How are refugee children taught online?

A refugee student from Ukraine is sitting in Germany doing her homework. Image: ANP / Robin van Lonkhuijsen


Julia Dombrowski

When the war broke out, many Ukrainians not only had to leave their homeland, but also their daily life and their future plans, such as the school leaving certificate they were aiming for. How the school career of refugee children and young people should look is still controversial.

Tens of thousands of refugee students want to continue to be educated

A total of 38,237 refugee children and young people from Ukraine are now educated in German schools, at least according to the Conference of Ministers of Education (as of April 3). A new task force (“Task Force Ukraine”) composed of representatives of all federal states has been tasked with dealing with the coordination of refugee students and teachers and to consider solutions for their further education, as Education Minister Karin Prien announced at the Conference of Ministers of Education on March 18.

The CDU politician said that the working group had “among other things addressed questions about the possible employment of Ukrainian teachers and educators and the continuation of schooling according to the Ukrainian system, for example via online platforms “. In addition, she must advise on open legal issues, the provision of social workers and school psychologists, and the use of digital textbooks and teaching materials.

“Our common goal is to welcome children and young people who come to Germany to our schools and enable them to go to school quickly and easily.”

Education Minister Karin Prien (CDU)

But while members of the German education system are still considering some refugees have already found their own solution: They use their home schooling system.

Ukrainian cities are under fire, but homeschooling is working

Many people in Germany are reporting on Twitter that Ukrainian teachers who fled started teaching again weeks ago from their host towns. Also DThe students themselves are already sitting at their computers early in the morning, in order to participate in the lessons with his classmates, some of whom are now scattered all over the world. Even inside Ukraine, learning is evident in the midst of a state of war, even in shelters, like a local resident on Twitter reports that these are equipped with W-Lan.

“When it comes to digital education, Germany can learn a lot from Ukraine.”

Stephan Bayer, founder of online learning aid, sofatutor

Two schoolgirls watch online lessons from a shelter in Perechyn, Ukraine.

Two schoolgirls watch online lessons from a shelter in Perechyn, Ukraine.Picture: photo alliance / Photoshot

Here in Germany, where online teaching has often been described as lacking during the pandemic, there is great astonishment at how well it works. The far-reaching digitization of the Ukrainian school system under Corona now benefits refugee students – they can continue to be educated according to the Ukrainian curriculum, in their mother tongue. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection.

Stephan Bayer is the founder of the online learning tool sofatutor and, together with a team of entrepreneurs, app developers and education scientists, listed free Ukrainian online learning platforms after the outbreak of the war, which could be useful for refugee students, teachers , but also to German educators.

The extensive offer he found confirms the lead of Ukrainian homeschooling. “When it comes to digital education, Germany can learn a lot from Ukraine“, Bayer said in an interview with Watson.

“As part of the pandemic, the Ukrainian online school has been developed, which contains video tutorials and tests as well as materials for independent work in 18 main subjects for students in grades five to eleven. apart from that, there is also the Ukrainian Digital Textbook Media Library. . This is a collection of more than 1200 digital textbooks available online. In Germany, we can only dream of this.”

A piece of normality in a world where everything has gone haywire

He believes that such offers are particularly important in times of war, so as not to unnecessarily complicate the continuation of lessons: “For Ukrainian school children, especially those who have just started school and those who are about to obtain their degree, it is important that the continuity of educational processes is very important.

“Ukrainian refugee children are traumatized, worried about their families and homesick. Suddenly they have been torn from their familiar surroundings. “one thing above all: a bit of normality. . And it is part of normal daily life for a child to learn and understand new things. Consideration of the Ukrainian school curriculum is particularly important because most families Ukrainian women wish to return to their country of origin after the end of the war.

Stephan Bayer at Watson

Even school diplomas can currently be obtained online. The Ukrainian school and the Optima distance school have the appropriate licenses that allow the digital marking of exams and the issuance of valid certificates. A physical visit to a school on the refugee site is therefore theoretically not necessary.

Ukrainian lessons as part of the preservation of national identity

In any case, the Ukrainian consul general Iryna Tybinka rejects the reception or integration classes, which have been offered in the past to refugee children and which are currently partially reinstated in Germany. She asks that Ukrainian refugee children continue to follow the Ukrainian program.

Before the conference of education ministers in Lübeck, she explained her position with two reasons: On the one hand, it is hoped that the Ukrainians will soon be able to return to their homeland, in “one year at the latest”. Secondly, it is also about “maintaining Ukrainian identity” – Putin would aim to annihilate the nation. This is precisely why it is important to continue to preserve the Ukrainian language and culture.

Statement by Consul General Tybinka

Pure homeschooling, however technically advanced, means staying in touch with home and everything you knew. However, this also means that refugee children do not really arrive in Germany. They don’t learn the language and are less able to participate in social life with their peers in their new living environment.

“School at home” in an emergency shelter in Hesse: Mama Oksana (43) helps her daughter Jana (10) with digital lessons.Image: dpa / Nadine Weigel

But Heike N. from Rhineland-Palatinate has seen the benefits this can have. The primary school teacher had an eight-year-old girl, Silvia, in her class for two weeks, who had recently fled Ukraine.

In an interview with Watson, she said: “We felt Silvia was good to be around other kids and have a daily routine. She was a very bright kid, she liked to have fun with her kids. peers.”

The admission of the young refugee was rather unbureaucratic – she simply ran with the neighbour’s child, with whom she had found accommodation. “We just did it,” Heike says. “She took the classes and learned a few letters from first-grade books. If she had a question, she came to me and I used Google Translator on my smartphone to translate it.”

In the long term and for several students, this is of course not a solution, but the teacher specifies it. “I suspect there is another program coming to our schools. In fact, we don’t have time to support these students as teachers outside of regular classes. We are already struggling with staff shortages.”

German teachers hope for personal support for remedial teaching

She believes that targeted language courses, more social workers and a universal program to integrate Ukrainian students into the German school system will be urgently needed in the future. Especially in big schools.

Silvia herself has now traveled further and now lives in France. “But two more students from Ukraine will come to see us in the next few weeks. Let’s see how it goes then,” the teacher said.

Contrary to the wishes of the Consul General, reception classes and provisional entry classes have already been set up in many German Länder, particularly for Ukrainian schoolchildren. Stephan Bayer also thinks this is the right way to go: “Since it is not known how long the war will last, it is important and right to integrate children into the German education system“, he believes.

“But it’s also important that children have the opportunity to experience some ‘normality’ on top of all the terrible events of the past few days and weeks. A double burden of new educational content, which is also available in a foreign language, is more likely to be a deterrent, which is why some lessons should be based on the Ukrainian curriculum.

Students in a new reception class for young Ukrainians in Berlin.

Students in a new reception class for young Ukrainians in Berlin. Image: dpa central image / Monika Skolimowska

A hybrid model could be the temporary solution. Because the existing online tools could also relieve the German colleagues. “For example, teachers have the option of accessing Ukrainian learning materials, such as worksheets and textbooksso they don’t have to create them separately,” says Bayer. “If the children have problems understanding the learning content due to the language barrier, Ukrainian learning videos can also be used.

The question of the schooling of Ukrainian children also seems so complicated because it raises a serious additional question: Where will their future be? Will they stay in Germany or leave like Silvia? Can they ever return to their homeland?

Hope versus resignation, clinging to the old or involuntary start of something new: excitement runs through the educational theme. For now, the students have no choice but to endure that since the war they no longer only have to lead a life between two worlds – but also between two school systems.

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