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Column 18:52 11 Aug 2022

6000 applications for 750 places. How a Ukrainian school works in Poland

According to UNICEF, between 400,000 and 800,000 Ukrainian children left for Poland because of the war. They all need education. No matter how Poles try to help, there is a shortage of places in Polish public schools. Especially in big cities, such as Warsaw, and Kraków. Some children also cannot study online in Ukrainian schools, because many schools are either destroyed or under occupation. What shall I do?

How the "First Ukrainian School in Poland" appeared

We created the "First Ukrainian School in Poland" because of the urgent need to provide education to evacuated children from Ukraine, who fled the war and found shelter in Poland. For this, the "Unbreakable Ukraine" foundation was established in order to be able to attract funds from donors. And we held negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Culture of Ukraine to do everything right, according to state standards.

To date, a network of Ukrainian schools has been created in the cities of Warsaw, Wrocław, and Kraków. Education is completely free. We provide children with all the necessary materials. The teachers in schools are Ukrainian female teachers who also evacuated to Poland. We organized Polish language lessons and even a rehabilitation course from psychologists for children and their parents (if needed).

In addition to the educational program, the "First Ukrainian School in Poland" has an entertainment program. We make creative and sports competitions, exercises, concerts and master classes, excursions to other cities or museums, and flashmobs to thank friendly Poland. We even organized a graduation party for 11th graders in Kraków! And in August, came Hollywood star, Priyanka Chopra.

For the period of summer holidays, the "First Ukrainian School in Poland" in the cities of Warsaw, Wrocław, Kraków, and Rzeszów organized summer camps for children of all grades. The purpose of their creation is to learn the Polish language, an additional opportunity for children to make friends, and to distract them from the war. During the summer, more than 3,000 children will join the camp.

Why another Ukrainian school in Poland is needed

According to UNICEF, from 400,000 to 800,000 Ukrainian children left for Poland. As of the end of the spring semester (May 30), approximately 190,000 children studied in Polish schools. About 25,000 of them are in kindergartens, 120,000 are in primary school, and the rest are in middle and high school. This is not much, considering the number of everyone who left. Parents hoped for a quick end to the war, so they were in no hurry to find new schools for their children, who had already experienced a lot of stress. Numerous temporarily displaced Ukrainian children continued to study online in their native Ukrainian schools. Another 20% of evacuated children could not finish the school year due to various circumstances: the school did not conduct online training, there were no gadgets, there was no room, the temporary housing was not suitable for studying, etc.

Currently, the Polish education system is very overloaded, they were not ready for such a challenge. There is clearly a shortage of places for Ukrainian children in the largest cities. The Poles try very hard to help, but they do not have such an opportunity. Zero countries could withstand the influx of more than half a million children at one time.

We, as a Ukrainian school, are trying to fill this gap and help relieve the burden on the Polish educational system. We are not enemies of Polish schools and not even competitors. Likewise, we just want to provide our children with an education.

As for Polish children and parents, we also understand their difficulties, because the general level of education in schools is falling. If a few Ukrainian children who do not understand the language get into a Polish class, they "pull" the class down. Polish parents are not happy about this, but the teacher has no choice but to focus on the "weaker" in the class. We don't want that to happen.

How do schools appear so quickly and where the funds are from

We started as a charity organization, and the foundation team worked on a volunteer basis. However, it was obvious that the project is ambitious, complex, and will not be able to exist in this format for a long time. Renting just one room costs 10,000 euros per month. So, I started looking for external funding and applying to various international funds.

Already in May, we signed a partnership agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund — UNICEF. They provide donor funds for educational materials, sports equipment, food, and teachers' salaries. We are the first and only organization that managed to attract funding from this fund for what is essentially a "visiting" school. My husband and I partly finance the school ourselves.

Перша українська школа у Польщі

Last semester, we provided 750 children with offline education and employed 65 Ukrainian teachers. The admission campaign for the new academic year is currently underway. And we faced a huge demand. With funds for 750 places, we received 5,927 applications from parents!

Перша українська школа у Польщі

At the same time, the number of children in Poland is increasing every day. The signals coming in about September 1 are quite alarming. 

According to the figures we collected in the spring, when we interviewed parents through the Telegram bot, more than 56% of Ukrainian refugee children studied in Polish schools. About 28% continued to study online in Ukrainian schools and only 4% of Ukrainian refugee children studied in a Ukrainian school in Poland.

The numbers we collected in the summer were already different: 53% of parents plan to send their children to Polish schools, 17% will study remotely in Ukrainian schools, and 8% want to find a Ukrainian school.

We closed registration for our school back on July 13, but applications are still coming in. Word of mouth is working. We already have almost 6,000 applications. This is six times more than our capacity. And no matter how hard we try, there is a lack of funds, so we are working on attracting additional funding (and gathering donations a bit).

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