Admission of Ukrainian children: the new reality of Polish schools?

Ukrainians fled their country overnight, taking the trauma of war with them. They ended up in Poland, a culturally similar but different country. Many of them are children. According to data from March 22, 2022, 95,500 Ukrainian children are already enrolled in Polish schools. They are trained in more than 11,500 schools. These little Ukrainians have to deal with all sorts of difficulties on a daily basis, often resulting from a lack of knowledge of the Polish language. The main problem turns out to be a language barrier, as shown by this situation in a primary school in Gdańsk Wrzeszcz, where Natasza, my sister, is studying. Investigations under my own roof, not so different from that of my neighbors.

« We are in Polish class and are reading a text in a textbook. Suddenly a door opens. A boy comes in, chooses a place in the room and sits down. Nobody presents it. This boy is very scared, so he probably sat there alone without saying a word. says my sister Natasza, who is a fifth grade student (equivalent to CM2), touched. These are the first moments of 11-year-old refugee boy Maksym in a Polish school in northern Poland. There is only one new student from Ukraine in this class and about 10 in the whole school.

Arrival of Ukrainian students at a school in Italy cheered on by 200 students, in contrast to Maksym’s discreet entry into Natasza’s class.

« I feel very sorry for you because I cannot imagine fleeing the war and leaving my country. »

The Russian invasion of Ukraine will go down in history, but also in children’s memories. For Polish and Ukrainian students, this is a new reality in which chaos still reigns and which raises many questions. One thought never left Natasza’s mind: What would happen if there was a war in Poland ? She also wonders what he experienced when he was in Ukraine during the war, but how to ask him? Despite her great curiosity, she doesn’t want to ask any questions about it: ” I think it’s way too early and this topic is too sensitive ‘ she confides.

It can be observed that Polish children do not want to offend the sensibilities of young Ukrainians by reminding them of this tragedy. Teachers also take care of the comfort of new students, who need to adapt to new working conditions, get used to classes and get acquainted with the Polish language.

This new language surrounds them everywhere – at school, in the store, on the bus, on the street… All teachers agree that the biggest problem for Ukrainian students is communication. Many have difficulty understanding Polish and cannot express themselves. This amputation of language does not help its reconstruction and integration when it should be part of the process.

« I’d really like to talk to them, but it’s difficult because they isolate themselves a bit, they don’t talk to anyone, they don’t play with anyone else. You are just alone. explains Natasza. Due to the very limited communication, the students do not know anything about their new classmate. You only know his first name. ” He’s too stressed, you can tell! It’s hard for him ! “, she adds.

From the first days, the students saw changes in the school. Natasza feels that her school is now bilingual. Even if the students have communication difficulties, many teachers speak Russian. ” The mathematics teacher and the music teacher speak Russian with Maksym; I didn’t know they spoke that language! However, it is a strange feeling when the teacher suddenly stops speaking Polish and mixes the languages. But if it makes this boy feel better, why not ? Natasza noticed.

How does everyone find their place?

Changes in the school create quite a tense atmosphere or sometimes real chaos among the young students. There are many worries: the language, the integration between the children, the organization of the lessons for Poles and Ukrainians… But Natasza’s biggest concern is whether there will be enough space for everyone.

Here’s what happened to him a few days ago

It was just before 8 o’clock in the morning and Natasza went to her locker as usual, she wanted to change her clothes and shoes. Strangely impossible to open the famous locker. At first she thought she had made a mistake and re-entered her code. But his gaze was suddenly drawn to his belongings scattered on the floor… His locker was already occupied by someone else! After a few minutes, a little girl approached the famous locker. She was a young Ukrainian. A teacher had probably assigned it to her… Natasza wanted to explain the situation to the new student, but she didn’t understand her because of the language barrier. To this day, Natasza no longer has his own locker. ” I was very sad when I saw my drawings and my clothes on the floor. I really don’t think it’s fair, even though I have nothing against this girl, it isn’t his fault… explains Natasza.

This situation is unfortunate and probably mismanaged by the responsible adults because it creates injustice and creates unnecessary tension between Poles and new students from Ukraine. One can wonder if the educational teams are really willing to welcome these young refugees and if they have been given information of a more “psychological” nature.

Information from the Ministry of Education and Science for parents of children from Ukraine.

From 25 students per class we go to 29 in elementary school

The result of the new reality of Polish schools is the introduction of new regulations for the education of Ukrainian children.

The decree provides for the possibility of enrolling more children of refugees from Ukraine in kindergartens and grades I-III (CP-CE2) of primary school.

Even according to the regulations in force so far, 25 children could be in a group in the kindergarten. Now the regulations allow the inclusion of three more children, so a total of 28.

This solution also makes it possible to increase the number of learners in classes I-III to over 25 people, that is, 4 more students, Ukrainian citizens (the allowed number of students in these classes cannot exceed 29).

Students are more likely to be concentrated in certain regions. ” Most students were enrolled in elementary schools in the Masovian, Lower Silesian and Silesian Voivodeships said Anna Ostrowska, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Economy and National Heritage.

« You have to adapt to the new Polish reality », the look of a teacher

Now let’s go to Ciechanów. It is a city in Masovian Voivodeship. Monika teaches music at one of the schools in Ciechanow. In her opinion, Ukrainian children are good students, very polite and obedient. ” They still lack self-confidence, but I see that they are getting better every day. The other students support them, they are really empathetic. The children of Ciechanów also organize fundraisers on their own initiative. ” Recently, several classes held a fundraiser in Ciechanów. They baked cakes and waffles. So there is no lack of ideas and the will to support Ukraine ! » develops Monika.

She is in regular contact with the students’ parents, who always ask if it is possible to bring clothes or other things to school. So we can see that the families are also very committed. ” The children have practically nothing but the clothes in which they left their country. Now we lack sports clothes so that they can take part in physical education classes

According to Monika, the biggest problem for new students in Polish schools is still the language. Most of them are just learning the basics of the Polish language, which makes their integration very difficult. ” You have to adapt to the new Polish reality. It will take time for that. “. Monika means that beyond language there is also a culture, habits, codes that make up our everyday life, common for us, but exotic, even destabilizing for a foreign child.

Ukrainians and their traumatic memories

« About 500,000 Ukrainians who fled to Poland need help because of mental disorders, about 30,000 suffer from serious mental illnesses said Paloma Cuchi, representative of the World Health Organization in Poland, on Tuesday, March 22.

Many of them have seen the real face of war, without any filters! Explosions, tanks, Russian soldiers, ruins… Others heard about the events but didn’t experience them directly. Their experiences are different, but still challenging. They all left their country feeling the same: insecurity, the loss of loved ones or a broken family, a sense of imminent danger to their life and health. They face many problems and therefore the help of Poles is invaluable.

Very often without food and water, exposed to low temperatures ” Refugees staying in Poland suffer from many health problems, diseases related to food poisoning and problems arising from dehydration. The greatest challenge, however, is providing assistance to these people due to the trauma of war. “, assessed Paloma Cuchi during a press conference in Geneva.

Statements by Paloma Cuchi, WHO (World Health Organization) representative in Poland and UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) spokesperson, Matthew Saltmarsh (English subtitles available).

This psychological help is particularly necessary for the youngest. Due to integration difficulties, they are often left alone with their traumatic thoughts and memories. On Tuesday morning, Minister of Education and Science Przemyslaw Czarnek stated that the education of Ukrainian children in Polish schools should be approached with great caution. He also recalled that the MeiN (Ministry of Education and Science) had allocated 180 million zlotys for additional hours of psychological and educational help to Ukrainian and Polish children.

« Children who come out of the war, from bombed cities, first have to rest, get rid of at least part of the trauma, then decide with their parents about schooling »he pointed out.

Polandthe government has published this information for families, click here.

In France, the Nancy Metz Academy participates in national solidarity with Ukrainians and strengthens its systems to welcome, train and support students in the best conditions. On his website you will find several recommendations and useful links for refugee families and teachers who welcome children into their classes. To access the page, click here.

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