Schools material over immigrants sparks row

Photo: archive of META

A project launched by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees aimed at teaching schoolchildren about migrants has stirred heated debate in the Czech Republic. The Education Ministry has distanced itself from the project and President Miloš Zeman has called it ‘idiotic and naive’ likening it to Bolshevik propaganda.

Photo: archive of META
Originally produced in Sweden, the project Hello, Czech Republic was adapted for Czech schools by the META association, which focuses on education of foreigners. It includes a comic book and short film, conveying the experiences of unaccompanied refugee children, an Afghan boy Hamid and a Kurdish girl Sanam, as they arrive in Sweden.

The Czech version also includes a fictitious story of a nuclear disaster that forces them to flee their country for the country of “Peacestan” in Asia, where they are met by public protests. Zuzana Vodňanská, the head of the META association, outlines the main aims of the project:

“The guidebook for teachers at the secondary level of primary schools and secondary schools contains 13 activities suggesting how to deal with issues such as fear, identity, refugees, migration and integration. The materials originated in 2013, that is before the migration crisis, so it definitely not a guidebook on the refugee crisis. Most of the activities are based on discussions with children and its aim is to promote their critical thinking.”

Zuzana Vodňanská,  photo: archive of META
The project Hello, Czech Republic was only presented last week, but after a news report on private NOVA TV claiming that it was officially supported by the country’s educational ministry, a wave of negative reactions ensued.

Despite allegedly receiving a positive assessment from the ministry, Education Minister Kateřina Valachová has officially distanced herself from the project.

She said that the situation concerning the refugee crisis was sensitive, adding that she will by no means allow children to be scared in this way or involved in a serious nationwide debate. For her part, Zuzana Vodňanská of the META association is hoping that most teachers will not be put off by the current negative campaign:

Photo: archive of META
“The materials were created in cooperation with six teachers, who tested them in their classrooms and made suggestions, and both the children and the teachers assessed the project positively. But I want to stress that this activity is just a small part of what we are doing. We have been providing assistance to teachers for ten years now and our work has always been assessed very positively.”

Despite not having received an official recommendation from the education ministry, the Hello, Czech Republic materials will remain available to any school that asks for them.