War in Ukraine: this is how schools for refugees are prepared

Status: 03/21/2022 08:32

There are many children among the refugees from Ukraine. Schools are preparing for this with additional classes. The willingness to help is great, but it’s not just the funding that hasn’t been clarified yet.

By Jörg Poppendieck, rbb

One switch conference follows the next. The phone keeps ringing. For the president of the German Teachers’ Association there is only one topic: refugees from Ukraine. In this context, Heinz-Peter Meidinger sees two big questions that influence everything else: How many school-age children will there eventually be and how will they be distributed across the country?

No one at the moment can answer the first question with certainty. The fighting in Ukraine continues and the number of refugees arriving in Germany is steadily increasing. The answer to the second question is ongoing. The state of Berlin in particular is still bearing the brunt. Most of the refugees from Ukraine arrive there.

A task force already exists

Preparations to teach Ukrainian children are already underway in the federal states. Education ministers have set up a task force. It will coordinate the integration of refugee children in Germany. Karin Prien, President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Minister of Education of Schleswig-Holstein, said we feel it is our responsibility to welcome refugee students into schools in an unbureaucratic way. Most countries rely mainly on additional classes. Depending on the federal state, they are sometimes called welcome classes, preparatory classes, intensive classes, or German classes.

Difficult search for teaching staff

In Berlin, for example, 50 classes of this type are planned, reports the responsible senator, Astrid Busse. There are currently 540 of these welcome classes in the capital. 6,000 schoolchildren learn German there. They should be linguistically adapted so that they can then be integrated into regular classes as quickly as possible. For classrooms that now need to be built from scratch, teachers are needed quickly.

This is a problem for buses. Berlin has suffered for years from a sometimes massive shortage of teachers. “We are currently intensively recruiting teachers for welcome courses and many applicants have already applied, including people from Ukraine,” the senator said. “But we keep looking on all channels.”

“If you need me, I would”

The Association of German Teachers proposes to bring back retired teachers to help integrate refugee children from Ukraine. Meidinger says many former teachers are contacting their old schools and offering to help. Retired teachers’ attempts at responsiveness have had little success in the past, Meidinger says. Now it’s different: “The willingness to help and idealism are great. This makes me optimistic. We have a good chance of successfully welcoming children from Ukraine.”

“Every escape is traumatic”

For this to be successful, the concept of welcome classes is also used in North Rhine-Westphalia. They were created in 2015 when thousands of refugees, mainly from Syria, arrived in Germany. The responsible education minister, Yvonne Gebauer, has announced that it will not just be about teaching German to children. She also promised school psychological help. “We want to allow children and young people who run away from us to attend school, which gives them a sense of security and makes it easier for them to arrive.”

Julia Asbrand emphasizes how important this is. She is a professor of child and adolescent psychology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. “An escape experience is always traumatic at first. What Ukrainian children urgently need now are orderly facilities. They need the opportunity to integrate into everyday life, which creates great stability for the children.” .

Who should pay for it?

All these additional offers will incur costs. Mainly the personnel costs. The Berlin Education Senator and the teachers’ association see the federal government as a duty on this issue. It should help, they both require independently of each other. The leader of the Meidinger association proposes a foundation similar to the digital pact. Schools would receive federal grants if they hire additional teachers, but these are managed by each state. Busse goes even further: “It’s not just about the staff. There must be starter packages for the kids – and we need support for additional materials.”

The first Ukrainian students are already being taught in Berlin. However, the newly created welcome classes are still in the preparatory stage. According to the senator, this can be tolerated: “Imagine traveling to different countries for days. Then school is not the immediate goal,” Busse said. “People have to calm down for a moment.”

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