IOM Lithuania: Inclusion of Ukrainians in Lithuanian education – challenges become opportunities

The increased flow of Ukrainians arriving in Lithuania is causing significant challenges for Lithuanian education system. Challenges and opportunities were discussed at the conference "Inclusive school - how to manage culture shock?" organized by International Organization for Migration Vilnius office (IOM Lithuania). 

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine almost 70 000 Ukrainian refugees came to Lithuania in search for temporary accommodation. Most of them were women with children of preschool and school age. Over 24,000 children arrived in Lithuania including 7,461 children under the age of 6 and 16,775 thousand children from 7 to 17 years old. ” More than 200 specialists registered to participate in our conference, which shows the relevance of the problem.It is important to identify the main issues and make decisions. More than 16 thousand children started education in Lithuania’s schools, which would make approximately 50 medium-sized schools. These students need to be accepted and given the opportunity to learn. Before 2022Lithuania had a maximum of 1,700 foreign children in all schools, so Lithuanian education system is facing many challenges", - said Eitvydas Bingelis, head of IOM Lithuania, at the conference.

IOM Lithuania, together with Vytautas Magnus University, conducted a study where they interviewed families which arrived from war-torn Ukraine. "In order to gain a deeper understanding of the problems faced in Lithuanian educational institutions, the expectations of Ukrainian refugees and the professional development needs of teachers, in August-September 2022 we conducted the survey of Ukrainian parents, Ukrainian youth aged 14-18, and teachers working with Ukrainian children  , ," says researchers Danguolė Bylaitė - Šalavėjienė and Marharyta Nikiforova from the Professional Development Institute of the Academy of Education of Vytautas Magnus University. In total, 215 Ukrainian mothers, 45 Ukrainian schoolchildren (14-18 years old), 301 teachers working with Ukrainian children and youth participated in the study. Most of the respondents were from Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, Panevėžys, Klaipėda, a Marijampolė, Alytus, Telšiai, Tauragė, Utena counties. 

According to the research, more than 70% of Ukrainian mothers say that their children arrived in Lithuania having already experienced great stress, fear and disappointment, 40% of the respondents noted that their children experienced learning gaps due to the war, and even 60% of those who participated in the study believe that their children should attend extra-curricular activities to bridge learning gaps.

The majority of Ukrainian refugee children and youth need psychological, social and other pedagogical support. "The challenges of adaptation and inclusion faced by the families of Ukrainian refugees and the Lithuanian education system are really significant, it is very important for all of us to focus and join our efforts to overcome the challenges." - says the researchers. According to them, teachers' assistance in socialization of Ukrainian refugee children is also very important - meetings after school, common leisure activities, which make children feel part of the class and find a common language with their classmates. 

According to the chancellor of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, Julius Lukošius, currently about 15 percent Ukrainian children who arrived in Lithuania can study in their native language.Out of more than 2,000 educational specialists who arrived, about 400 are already working in the Lithuanian education system. 

Meanwhile, the majority of teachers in Lithuania, 88% have no experience working with migrants, and one of the most pressing problems is the language barrier. Teachers also indicate that working in classrooms, where teaching must be done in different languages, is causing many challenges for them. Therefore, in order to successfully engage and manage challenges, the help of education specialists is necessary, as well as methodological and practical instructions on how to behave in various situations would be extremely useful for teachers. 

Richard Martin Nielsen, head of Canadian Embassy in Vilnius, shared his practical experience of how Ukrainians are integrated in Canada. According to him, it is extremely important to develop bilingualism and find ways for Ukrainian citizens in Lithuania to study in their native language, but at the same time learn Lithuanian. In addition, it is important to have a long-term plan, what kind of results we want to achieve in the long-term perspective. He was seconded by Vitalij Mitrofanov, the mayor of Akmene district municipality, who emphasized that the first Ukrainians arrived in Akmene in 2014, and the flow increased after the start of the war. "When a crisis comes, quick solutions to problematic issues are needed, and it is Lithuanian municipalities that mostly solve them, because the person who arrives becomes a resident of that municipality," the mayor said at the conference. He also emphasized that cooperation between institutions at the municipal level is important. 

Currently, there are more than 7.4 million of war refugees from Ukraine in Europe, this is the largest flow in Europe since the II World War. Many countries that have received war refugees: Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany – also face similar challenges -the schools are also extremely overburdened, the lack of teachers is counted in hundreds.