More than half of Ukrainian refugee children not enrolled in schools in Poland – UNICEF-UNHCR
United Nations agencies for children and refugees encourage refugee parents to register children and warn that low levels of enrolment could lead to exclusion of refugees
WARSAW, 10 July 2023 – 500 days after refugees started fleeing the war in Ukraine, more than half of Ukrainian refugee children in Poland are not enrolled in the national school system, UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today.
UNICEF and UNHCR are urging refugee parents to register their children in the Polish school system because learning face to face in a safe space with peers and teachers is not only important for their education, but is crucial for their socialization, mental health, and wellbeing.
The UN agencies also commended the Polish education system, including the Ministry of Education and Science, municipality governments, principals, teachers, and pupils for welcoming refugees into their schools. In Poland, refugees from Ukraine constitute 4 per cent of all registered students. In more than 85,000 classes there is at least one refugee student.
“Schools go beyond places of learning, especially in times of war,” said Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Country Coordinator for the UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland. “They provide children who have already endured loss, displacement and violence with a sense of routine and safety, a chance to build friendships and get help from teachers, and the opportunity to integrate into host communities. They provide access to services to support children’s mental health and well-being.”
“Poland’s exemplary response to the exodus of Ukrainian refugees has provided those forced to flee with immediate protection, access to healthcare and employment, and free education,” said Kevin J. Allen, the Representative of UNHCR in Poland. “We must capitalise on the education offered to Ukrainian children in Polish schools, and ensure that they attend — building the skills to contribute to a brighter future in Ukraine when conditions permit.”
Nearly half of refugee children from Ukraine, 173,000, are currently enrolled in the Polish school system, including primary and secondary. Around one in five (22 per cent) Ukrainian students at secondary school age attended a Polish school at the end of the last academic year.
Refugee children not enrolled in Polish schools are likely trying to continue their studies online, either via the Ukrainian curriculum or through other distance learning platforms. While these methods provide short-term solutions, they don’t support social development and often fail to yield positive educational outcomes in the long run. Children in Ukraine had already missed years of in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although there is no verified data, it is estimated that around 30% of children from Ukraine who are enrolled and studying in person in the Polish school system are also studying online. It can be exhausting and very difficult for these children. Some refugee children are in non-formal education, attending Ukrainian schools, or have abandoned their education.
Low rates of enrolment can be attributed to factors such as frequent movement to and from Ukraine, as well as obstacles like language barriers and the capacity of schools to absorb new students.
The UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland is working with the Ministry of Education and Science, 12 municipalities and civil society partners to increase access to quality learning for children in Poland. This includes supporting the inclusion of children in national education systems and providing multiple learning pathways for children not currently enrolled. This also means equipping teachers and school staff with training on how to integrate all vulnerable children into classrooms and providing language classes and mental health and psychosocial support. UNICEF has helped more than 900,000 children, including refugees and Polish children, gain access to education in Poland. This includes formal and non-formal education, specialized support, Polish language learning, support for digital learning, and extracurricular and social cohesion programmes. The UNICEF-Microsoft Learning Passport platform launched last week to support the inclusion of refugees and mental health of all pupils will train 8900 educators who will reach 200,000 children in Poland in 2023.
UNHCR in Poland is coordinating the refugee response of over 80 organizations, in support of the Polish authorities. It has a long-standing working relationship with the Ministry of Education related to the provision of support for asylum-seeker and refugee children, in addition to the organisation of annual conferences on education, since 2015, bringing together teachers, experts and local authorities, to discuss the legal framework on education, exchange knowledge and good practices on the inclusion of asylum seeking and refugee children into Polish classrooms, as well as practical workshops.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit https://www.unicef.org/eca/.