Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine is displacing millions of people, most of them women and children according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Access to quality education for their children is among the key concerns for refugee families. Children need to be integrated into the schools of host countries, which often involves learning the local language of instruction.
At the same time, pupils might want to continue following (parts of) the Ukrainian curriculum by connecting to online classes.
EU Education Solidarity Group for Ukraine
These topics were touched upon at the peer learning focus session of the European Union (EU) Education Solidarity Group for Ukraine on 25 April 2022. The meeting was attended by ministerial officials from EU Member States, representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, the Ukrainian Institute of Education Development, international organisations and other stakeholders.
Participants stressed the need to integrate Ukrainian children into national school systems in the EU and to plan for the longer term. Experiences from past refugee crises have shown that parallel participation in different national education systems can have a detrimental effect on integration, language acquisition and certification.
Ukrainian children should, therefore, be integrated into local schools as soon as possible and receive special assistance as necessary, such as dedicated language and psychosocial support.
To continue to take part in online learning in Ukrainian, children can use online educational resources, such as the All-Ukrainian Online School platform. Created in December 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform provides resources for distant and hybrid learning in 18 main school subjects. So far, it has 350,000 users from 146 countries.
The importance of onsite learning
While online learning can make it possible for learners to continue to follow the Ukrainian curriculum, Ukrainian authorities acknowledge the importance of face-to-face learning. They encourage parents to enroll their children at local schools and to participate in the social life of host countries, while maintaining a link with the Ukrainian education system.
Measures to integrate Ukrainian refugees in education
Since the adoption of the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, Member States have already taken major steps to integrate Ukrainian refugees in their schools systems. Local authorities, in Greece for example, have provided information booklets and real-time translation services, set up hotlines with information in Ukrainian, English, French, German and Russian (for example, in Luxembourg) and activated existing programmes to welcome new arrivals (for instance, DASPA – ‘Dispositif d’accueil et de scolarisation des élèves primo-arrivants’ - in Belgium).
Croatia has implemented flexible solutions, allowing children to enter school immediately. Most EU countries have set up or are currently developing dedicated support websites in Ukrainian and Russian with information on their national education systems.
Obstacles to child enrolment in education
Despite these substantial efforts, the enrolment of Ukrainian refugee children at local schools remains low in some Member States. The main obstacles to enrolment are
- language barriers
- possible misconceptions concerning enrolment and the documentation needed to access schools
- a lack of opportunities to follow the Ukrainian curriculum
- the desire to return to Ukraine as soon as possible
Recommended measures promoting the integration of child refugees in national education systems
To make sure all refugee children have access to high-quality education, it is recommended that Member States ensure that
- reliable and trustworthy information about their school systems is readily available
- psychosocial support is offered to children and families
- school enrolment is promoted through different channels
- Ukrainian communities are actively engaged with
In certain cases, it might be possible to combine local and Ukrainian curricula and to promote multilingual, flexible learning.