Should Ukrainian children go to Latvian schools?

How to better integrate Ukrainian children into society – this issue is raised by the organization “I want to help refugees” (Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem). Latvia is encouraged to choose a model practiced in neighboring countries, which provides for the mandatory inclusion of Ukrainian children in local educational institutions, Latvian Radio reported November 30. 

Remote learning 

Natalya and her son live in Ķekava. They came to Latvia a year ago from the Ukrainian city of Odesa. Natalya's son spent the last school year at Ķekava High School. But now 8th-grade education continues remotely at a school in Ukraine.

The reason for removing her son from school was communication with the form teacher, Natalya said.

“When my kid started classes, of course as a mum, I was worried about how the adaptation was going, how the communication was going with the kids, what his performance was at school. I was worried about it. And I couldn't contact the form teacher for a month. The teacher was constantly busy... with all my calls and school visits... She constantly had some work situations that prevented her from giving me time,” Natalya said.

The family was also frustrated by the fact that at the Latvian school, the boy has to go to 7th grade when he is in 8th grade in Ukraine.

Right now, with his son learning remotely in Ukraine, the family is satisfied with the experience, and it is planned that the son will graduate secondary school this way. However, Natalya does not yet know whether she will move back to Ukraine. Whether to move to one of the Latvian schools at some point will still be considered.

Younger pupils do well

Meanwhile, five children are growing up in Darina's family. They live in Tukums. The youngest son goes to kindergarten, there's a son in 5th grade and a daughter in 7th grade. Another daughter goes to a Ukrainian school online, but the older daughter is already working.

Darina said the two secondary school-aged children are doing well.

"The daughter, who is in grade 7, I think doesn't have any difficulties at all. The son in 5th grade has quite a big load at sports school. He loves football a lot, the team and I travel to competitions, there's a lot of load and overcrowding at times, but he's already doing his homework in Latvian on his own," Darina said.

The oldest school-age daughter has had it more difficult with education in Latvia, said Darina.

“She went to the same Latvian school – Rainis High School, but already back in Ukraine she didn't do so well at school so that continued here. In Ukraine, she had a special sports school which holds online training. It's the last, 11th grade, so she didn't have enough time for both the final year [in Ukraine] and the Latvian school,“ Darina said.

Both parents of the family found work in Latvia, and Darina said she plans to stay in Latvia, so she emphasized the importance of learning Latvian language. Children already understand the official language – they learn and communicate in Latvian on a daily basis.

Organization recommends all children go to Latvian schools

In total, 3,757 Ukrainian children are currently attending Latvian schools. Some of them learn both here and remotely in Ukraine. However, there are many families where children attend only remote classes in Ukrainian schools, and there is currently no obligation for these children to be registered with the Latvian educational institutions.

However, in the organization “I want to help refugees”, such a change in the system is necessary.

“For Ukrainian children, school in Latvia is more than just education. Learning is, of course, a very important aspect for every child. But an equally significant aspect for Ukrainian children is socializing, knowing they do well, being able to meet other children rather than only learning online while at home. There are also different types of support available at school. Social worker, psychologist, speech therapist. So is the opportunity to communicate and ask the teacher questions face-to-face,“ said Linda Jākobsone-Gavala, head of the organization.

There are no official data on the total number of children studying remotely in Ukraine from Latvia. However, estimates from the Ministry of Education and Science suggest there could be around 4,000 children.

Involvement in the education system of Latvia would allow children not only to integrate more successfully into society, but also reduce the risk that there may be gaps in the education of the child, which will affect opportunities in the future, according to the organization. 

Ministry of Education and Science told Latvian Radio that it is currently not planned to involve all Ukrainian children in the Latvian education system on a mandatory basis.

“We are based on a UN directive that sets out economic, social cultural commitments. And it's determined there that parents choose an educational institution,“ explained Education Department expert Olita Arkle.

“The Education Law also states that parents have the right to choose an educational institution [..]. So we respect the needs of parents. At the same time, we have justified and determined that there should be data on those children who are in remote learning,” Arkle said.

She explained that local governments are encouraged to encourage Ukrainians to participate in the education process in Latvia, but this will not be a mandatory requirement. 

“I want to help refugees” representative Jākobsone-Gavala said: “Of course, the later a child later enters the education system here and, in the long term, has to stay here - the more difficult it will be to get involved in high school, vocational education and also in higher education.” So the risk is to become excluded from society, according to the organization. 

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