Noise and chatter. A scream here and there. The children are pacing nervously. But the first day of school also affects parents. So they prefer to occupy their restless fingers by braiding braids or combing bangs, opening and closing document cases or checking their watches every now and then.
Until then, it would have been common on September 1 in front of a Cologne school. But even though we are in central Bohemia, you will not hear Czech. Only Ukrainian pupils will go to the building of the local secondary industrial school.
“I’m more nervous than that girl,” Julija admits in front of the school at the exact moment when her daughter slips away and runs to greet her friend. Some of the children already know each other from the adaptation groups they attended last school year or during the holidays.
List of News in Ukrainian
But now everyone needs to be called because the doors are opening and a crowd of parents and children are marching up the stairs to the second floor. There begins the search for the right class – first I., followed by III.D, then again IV.D, and finally II.D and VD
Why do all classes start from D? “They follow on from the elementary school in Sendražice, under which they fall. That’s where the classes end with the letter C, so here are the kids. Even if it is a detached workplace,” explains the deputy mayor of Kolín, Iveta Mikšíková, that all pupils de facto belong to the elementary school roughly four kilometers away.
Miloš Zeman’s last freshmen
“School is supposed to be a game, then a new and slightly more complicated game called life will come,” Miloš Zeman welcomed the new freshmen in his role as president for the last time.
That is why the children were welcomed by the local deputy director Šárka Sixtová on September 1.
“I know that it is a big step into the unknown for the children and for you parents. But I believe that we will manage to solve everything together,” she addressed the parents and the first-graders themselves at the beginning of the year.
While the course of the previous two years was practically dictated by covid, this year can be described as Ukrainian. 60,000 children who fled the danger of Russian rockets, which mercilessly target local schools, will start school.
The Czech Ministry of Education then recommended that refugees sit among Czech classmates and that segregated schools not be created.
Ukrainians with Ukrainians, Czechs with Czechs
Due to insufficient capacities, separate and segregated Ukrainian schools will be established in the Czech Republic.
Segregation? When there’s nothing else left…
But from Kolín’s point of view, it is more like a princely council. Except for the 115 children who walked past me in the corridor and sat down in individual classes, the Central Bohemian city had to find a place for another hundred children. These are students age-classified to the second level, who will instead attend the classrooms of the secondary business school.
Locals can barely fit into Cologne schools. The same situation exists, for example, in nearby Mladá Boleslav, Český Brod or Prague. But even in the regional cities, separate Ukrainian classes will be established.
“We had full capacity even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. In order not to burden our school system even more and at the same time to be able to accommodate all interested parties, we proceeded as follows,” Mikšíková explains why nine exclusively Ukrainian classes were created in Kolín.
However, all children will learn according to the Czech curriculum. Part of the subjects will be taught by Ukrainian teachers, who, however, can speak Czech, even if only to a limited extent. However, local teachers will take over the teaching of the Czech language so that the children can communicate only in Czech as quickly as possible.
Mixed feelings about mixed classes
Ukrainian parents would prefer to see their children in mixed classes, not only because of language learning. But it is simply not possible in Cologne.
“I also asked other parents, and we would all prefer if the children were more integrated into Czech society. On the other hand, it is good that the lessons will take place in Czech,” says Lesja, who accompanied little Nastya on the first day of school.
However, parents are also interested in continuing the teaching of the Ukrainian language.
“They asked if there was any lesson planned during which the children would learn Ukrainian. Alternatively, whether there will also be a circle in Ukrainian. This surprised me, because I expected that they would rather want to improve their Czech language,” teacher Olena reproduces one of the questions of parents of fourth-graders, which was repeated several times.
However, the Czech Minister of Education Vladimír Balaš (STAN) reassured them in this regard, according to which the Ukrainian side is discussing the establishment of Saturday schools. There, children could voluntarily be educated according to the Ukrainian curriculum.
What if we leave now?
But first of all, at the beginning of the school year, the teachers had to unravel the mystery to which their superiors had been searching for the answer throughout the holidays. How many children will actually come and if everyone who signed up will arrive.
“Is Valery here?” the class teacher of the fourth graders scanned the desk and the semicircle of parents standing behind. But no one came forward.
Unlike some empty places on the list, Valerij found himself after about half an hour. He accidentally skipped a year and went straight to the third grade instead of the second grade. But the parents promised that they would be ready tomorrow.
Not only here – in the Cologne school for Ukrainians – are they preparing for a school year full of uncertainty. No one knows how many more students will apply.
“Parents still come with other children. But, for example, we have the third class full to capacity,” adds deputy mayor Mikšíková.
And conversely, what part of the new team will leave in just a few weeks.
“Just today, the parents asked if it wouldn’t be a problem if, for example, they announced that they were going back in September,” teacher Olena confirms the uncertainty of the parents, as well as the schools, who, of course, assured the parents that no one would prevent them from returning to Ukraine.
In the meantime, the teachers will work hard so that the children learn Czech as quickly as possible and also get involved as much as possible in the life of their kindergarten-Czech school. For all school events, they are counted as regular students who just didn’t fit in the building.
Experts warn that dividing children into completely closed Ukrainian collectives can lead to more difficult integration into Czech society. This was recently mentioned for Seznam Zprávy, for example, by an expert on education from the People in Need organization, Tomáš Habart.
In Kolín, too, they would like to dissolve the pupils of Ukrainian schools among their elementary schools in the future. At a time when even the Czech state does not know how many refugees there are in our territory, this is not possible, at least for the time being.
Half a year after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Czechia only has data on how many war refugees passed through the country. The state does not know exactly how many of them still remain in the country.