Czech schools open their doors to thousands of Ukrainian newcomers

Schools around the Czech Republic are now scrambling to welcome thousands of Ukrainian newcomers, many of whom are still shell-shocked from the war in their home country and the often harrowing escape to safety. In an effort to help make them feel at home schools are engaging Ukrainian students and teachers already living in the Czech Republic who are able to reassure them by addressing them in their native language and teach them their first words of Czech.

A group of 15 Ukrainian children introduce themselves to their classmates, some with their mothers sitting by their side. They are of different ages and less than a fortnight ago they were sitting in class in different parts of Ukraine. Now they are undergoing what is being termed “an adaptation course” to help them settle in and overcome the language barrier.

In its instructions to schools the Education Ministry recommends that these children not be thrown into the deep end by joining regular classes right away, but that schools should form small groups or a single class of Ukrainian children who would be gradually introduced to the Czech language, alphabet and allowed to settle in gradually. The expectation is that some will only join a regular class with the start of the new school year. By that time, they will have picked up enough Czech to get by, acquired self-confidence in their new environment and made friends.

Ukrainian refugees | Photo: Josef Vostárek,  ČTK

Schools are now looking for volunteers among Ukrainian students and teachers already living in the Czech Republic or those who fled here from the Russian invasion. Ilya, a young man who cannot fight for health reasons, taught university students Czech in Ukraine. Now he is teaching Ukrainian youngsters in the Czech Republic.

“I was not able to join in the defence effort, so I came here and now I can help these children and in doing so serve my country as well.”

Dozens of Ukrainian students have volunteered to help out and Prague City Hall says that it has offers from 35 Ukrainian women who studied pedagogics in Ukraine before coming to the Czech Republic where they are now employed in other spheres. The fact that the Czech Republic has a 200,000 strong Ukrainian community is now working in its favour when it comes to helping refugees to settle down. The community is active on social networks creating platforms in aid of newly arrived compatriots and is active in helping the Czech authorities to address problems.

One question that is of great concern to some mothers who fled their homes in haste is whether their children will be admitted to school without any documents regarding their hitherto education and without the visa process having been completed. Vít Šimral, Prague councillor for education says none of that matters since the right to education is enshrined in the Constitution as a basic human right.

"These children can enrol in any school in Prague without any documentation. This applies to all school-goers from 1st to 9th grade. Refugee status is granted with registration, so they can start school right away. “

There are currently 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the country and many more are expected to arrive in the days to come. One of the big challenges ahead of the Czech Republic will be not to fail them in their children’s education. In addition to helping them, it will also help the Czech education system, which has long struggled with the task of assisting non-native children to overcome language and cultural barriers.