What can schools in Baden-Württemberg do for children and young people who have fled the war in Ukraine? A conversation with the Minister of Education BW Schopper.
SWR: Minister, how is it possible to integrate Ukrainian refugees into schools in Germany, in Baden-Württemberg, once we have the language barrier in front of us?
Teresa Schopper: The language barrier is a really big problem. But of course we are building something like a structure and a safety for the children and young people who are coming to our schools. The children have fled, some are traumatized and just need some structure for the day. And of course they are often very educational. The fact is that we are going in two directions: on the one hand, we know that Ukraine’s offer to online school children still exists in part and that children are also taking part in it. On the other hand, we say that they should also be placed in classes in an unconventional way. Where there are several Ukrainian students, we also organize appropriate classes so that they can learn German. Because this is the most important prerequisite for surviving in the school system.
Are there any freedoms for organizing such classes, for all schools? Or do you need to get approval from the ministry first?
Let’s see where many children go. We see a difference from the refugee wave in 2015/2016, where vocational schools were affected mainly because they were often younger men. Now the children are mainly in the primary area, i.e. elementary schools, and of course in secondary school and also in elementary schools. Let’s look at where the children are, at what age, with what educational background. And then the classes are set up or filled there. We have language courses that have already started. And that would take care of the children.
What do you hear from the schools about how the current situation is being addressed? Does it work everywhere?
Of course, classes in schools are often already full. But we have an incredible willingness to help and an incredible wave of acceptance. Everyone lends a hand, both from the school administration and from the schools themselves, to really offer children this structure and safety. The war has been raging for five weeks now, marked by losses. So it is particularly important that we in schools compensate to some extent for the loss of what the children had in terms of safety.
You have already mentioned the traumatic experiences that many students have had during the war or while fleeing from the war. How can schools specifically help in these cases? Are there offers to help cope with trauma?
Well, of course we asked for support from the ZSL (Center for School Quality and Teacher Training). ZSL is also working at full speed and already has ideas on how to help Ukrainian children. We have the school psychologists who are anchored there so that appropriate support can be provided. Of course, we also have volunteers on our internet portals who can provide interpreting services, because obviously a school psychologist can only work if you are able to communicate in one language. Here we are. But I think the most important thing is to simply create structures again, to overcome this situation of arriving with the children to some extent. Of course we cannot relieve them of their worries about the family that has remained in Ukraine, of their worries about when they will be able to go back. We can only try to alleviate it accordingly and activate some joie de vivre.
How much do you value the risk of Ukrainian children going to school in Germany, but in the end they might not be able to take anything with them?
You have to see how long the situation lasts. But I think the step taken by the Ministry of Education in Ukraine, for example, which says: this year we will not take the final exams, is correct. The children have now received the maturity without exam. I think it is immensely important that they have the opportunity to start here with this degree. Why don’t you fool yourself: Someone about to graduate from high school in Ukraine would probably only do it with great difficulty within a few years. And now, at least for these children, the opportunity is given. This is an important step. Also, many refugees still have the attitude right now: if possible, we’ll be back right away. But we don’t know how the situation will develop. In any case, we are doing everything we can to ensure that the children are enjoying themselves here right now.