Polish schools rise to the challenge of providing education to Ukrainian children

200,000 Ukrainian children were educated in Polish schools. The challenge is enormous and at the moment the government has chosen to integrate them into education in the Polish language.

(call in Warsaw) – Danuta Kozakiewicz admits it candidly in her director’s office: “ It is clear that our school and ourselves were not prepared for war. At school number 103, since February 24 and the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 80 Ukrainian children have joined classes at his school in Warsaw. Suffice it to say, the logistical challenges are stark. In the institution, the Ukrainian national colors, blue and yellow, are now displayed everywhere: from children’s drawings to the interlocking flags of Poland and Ukraine. A reflection of solidarity is evident in Polish civil society, which has opened its arms to more than three million refugees since the start of the war.

Read How many Ukrainian refugees are already in Poland?

Here, in this school that welcomes young people from 7 to 15 years old, the inscriptions were translated into Ukrainian. To facilitate understanding and reduce the language barrier, the ban on using your phone in class has been lifted so that students and teachers can use translation software. Classes for Ukrainian children have also been created to speed up their learning of the Polish language, and six refugee women have been recruited to support Polish teachers. A Ukrainian psychiatrist was recently hired thanks to money from the town hall.

With emigration comes the heartbreak of leaving everything behind, and Danuta Kozakivich knows this very well. Therefore, with each new pupil from Ukraine she welcomes into her institution, the historian by training uses Paula, a teddy bear. “ “Hello, my name is Paula, welcome to school!” This is how I introduce myself. Babies cuddle up close to them and really feel better Danuta says. It is using ” poor english He taught his Russian origins during the communist period and So much sympathy It is able to communicate.

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Dyma Tarandiuk is one of those newcomers to School No. 103. This 12-year-old Ukrainian fled Zhytomyr, not far from Kyiv, before finding sanctuary in Poland in early March. He can now reconnect with some carelessness, and” Make new friends “. “Here, there are a lot of Ukrainian children, we will be able to discuss! rejoice. ” It was the owner of the apartment we live in who recommended I go to this school to enroll my son. The Poles help us a lot says Oksana, who hopes to find a job while waiting for peace to return in her country. ” It is important that he continues to go to school. He will first attend an introductory class to study the Polish language intensively Before joining the students in his year. »

Poland, which hosts more than a million refugees, requests international assistance

However, Dyma, like many others, will have to start over, starting with learning a new language. ” It is not easy for these children, because they have to plunge into a strange world; They were not ready to leave their country says Olga Rachkovska, a Ukrainian teacher assistant who works with non-Polish children. According to her, the language barrier is real, but not impossible: there is a certain affinity between Ukrainian and Polish, two Slavic languages ​​that do not use the same alphabet. ” They are children, they learn quickly; They can communicate within a week or two. I would say that there are 60% similarities between the two languages. Then, for Russian-speaking Ukrainians, [qui sont majoritaires dans l’est de l’Ukraine]It’s a little more difficult says Mrs. Rachkovska.

When she was assigned to School Number 103, a little over two years ago, this Ukrainian from Ternopil, in western Ukraine, was primarily working with Russian-speaking children from Belarus. In the wake of tyrant Alexander Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election, many took refuge in neighboring Poland to escape repression. From now on, Olga welcomes a wave of young Ukrainians. “ If I have time, I’m next to the child and I explain to him in Ukrainian or Russian. I help parents complete documents. »

Every child’s behavior It often depends on the region in Ukraine they belong to “, she noted. Those coming from Lviv, in the west of the country, a region less marked by conflict, were not as shaken as children from the south or east of the country, who are under fire from Moscow. Children who have watched war closely suffer from severe stress. Often, their father kept fighting, because men between the ages of 18 and 60 could not leave the country. So it is important for these children to stay busy in school. May they be with children their own age, they may not see their mother cry. We recently welcomed a baby from Kherson [une ville occupée par l’armée russe]. He was still afraid. »

What is needed are teachers who speak Ukrainian or Russian, and Ukrainian assistants in schools, which will allow children to feel comfortable. We also need Polish and Ukrainian textbooks, we need peace of mind, security and psychological help. »

Salomer Bronnie’s

mobilized the authorities

Soon, Polish institutions began to operate to welcome children. In early March, the government passed a bill to regulate the status of Ukrainian refugees in Poland for at least 18 months, giving them access to schools. According to the Polish Ministry of Education, at least 200,000 Ukrainian pupils are enrolled in the country’s school system, three-quarters of whom are primary schools. It will also be close to 500,000 to continue their studies online from Poland. ” This law, even if it increases the capacity of schools, is not a legal solution However, in an interview with Le Courrier d’Europe centrale, Sławomir Broniarz, president of the ZNP, Poland’s largest teachers’ union, regretted it. ” What is needed are teachers who speak Ukrainian or Russian, and Ukrainian assistants in schools, which will allow children to feel comfortable. We also need Polish and Ukrainian textbooks, we need peace of mind, security and psychological help. The principal regrets that Ukrainian teachers who fled their country cannot perform the same job once in Poland.

There are two main factors that we don’t know: How long will it take to educate these children and how many children will arrive? In any case, all these new categories and these appointments will be costly to the municipalities responsible for them. Warsaw is a rich city, and it may get by, but in other places there is a danger of sacrificing other municipal expenditures “, Expect.

Ukrainian international lessons?

This merger is already a major challenge for schools, while the education sector is already underfunded, according to Sławomir Broniarz. The authorities have certainly promised significant financial support so that the system can survive – while ensuring that hundreds of thousands of children will still be able to enter Polish schools in the coming months – but financial resources are already running out. . ” The problem is that in normal times it is really hard to find teachers in mathematics or computer science, for example. This flow requires more resources, when it was already complex before ‘,” explains Danuta Kozakiewicz, teacher of School No. 103. Refugee schoolchildren need more funding, psychological help, Ukrainian-speaking assistants … »

Polish teachers find themselves on the front lines of this exodus, confronting children who are sometimes traumatized. “You have to show empathy, more patience than before. I try not to talk about war, bombs”, testifies Artur Lauterbach, professor of physical education. ” Sports is a universal language, but I am sure that schools need more support, especially for teachers of mathematics, English or other subjects. »

Some children do well; Others are very quiet, aloof, shy ‘, continues the 31-year-old, in sportswear. On that day, there was a little girl crying all the time, and her parents had to pick her up from school. I do not speak Russian or Ukrainian, which does not facilitate communication. Some do not understand why they had to flee the war, and perhaps it would be better this way…” Nevertheless, he receives support from his most cheerful Polish students: “ They say to the Ukrainians: if you need help, do not hesitate, you can ask us what you want, regardless of the language. »

Many call for the creation of “Ukrainian international classes”, rather than imposing the Polish education system and an exam at the end of class 8 (the equivalent of a certificate, at age 14) before entering high school. A procedure that the Ministry of Education refuses to implement at the present time. ” However, it would be better for these children to learn in their own language with teachers Ukrainian school curriculum ”, Dorota Šoboda, member of the Municipal Council of Warsaw and Chairman of the Committee dedicated to education. According to her, there no interest To educate these young Ukrainians in the Polish system, because many families will return to the fold when the war is over. ” Hence, finding themselves in a foreign language environment is another trauma for them. »

Patrice Senical

Freelance journalist currently based in Warsaw. Collaborator for the Quebec daily Le Devoir and La Presse.

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