Children who fled war in Ukraine play in south-east Poland in a school gymnasium | Photo: Joe English / UNICEF
Children who fled war in Ukraine play in south-east Poland in a school gymnasium | Photo: Joe English / UNICEF

European countries are working out how to provide education and integration opportunities to the more than four million people who have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February. Two million of them are children, according to UNESCO.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Wednesday that two million of the four million people who have so far fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24 are children.

Since the beginning of the war, UNESCO has been carefully "mapping exactly how host countries are supporting and providing education, to help keep young Ukrainian refugees on track," said a report from UNESCO on Wednesday, March 30.

"Beyond learning," notes UNESCO, "education offers a protective environment that is even more relevant to crisis-affected populations, particularly children." Whilst the hope is that as many children as possible will be able to join schools and training programs in their new host countries, UNESCO is also putting in place computer and distance learning as well as access to computer hardware to facilitate learning continuity.

Right to education across the EU

On March 4, the EU granted temporary protection status to all of those fleeing Ukraine which allows the same rights as all EU citizens, which includes the right to education for all school-age children.

Many countries have introduced transitional measures to integrate children into the mainstream education systems in their host countries. These measures need to included language support, curriculum support where the Ukrainian system may differ from the host country and psychosocial support, notes UNESCO.

In Germany, also on Wednesday, the states' education ministers announced that to date, at least 20,205 Ukrainian children and teenagers had entered the German school and training systems. The chairperson of the minister’s conference, Schleswig-Holstein’s CDU Education Minister Karin Prien, said that they would publish the school and training program admissions weekly from now on, to allow a more effective coordination, reported the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).

Astrid Busse (r, SPD),Educational Senator in Berlin and Bettina Stark-Watzinger (M, FDP), German Education Minister, visit a welcome class for Ukrainian children at Lessing High School | Photo: Monika Skolimowska / picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild
Astrid Busse (r, SPD),Educational Senator in Berlin and Bettina Stark-Watzinger (M, FDP), German Education Minister, visit a welcome class for Ukrainian children at Lessing High School | Photo: Monika Skolimowska / picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild

Also read: Administrative hurdles hamper integration efforts for Ukrainians across Europe

Paralell school system is 'unrealistic'

Prien added that she believed that children needed to enter the German system and that it was "totally unrealistic to think Germany could build a parallel school system just for Ukrainian school children, if potentially hundreds of thousands were to arrive," news agency KNA quoted her as saying.

When more than a million asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015, many of whom came originally from Syria, children were offered special welcome and integration classes to help them with the language and to prepare them to enter the German school system later on. In reality though, this often separated them from their German contemporaries making integration at times more diffcult.

Prien added that now Germany’s school system was even more "under stress" than in 2015 after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of trying to digitize the system. However, Prien reportedly emphasized that "on humanitarian grounds and because of our historical responsibility [referring to Germany’s role in World War II], it is obvious that we will do everything in our power to make sure that schoolchildren from Ukraine receive a good education and training."

School started in Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, Radio Prague International reported on March 28 that Ukrainian classes for refugee children were already underway in Prague, Brno and a few other places. At the First Slavic Grammar School in Prague, Ukrainian mothers and their children were attending special classes. Ukrainian teachers were providing lessons for groups of Ukrainian children of roughly the same age.

Ksenia and Dasha, two eight grade pupils from Kyiv told Radio Prague International that they found the classes "pretty cool." Ksenia explained that they had "Czech and Ukrainian lessons, and geography, Ukrainian language and PE [sport]."

One of the Ukrainian teachers, Helina, who has been resident in the Czech Republic for around ten years said that although kids will always be kids, she had noticed that "these kids are more mature. They have adult thoughts. Not thoughts that such kids should be having."

Helina explained that they don’t yet have all the textbooks, so lessons are still improvised. One of her main aims, she said is to help the children forget about the war. The grammar school is just one of the Czech schools which has been accredited by the Ukrainian ministry of Education, explained Martin Maran from the Endowment fund Children of Ukraine which is coordinating education efforts for Ukrainian children in the Czech Republic.

Ukrainian children restart their education at a German school in March 2022 | Photo: Monika Skolimowska / Picture Alliance / dpa
Ukrainian children restart their education at a German school in March 2022 | Photo: Monika Skolimowska / Picture Alliance / dpa

High school diploma

The accreditation, explains Maran, means that Ukrainian children could also graduate and get a high school diploma. The school runs from 9-1pm every day and offers food, giving the parents time to sort out administrative issues and find jobs etc, Maran told Radio Prague International. Private schools are also joining the initiative, because as Maran said, "it is easier for them to react to the current situation in comparison to the more rigid state system."

According to the expats portal in the Czech Republic expats-cz, a website is Shokla.cz is helping connect Ukrainian school children with available schools in the Czech Republic. On March 4, the site already had 14 schools willing to accept Ukrainian children. The site is in both the Czech and Ukrainian languages.

In Portugal, the youngest pupils can enroll directly into pre-kindergarten classes. Older children are assessed and then begin a transition process to help with the language before joining mainstream schools.

A second-grader Omelia, an 8-year-old girl from Ukraine, is let into the classroom together with other children at a school in Meiningen, Austria | Photo: Oleksandr Liapin / Avalon / Picture Alliance
A second-grader Omelia, an 8-year-old girl from Ukraine, is let into the classroom together with other children at a school in Meiningen, Austria | Photo: Oleksandr Liapin / Avalon / Picture Alliance

Bridging classes

Portugal, as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain are providing "bridging" "reception" and "adaptation" classes and have granted equivalence to Ukrainian qualifications already acquired.

Romania has provided 45 schools and ten high schools which already offer instruction in the Ukrainian language.

According to UNESCO, Austria, France, Hungary, Poland and Romania have all offered Ukrainian students access to their higher education institutions, including waiving tuition fees and in some cases providing extra financial support.

In the UK and Ireland, children are also being integrated into local schools and will be offered English language lessons as well as all other healthcare benefits and employment support that UK nationals are offered.

Psychological trauma

UNESCO noted that teachers will need training to help make sure that classrooms are welcoming to Ukrainian students. For instance, learning how to discuss the Russian invasion and how to process children’s experience of leaving their country, potentially having witnessed death and destruction or been scared during air-raids.

Some education ministries, said UNESCO are experimenting with bilingual material, teaching basic Ukrainian to staff and pupils or using translation apps and interpretation services for "more complex communication struggles."

Handbooks have been handed out in Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to help protect pupils' mental health "prevent conflict in classes and talk about sensitive topics." In the French capital Paris a "Ukraine crisis unit" has been created. One of its services, notes UNESCO "is to provide teachers with an online pamphlet outlining how to welcome pupils who have suffered trauma."

Italy has set aside €1 million to help integrate Ukrainian students in their national education system. Lithuania is offering state sponsorship for Ukrainians wishing to go to university or higher education. Romania is offering free boarding school places for Ukrainian students and will give allowances for study and bedding items.

Prior to the war, says UNESCO, Ukraine’s school-age population stood at 6.84 million students ranging from pre-primary to tertiary education level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine put in place an "All-Ukrainian School Platform" for digital learning. UNESCO says it is working with the Ukrainian government to adapt this system to current needs.

Ukrainian mother and child on their way to school in Austria | Photo: Oleksandr Liapin / Avalon / Picture Alliance
Ukrainian mother and child on their way to school in Austria | Photo: Oleksandr Liapin / Avalon / Picture Alliance

Integration and adult learning

For Ukrainian adults, Germany is also offering integration and language courses. According to a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (BAMF), there are 50,000 teachers available across Germany, although only about 12,000 who are active, as well as 1,500 institutions offering courses.

The offer can be scaled up in line with demand, said the government. The director of the German organization for integration and language courses, Christiane Carstensen, told the German Editors Network (RND) that although there were great courses on offer, the government needed to make sure that funding was in place, for instance to provide trained staff to look after young children while their mothers attended the language course. "Only then can we offer what we should be offering," Carstensen said.

The majority of those fleeing Ukraine are mothers and children at the moment, since men have been asked not to leave the country, but instead stay and help with the war effort. According to the German interior ministry on Tuesday, 278,008 people fleeing Ukraine are now in Germany.

 

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