Kids in school raising hands education response

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Mapping host countries’ education responses to the influx of Ukrainian students

More than 4.2 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February 2022, with estimates suggesting that half of them are children.

Every humanitarian crisis is also an education crisis. Beyond learning, education offers a protective environment that is even more relevant to crisis-affected populations, particularly children.

As the UN agency mandated to coordinate and lead on global education, UNESCO is mapping how host countries are supporting and providing education to Ukrainian refugees. This includes transitional measures for integrating learners into mainstream education, language and curriculum considerations, psychosocial support, teacher training and accreditation, among other practical steps related to governance, registration, certification, and financial support.

This initiative complements other efforts and aligns with UNESCO’s functions of serving as a clearinghouse to collect, exchange and disseminate information and knowledge. The mapping will allow host countries to take stock of concrete steps taken to integrate and support Ukrainian learners and teachers fleeing the war, including international students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutions. It is hoped to promote the exchange of good practices and facilitate common approaches to support the education of all those compelled to leave Ukraine.

In a context of a rapidly evolving war and of increasing influx of people on the move across neighbouring countries and beyond, UNESCO will adopt an incremental approach to this mapping exercise. The data and analysis will occur in waves with more countries and information gradually updated based on host countries’ new legislation, policies, and guidelines. For more details, please see the methodological note.

This theme tackles how students will be included in the system by education level and whether students will enter directly into the mainstream educational system or go through transition classes or procedures. 

Basic education/compulsory education: Many countries mention existing programmes and protocols to include foreigners in their national education systems. In Portugal, for instance, international students can enrol pre-K directly while older students get assessed and go through transition processes (either in schools or reception centres). The goal is to integrate Ukrainian students as soon as possible. As such, Portugal introduced extraordinary measures for speedy integration, including the simplification of procedures granting equivalence of foreign qualifications and insertion in a given school year and educational offer. Similarly, Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain mention ‘bridging’, ‘reception’ or ‘adaptation’ classes. These transition classes provide language classes, familiarize students with their local education system, provide counsellors for psychological support, and evaluate competencies. 

As the students strengthen their language skills and get evaluated, they can be integrated, gradually, into regular classes. These transition classes are managed in specialised education centres (e.g. in Portugal and Spain) or directly inside schools (France, Lithuania, Portugal and others). In Moldova, youth centres will be providing non-formal activities, psycho-pedagogical assistance and counselling activities.

Some countries offer public education with instruction in a minority language. Lithuania offers interested Ukrainian students access to national schools in Belarusian, German and Polish. In Estonia, some public schools provide instruction in the Russian language. In Romania, there are 45 schools and ten high schools offering instructions in Ukrainian. Students can enrol in those schools if they so wish, while teachers in the standard Romanian schools are encouraged to provide education in Ukrainian when they can. In Poland, given the scale of the influx, a draft law plans to create additional centres to provide education and childcare and accommodate the additional number of places needed for the education of Ukrainian children. These new centres would be organizationally subordinated to schools or kindergartens. 

Some initiatives include connecting Ukrainian refugee students with distance learning options in Ukrainian. Indeed, Latvia is working to provide students with the option of distance learning in cooperation with the Ukrainian MoE as an alternative to the Latvian education system. Similarly, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education is working with Czechia to provide distance learning to students during their ‘adaptation’ period. Such initiatives help avoid learning losses and could help offer schooling options in the short term, especially for those students who hope to return to Ukraine in a few months. Indeed, countries such as Moldova, in addition to access to pre-schools, is offering Ukrainian children to enrol in ‘temporary schooling’.

Pre-primary education: Protocols for access to pre-school vary from country to country, with some offering free access to all such as Estonia and Ireland, regardless of immigration status, while others such as Denmark would require payments while making financial assistance available. In case of shortages of spaces in public childcare centres or pre-schools, engaging non-state actors is a useful measure. Indeed, suppose there is no space in a municipal kindergarten for a Ukrainian child aged at least 1.5-year-old. In that case, the Latvian local governments will cover the cost of sending the child to a private kindergarten.

Vocational training: At the moment, many countries provide access to their vocational training centres to Ukrainian refugee students (e.g. Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania), but not many countries have shared specific directives on how such access would occur. However, Latvia specified that Ukrainian minors would not need to pass the state examination to access vocational education.

Higher education: Many countries are declaring support to Ukrainian students for access to their higher education institutions (e.g. Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania), as well as waiving tuitions (e.g. Austria) or offering financial support (e.g. Romania) (for more, see Finance Theme). Romanian universities are encouraged to supplement their budgeted places up to 20% of their capacity (as established by the Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education). Notable initiatives in France and Hungary cater to non-Ukrainian international students who escaped Ukraine. France has set up a scheme where African students that fled Ukraine can enrol in the same course of study in a French University, with over 300 African students having applied so far. Hungary is offering all international students to continue their studies at Hungarian universities regardless of their nationalities. Countries are also offering support in tertiary education by hiring or helping hire researchers from Ukrainian universities (e.g. Austria, Italy, Sweden). In Sweden, Stockholm University is offering research positions to Ukrainian researchers. 

Credits/Examinations: A cross-cutting issue is how host countries tackle exams, upper secondary final exams, transfer of credits in higher education and teaching accreditation. This is a crucial policy area but as of now, few countries have been published on specific measures. According to a new law passed on 15 March in Latvia, minor Ukrainian civilians are not required to pass state examinations in basic education or vocational education (except for the professional qualification examinations). Particularly, pupils from grades 1-8 and 10-11 can be transferred to the next class without conditions, with the right to study again in the same class. Ninth and 12th grade students who pass relevant examinations and fulfil requirements will be issued an educational document (certificate, attestation or diploma). If a student does not meet these requirements, they have the right to re-study in the same class. Romania issued a ministerial order on 2 March on higher education student mobility. All those who wish (i.e. Ukrainian refugee students) can register to the higher education institution of their choice. If they cannot prove with documents their previous studies, higher education institutions will evaluate these students based on their institutional criteria and by respecting international good practices. Afterwards, higher education institutions can decide on granting transferable credits, thus allowing students to continue their studies. However, before finalising their studies, Ukrainian students are expected to present the diplomas that allowed them to register for a certain cycle of studies.

The large influx of Ukrainian refugee students will pose particular challenges. Teachers will need support in facing language barriers, how to slowly incorporate the international students into a welcoming classroom, how to discuss the war, and how to provide cultural and psychological support to incoming students. Ministries of Education in several countries provide links for teachers to materials, training, or webinars on handling the language barrier. Italy encourages teachers to experiment with bilingual material. Slovakia lists sources to learn basic Ukrainian to their teachers while also providing examples of communication cards and games to use in class. Czechia lists translation applications to use, sources to learn the language and provides for the first days in class an ‘NPI First Rescue Box’ methodology for communication. Czech teachers can use interpreting services through NPI for more complex communication struggles. 

In addition to language support, an often-mentioned measure across MoE’s websites is providing materials and direction to teachers on how to discuss the war with students (e.g. Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Greece), including webinars and podcasts (e.g. Slovakia). Links and initiatives to support teachers in dealing with children who have suffered trauma are often put in place. Croatia, Czechia, and Slovakia have handbooks on how to attend to pupils’ mental health, prevent conflict in classes, and talk about sensitive topics. In Paris, France, a Ukraine ‘crisis unit’ was created, and one of its services is to provide teachers with an online pamphlet outlining how to welcome pupils who have suffered trauma. 

Another major challenge, especially in countries with a large influx of refugees, will be to find additional teachers and further support tackling the language barrier. Poland is setting up additional learning centres that will need to be staffed. Indeed, Poland is planning to facilitate the employment of Ukrainian citizens as teacher assistants. In Latvia, according to the new law on the support of civilians from Ukraine, Ukrainians have a right to work as teachers, thus bypassing regular certification of teachers, provided they teach only to Ukrainian minors (not in regular classrooms). If they want to work as a regular teacher in any Latvian educational institution, they will have to get professionally certified. In Romania, in case of teacher shortage, the MoE intends to allow students from state/private universities and retired teachers to provide teaching and school counselling. It will also allow Ukrainian professors to teach in Romanian universities. Germany and Italy specifically encouraged the peer-to-peer exchange of ideas amongst teachers. The German MoE also mentioned employment and training plans for Ukrainian teachers. 

This theme focuses on financial measures taken by governments to support the education response (for example, extra-budgetary allocation) as well as financial support provided directly to students. In terms of special additional funding, countries such as France, Italy, Poland, and Romania are allocating extra-budgetary sources to the sector. In Italy, €1 million will be used specifically to include Ukrainian students in national education systems. It should cover extra support needed by students, including materials, linguistic and cultural mediation, and psychological support. In Romania, both state and private K-12 and higher education institutions will receive subsidies to accommodate the additional number of students. In Slovenia, specific expenses such as those related to the recognition and evaluation of education for persons granted international protection are covered by the Government Office for the Care and Integration of Migrants. In the United Kingdom, local authorities will receive £10,500 in extra funding per refugee for support services, with more for children of school age. The French government launched a €1 million support fund for Ukrainian refugee artists and arts professionals forced to leave the country following the Russian invasion, of which €300,000 to enable Ukrainian students to enrol at colleges and organizations overseen by the Ministry of Culture.

In terms of financial support directly to students, most measures focus on students in higher education. Austria has waived the tuition fees for Ukrainian university students currently enrolled in Austrian higher education institutions. The Ministry of Education also provides links to funding sources such as emergency funds, fundraising, and benefits concerts. In Lithuania, depending on the institution’s capacity, studies for Ukrainian citizens will be sponsored. Some institutions are planning to waive fees or offer significant discounts. Bulgaria is also offering a reduction in tuition fees for over 1,000 Ukrainian students currently studying in Bulgaria, and dormitory fee exemptions are being discussed. In Denmark, access to day-care will not be free, but financial aid and subsidies will be provided to families. Some countries provide support in earlier education, such as Romania, where Ukrainian students can be accommodated free of charge in boarding schools, will receive food allowance and bedding, and living and study items.