The integration of Ukrainian students who have fled the war into Lithuanian schools is a significant challenge, and the question of how to effectively integrate them into the country's society and education system is becoming more and more pressing. Despite Lithuania's efforts to improve access to education for war refugees, many agree that the current system needs to be improved in order to fully meet their needs.

IOM Lithuania recently organized two seminars for teachers, led by Professor Dr. Giedrė Kvieskienė from Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania) and Dr. Snežana Obradović-Ratković from Brock University (Canada). These seminars allowed teachers to learn about the latest migration challenges for schools and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to support Ukrainian pupils to integrate into Lithuanian schools effectively.

Challenges and opportunities

Experts mentioned some of the most common challenges faced by educators, schools, and refugees themselves, including:

  • Language barrier; 
  • Different curricula; 
  • Opportunities for socialization; 
  • Preparation of educators.

IOM Lithuania and Vytautas Magnus University carried out a study, "Challenges, expectations, socio-emotional well-being of Ukrainian families." The study revealed that as many as 53.3% of learners complain about complicated grammar and vocabulary when learning Lithuanian. As many as 33.3% of Ukrainian students say they do not receive any additional help. This affects their learning outcomes and can cause difficulties in-class participation, communication, and learning, and new ways of tackling this problem need to be found. 

The teaching methods used in Lithuanian schools are different from those used in Ukrainian schools, which can lead to children being confused and not understanding what they are learning. Ukrainian children leaving their home country and starting again in another country face a break in their education and have to re-adapt to the changed situation. The study revealed a lack of educational support for Ukrainians arriving in Lithuania. The study found that 55.8% of the children did not have a learning assistant, 79.3% had a mentor, and about 90% had a peer mentor, suggesting that Ukrainian migrants may have had difficulties not only in fitting in at school but also in accessing the educational resources available at school and in taking part in non-formal education activities.

The analysis of the positive socialization of Ukrainian pupils revealed barriers and hindrances. In addition to the aforementioned language barrier, different financial possibilities were noted as limiting Ukrainian children's participation in non-formal education activities, and parents highlighted the lack of access to educational support specialists. The survey revealed that as many as 45% of Ukrainian refugee children were not involved in/attended school events or holidays, and more than 50% of Ukrainian pupils did not participate in extra-curricular activities due to the low income of Ukrainian refugee parents or the lack of free non-formal education activities on offer. 

Dr. Snežana Obradović-Ratković notes that educators are among the first professionals that refugee families meet. In many cases, they are the ones who bring together newly arrived migrants and people who are ready to provide support.

Clearly, Lithuania still has a long way to go to equip teachers with the necessary tools to work effectively with refugees and migrants. The study found that as many as 88% of all teachers have no experience working with refugees and migrants, and only 1.2% have studied methodologies for working with refugee/migrant students during their pedagogical studies. In this context, it is essential that teachers are provided with the additional support, resources, and training needed to develop the competencies necessary to effectively teach and interact with recently arrived refugee and migrant students.

Advice for teachers 

Helping migrant pupils is a complex process. The study found that 65.1% of Lithuanian teachers either entirely or partially changed their teaching methods or enriched their teaching with personalized work when Ukrainian refugee children joined their classes. 

During the seminars, the researchers formulated and presented additional recommendations to promote their adaptation successfully: 

  • First of all, give the pupil extra time and attention. Show that you care and that you can listen can make a big difference and reassure them that they are safe now. 
  • When it comes to rules and expectations, be clear but sensible. When students misbehave, be patient with them and try to keep them involved in class activities and continue their education. Regular exercises help create a sense of stability. 
  • Listen to their thoughts and fears without being judgmental. Give them a sense of autonomy by encouraging them to help other students in the class or community and encourage them to organize presentations or cultural evenings. 
  • Incorporate the child-to-child approach into the learning process by entrusting other pupils in the classroom with facilitation and counseling tasks. 
  • Cooperate with Ukrainian parents by involving them in the learning, educational support, and counseling processes. 

By giving extra time and attention, setting clear expectations, and listening to children's thoughts, expectations and fears, you can help Ukrainian pupils in crisis to become stronger and adapt more quickly to new learning conditions.

In summary, Ukrainian refugee students arriving in Lithuania face many challenges and disruptions. Lithuanian educators have a unique opportunity to create an inclusive and welcoming learning environment. While this is not easy, educators should strive to ensure that the education offered to refugee students is accessible, relevant, and valuable. It is essential to work in teams and collaboratively, involving the parents of the pupils and providing not only learning but also educational support to the Ukrainian pupils, engaging them in the non-formal education activities that are necessary for the children to integrate successfully, regain confidence, develop emotional resilience, and then apply this knowledge in Lithuania or back home.