Although there are roughly 25,000 Ukrainian children of secondary school age in the Czech Republic who have fled the warring country, only a small part of them have started school. They don’t know the language, lack information or want to return to Ukraine. If they do not go to school, there is a risk that instead of a benefit, they will become a burden for society, which will cost millions of crowns.
Not a single one of the twelve Ukrainian applicants who applied to the Na Zatlance High School in Prague in April was successful. They lacked the knowledge needed for the Czech entrance exams, because they were learning something else at home. After arriving from a war-torn country, they also did not speak Czech and were just beginning to orient themselves in their new environment. “They had a completely different position at the starting line compared to the Czech children,” says school director Jitka Kmentová.
There are approximately five thousand young Ukrainians who do not study at a secondary school in the Czech Republic or remotely in their country. According to a study by research organization PAQ Research, this is a fifth of those who live here. That is, out of 25,000 children aged 15 to 17, who are registered by the Ministry of the Interior at the beginning of the school year.
For the Czechia, this means risk. Experts warn that if young Ukrainians do not go to school, the country will not use their potential. Children will not learn Czech properly, it will be difficult for them to find a place in society and, regardless of their talents, they will end up with only the lowest qualifications.
“Instead of them becoming university students, they will work, for example, as workers. There will be a lost, frustrated generation with whom we will not properly negotiate and which will burden the social system,” points out Miroslav Hřebecký, program director of the educational company EDUin.
Karel Gargulák, one of the authors of the mentioned study, calculates that for each person with only a basic education, the cost will be 2.5 million crowns on average during his lifetime. The loss will be reflected in public budget revenues or service costs.
There is also a risk that such a person will not find a job due to low qualifications and will easily fall into poverty. “They can become an easy target for pathological behavior, such as crime, involvement in a gang, and the like. This is a very vulnerable group,” reminds Gargulák.
Year zero and success in mathematics
A little over a thousand Ukrainian children applied for high school graduation courses in the first round of the admissions process. According to Marek Lehečka, spokesperson for the Center for Finding Education Results, others could join apprenticeships, submit an application in the second round or go straight to a higher year. It is not clear how many of them started studying on September 1, the Ministry of Education does not have the data.
However, partial data confirm that only a fraction studies in secondary schools. In Prague, where most of the refugees went in the six months since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there were less than 800 Ukrainian students, according to the municipality’s spokesperson Vít Hofman. At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior states that approximately six thousand children from Ukraine between the ages of 15 and 17 live in the capital.
The situation is similar in other regions. 141 young Ukrainians out of 1,131 were accepted to study in Liberecky, 512 in Středočeský, roughly a seventh of those in the region. In the Pilsen Region, one fifth of the 1763 went to secondary school.
The Na Zatlance High School in Prague, for example, decided to allow children who failed the entrance exams to attend school. It set up a year zero for them focused on intensive teaching of the Czech language, help with adaptation to the Czech environment and preparation for entrance exams next year. There are 16 students in the class, the capacity is already full.
It is the lack of knowledge of the language that puts young Ukrainians at a significant disadvantage. “Schools rejected some of them for this very reason, especially gymnasiums and lyceums,” says Gargulák from PAQ Research. Many others did not apply to school at all. They often lacked information on where and how to register, many also counted on a faster return to Ukraine. But half a year after the February invasion, fighting continues in the country.
Hřebecký from EDUin states that some directors were too strict with Ukrainian applicants. “If they verify knowledge of the Czech language by dictation, it is logical that a foreigner who does not know Czech will not do it. And you have an alibi that you wanted to help, but you cannot,” he declares. He also points out that better conditions for admission have been created by elementary schools. In the Czech Republic, children under 15 are subject to compulsory school attendance, so unlike secondary schools, principals must accept them.
Nevertheless, there are places where Ukrainians have succeeded. Five refugee students entered the first year of the Smíchovské secondary technical school and gymnasium in Prague. They had above average good results in the mathematics test, they also passed the interview in Czech or English. “I understood everything, and if they have such excellent results in mathematics, I am glad that they will study at our school,” says the director, Radko Sáblík.
At all schools, Ukrainian children had more time to prepare tests at the entrance exams, they could do math in Ukrainian and instead of a test in Czech, they had an interview. But not everyone managed it. “Half succeeded in it,” says director Julius Kolín of the Písnická Gymnasium in Prague.
Somewhere they ran into another problem. Brno Gymnázium Vídeňská admitted ten students to higher grades in the spring, but only one continues in the new school year. “They went to a different type of school, they evaluated starting a gymnasium as a step in the wrong direction. Some got a high school diploma from online education in Ukraine and continue their studies at university, others returned home,” explains director David Andrle.
Both Gargulák from PAQ Research and Hřebecký from EDUin agree that principals should take Ukrainian children to secondary schools, even if they do not speak Czech yet. “If the director has the capacity, he can accept anyone, anytime, anywhere,” says Gargulák. “It can increase the number of children in the class up to 34, which is allowed by the decree,” notes Hřebecký.
Help for those who did not get to school
The Ministry of Education also wants help with integration into the Czech environment. Adaptation groups that are created in schools will be supported by 200 million crowns. In them, young Ukrainians prepare to enter Czech schools and improve their Czech language. Not only those of secondary school age, but also younger ones who did not get into primary schools due to full capacity.
According to Hospodářské noviny, the regions will also be involved. “They will have the obligation to designate one or more secondary schools in their territory that will have targeted intensive language training,” Deputy Minister Pavla Katzová told HN.
Prague, where there are the most Ukrainian children, is launching adaptation groups and teaching Czech in selected schools. In addition to the Na Zatlance High School, others are also preparing zero years.
In order for the Czechia to avoid the risks associated with young refugees who do not go to school, it is important to pay attention to them, points out Gargulák. “Many have bombed homes, they have nowhere to return to. The idea that they will be educated remotely is absurd,” he says, describing why it is not possible to rely on online teaching from the war-torn Ukraine.
If young people were to actually study at a distance, they would miss contacts with their peers. “During the covid, it became clear to Czech children how they need to be part of a team, moreover, the school integrates foreigners into the cultural environment. No one integrates you in a given situation better than the school itself,” Hřebecký points out another thing that school attendance of young Ukrainians would help fulfill.