On the one hand, Ukrainian mothers who need a school or a kindergarten for their child, but do not know where to turn. On the other hand, Czech schools that would like to help young refugees do not know how to contact them. Demand and supply are connected through the shkola.cz website, which was created by ScioŠkoly in cooperation with the technology company Ximilar. According to the director of the ScioSchool in Chodov, Prague, and the coordinator of the web database, Jiří Hokeš, the schools currently offer more than six thousand places, but the demand is already beginning to exceed the supply. This is another major crisis for Czech education, which, however, like a pandemic, can mean change for the better. For example, “distinguishing the essential from the less important” – as Hokeš says. We focus on how the arrival of refugees can improve the local labor market, education or health care in the current issue of Respekt, the following interview is a supplement and an invitation to buy.
Like the webshkola.cz native? And how many children have you managed to connect so far?
I was thinking how to help in this unfortunate situation, ideally in something I can do, education. I reached out to friends in Brno, who have a tech company, and we designed a map that shows schools’ capabilities and connects them with parents of Ukrainian children. The second goal was to connect schools that want to actively offer places to Ukrainian children. We expected there to be about 30 schools. Today, there are nearly 370 and offer more than six thousand places.
But still, there are crowds in the place…
Yes, in recent days, with six volunteers helping us, we have been faced with an excess of demand over supply. Especially for schools in large cities, the capacities are gradually being filled. So it would help us if other schools signed up, especially in Prague. At first, we wondered if such spontaneous civic activities might not be counterproductive to solving a problem of such magnitude. But it turned out to be logical. On the one hand, Ukrainians are often confused and not able to know what the progressiveness of a primary school means and which school is gradual for them. He can help them. And for me personally, it’s also a kind of therapy – it helps me deal with the helplessness that I’ve been experiencing for the past few weeks.
So how are the schools in your database coping? Is it already possible to observe more general trends?
An interview with representatives of about thirty schools shows that it is not yet possible to generalize very much. Each school operates under slightly different conditions. There are schools that do not have Ukrainian children, they would like to welcome them, but so far no one has contacted them, not even from the founder or from the region. On the other hand, there are schools that their founder, on the other hand, has all registered in our database. Some schools then declare that they do not need any support from the founder or the state and will manage to arrange everything themselves. Finally, primary schools, which interpreted reports that refugees have 90 days of compulsory school enrollment, said nothing should be done so far.
This is their second post-crisis crisis.
That’s right, teachers and principals were hoping a month ago that the covid restrictions would end, at least for a while, and that we could take a breather. Instead, another crisis is brewing and there is no doubt that teachers and other school staff are affected. The good news is that the Ministry of Education mobilized quite quickly. They mapped the terrain and succeeded in identifying legislative barriers that prevent schools from including children. A law was adopted very quickly, according to which children can be temporarily out of school in accordance with the framework educational program and the education of Ukrainian children can be adapted to their current needs. The news of the secondary school admission procedure is also good news. However, there are other things that, if passed into law, would be helpful.
Respect 14/2022: Ukrainians are changing Czechia
Some schools, for example, would like to partially educate children in Ukrainian if they have the staff. Today, however, according to the Education Act, they must apply for permission to study in a foreign language. By the way, the application for our school has been in the Ministry of Education for a month. We have agreed with many administrators that this legal requirement is completely unnecessary in today’s globalized world. If a school decides to teach, for example, two hours of mathematics per week in English (or in Ukrainian today), we do not see why the approval of the ministry is necessary. I also don’t understand why the legislation is only valid until next March. In schools, the school year is generally planned from September to August.
If it is not yet possible to generalize, is it possible to at least describe the different types of approaches that schools have chosen in the current situation? Are there special classes for Ukrainian children in schools, or are they more integrated into regular classes?
We don’t have anyone in our database who would consider creating Ukrainian courses and planning to have them long term. As a rule, schools assume that if they have a Ukrainian group, it will be temporary for days or a few weeks – then the children will integrate into Czech lessons. Schools that have successfully hired a Ukrainian-speaking teacher or assistant consider teaching Ukrainian or a subject in Ukrainian. Some schools provide relatively intensive teaching of the Czech language, others approach it in such a way that when they give support to children in Czech lessons, they learn the language on the fly. And so far it seems to me that children can be integrated into Czech groups faster than we thought.
In other words – that the children are very adaptable and able to fit in quickly among Czech children?
In our school, we first wanted to create a Ukrainian group, for which we planned to find someone who spoke Ukrainian who would also be in contact with the school psychologist to find out how the children were doing. However, it quickly became clear that Ukrainian children wanted to be with their Czech peers more. Their adaptation was faster than expected, and after a few days we established a diet as similar as possible to the diet of the other children. I believe that we will help Ukrainian children to normalize their situation at least a little, even if the situation is obviously not normal. Some in Ukraine have older siblings, fathers and other relatives they fear. None of them know when and if they will be able to return home. Nevertheless, I hope that a school environment in which they experience something that is close to them and that has its own rhythm will help the children to anchor themselves a little.
You also connect kindergartens, where there is a long-term transcription of demand over supply. How many do you have? And can you see that pre-school facilities will be a bigger issue?
Hooray. Of the 370 schools, there are only about 50 kindergartens, which is very small and already a problem. Our Ukrainian volunteers often refer to the district of the city or the municipality where they live. This is really a big problem in Prague. Here, we will no longer be satisfied with the initiatives of individuals like ours, the State will have to find a solution.
And he may have to compromise on the often strict rules to which the operation of kindergartens and schools in the Czech Republic is subject.
I spoke with the director of the primary school, which has a capacity of a hundred children, but could accommodate many more children in its premises. Officially, however, he cannot enroll other children beyond the capacity of the registry. The ability to increase enrollment capacity would certainly help some schools. So if they could make such a change easily and quickly – that is, without visits and without the approval of the hygienists, who have to assess whether the ceiling in the room is three meters thirty.
How will this next crisis affect Czech education?
Like covid, this crisis will help us distinguish between important and less important in education. This could have a positive effect on the ongoing revisions of the framework educational programmes. Specifically in our school, which emphasizes the development of skills and the values framework, we are happy to be able to involve our children in the care of newcomers. We try to apply our values, which are freedom, solidarity and responsibility, as much as possible in practice – and now we all have the chance to live these values quite intensively in practice. And it is likely that after this experience we will want to reinforce these valuable elements even more, because it shows how important they are for life. This will be the best lesson in solidarity for us.
And also education for active citizenship in practice, tolerance for otherness…
By the way, citizenship education is one of the educational areas of the framework curricula and we now experience it fully in everyday life.