The three Ukrainian students who have been attending the Wilhelm von Humboldt Community School in Berlin since this week communicate using translation apps and voice-image maps. It works well, says director Judith Bauch. The children, aged nine, ten and eleven, learn German for two hours a day, otherwise they are integrated into regular classes. Other Ukrainian children will probably join them soon.
Education politicians estimate that at least a third of the approximately 240,000 Ukrainian refugees in Germany so far are children and young people who will sooner or later have to find accommodation in schools or kindergartens. There are no reliable figures on this yet. Nevertheless, the urgent question is: what will happen to Ukrainian schoolchildren once they arrive in Germany?
There seem to be two types of answer to this question: either young people are allowed to continue what they have learned so far as calmly as possible – through Ukrainian textbooks or online courses with Ukrainian teachers, mot- key: connectivity. Either you teach them German as quickly as possible and introduce them to the German education system, keyword: integration.
So far, German policy seems to be moving in the second direction. State education ministers have set up a task force to help refugee students and teachers as quickly as possible. For example, it is planned to clarify whether Ukrainian teachers can be employed in German schools and to what extent digital Ukrainian teaching materials can be integrated into lessons. The working group met for the first time last week.
Ukrainian history is missing from German school curricula
In many countries, the reception classes set up for refugees in 2015 are again under discussion. Federal Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) has also offered such classes for Ukrainian school children. Their goal is to teach German to refugees as quickly as possible so that they can then be integrated into regular classes. According to the Senate Education Department, 50 reception classes have already been set up in general public schools in Berlin. In Bavaria, there have recently been “educational welcome groups” for Ukrainian refugees, and in Schleswig-Holstein German is taught as a second language in separate classes.
However, the current situation is different from that of 2015: no one knows how long Ukrainian refugees will stay in Germany. Ukrainian Consul General Iryna Tybinka spoke out against “integration classes” during a presentation at the KMK and advocated education according to Ukrainian curricula. Students stay in Germany only temporarily, so it is important to ensure the continuity of educational processes and to maintain the national identity of Ukrainian children. The history of Ukraine is almost entirely absent from German school curricula.
“I can understand the wish that all of this would end quickly. But the children also have to get here now,” says the director of the Berlin school Judith Bauch. Nevertheless, she is currently trying to arrange for one of her students’ mothers, a Ukrainian teacher, to also teach the children their mother tongue.
“It shouldn’t be one or the other,” agrees the president of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger. It advocates an open concept that combines German lessons with digital Ukrainian learning materials. Also faced with the shortage of teachers, which had already put a strain on the schools, it is now necessary to find pragmatic solutions: to assume the role of mediator, one could also hire adults without pedagogical training. According to Meidinger, it should not be hoped too soon that Ukrainian teachers will fill the gaps: “I am skeptical about their availability in schools so quickly. Maybe a few hours a week, but definitely not 20.”