the role of the study visits in taking the change further has been important. - I think it was not until their visit here that the Ukrainians fully understood what our experts had been trying to say during the project, says Autere.

Continuation for the cooperation is already being outlined

Although the EU4Skills project is coming to an end, both sides confirmed that the cooperation will continue.  Because of the war, the development needs are diverse.
- Our eyes are already set on the future, and there is currently an ongoing process to identify areas in which Finland’s support to the Ukrainian teaching sector will continue from 2024 onwards, said Director General Maija Liivala from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.