Nadacia AK blog EN

Obligatory school attendance for children from Ukraine (and foreigners): How to do it?

Last June, when then Minister of Education Daniel Butora announced that obligatory schooling for children from Ukraine and other foreigners living in Slovakia would be introduced from September 2024, it was both good and bad news for us.

The bad news is that for many children (especially from Ukraine) it means the loss of another year of life, but the good news is that someone competent finally realized the problem and considered it necessary to solve it (albeit with a time delay). After this statement by the Minister of Education, it seemed that the ministry was working hard on this. Today is already February, but there is no mention of either changes in legislation that are necessary for the introduction of compulsory school education, or the preparation of schools themselves for such significant changes.... Is it being prepared at all?
The Czech Republic introduced obligatory schooling right after the beginning of the war and for the last two years has been improving and adjusting integration processes on the basis of experience and results. In Slovakia, on the other hand, we are still afraid that it will not work, and so we prefer to deal with mothers who cannot find a job or teenage children drinking alcohol on the "Green Roof" in Bratislava's Nivy area. At the same time, we did not have to deal with anything like that.

According to statistics, there are 37,000 Ukrainian children under 18 living in Slovakia, 11,800 of whom are in school. We don't have exact statistics, and we often hear the argument that many of them have returned home or moved further west, but if we look at the number of pediatrician visits (which is a fairly relevant figure), we see that in September, if obligatory school education is approved, we can expect up to 5,000 new students from Ukraine, and we're not even talking about other children of foreigners living in Slovakia with a temporary stay, who will be affected by this change anyway. We should also take into account that most of them will enter high school without the necessary knowledge of the Slovak language, which will exacerbate the problem.
Compulsory school attendance is not just a walk in the park, and in addition to changes in the law, the state will face new challenges.

  • Parents will be obliged to enroll their child in school, which means that state institutions will have to control this process (UPSVaR and the Ministry of Interior).
  • The school in the place of residence must provide a place for the child. It is necessary to find the key to schools and regions with fully loaded places (the problem is mainly for the BA region).
  • It is necessary to increase the number of obligatory Slovak courses as well as the teachers who can deliver them.
  • Schools should be strengthened by increasing staff (teaching assistants as well as psychologists), which requires financial costs.

So the question arises: How to do this?

Categorizing schools and building internal and external capacity to support schools

According to the Institute of Educational Analysis, schools should be categorized according to the number of Ukrainian children already enrolled (For example, 1: priority schools with over 20 children, 2: secondary 10-19 children , 3: low enrolled up to 9 children, 4: without children from Ukraine). There cannot be more than 20% of Ukrainian children in schools due to the risk of segregated schools. Prioritisation of schools in categories 1 and 2 may be encouraged, which may increase the capacity to the maximum (3 more children per class in BA and a total of 2,631 more than now). In addition, building internal support capacities of schools and sharing of support services between schools and other actors (counselling facilities, leisure centres, non-governmental organisations, etc. forming external support capacities) as well as information and data support (portal) for managing inclusion of children from Ukraine is necessary. It will be necessary to continuously update data on available capacities in schools, collect and evaluate data from schools, parents and other actors towards the inclusion of both refugees and other foreigners in the educational process.

Slovak as a foreign language

The language proficiency level of children from Ukraine in schools already varies to a large extent, but most pupils do not reach a level that would allow them to participate fully in education and so they leave schools, which will not be possible after the introduction of compulsory schooling, and the problem will not "go away" by itself in this way. The findings of the State School Inspectorate show that also due to a number of obstacles, less than one third of schools with children from Ukraine (31.4%) organized courses in the state language in the school year 2022/23. Therefore, it is necessary to establish rules and procedures to eliminate the language barrier for emigrants. An example could be the use of approved standards for Slovak as a second (foreign) language everywhere, not only in 40 schools. This is possible in the form of an addition. In addition, it is necessary to monitor and record the understanding and use of Slovak language by foreign students, which is possible only during compulsory language courses (6 hours per week, minimum 150-200 hours, maximum 8 children). For this purpose, it is possible to use approved textbooks of Slovak as a foreign language, not only the textbook Aha, Slovenčina! (basic course), but also other textbooks "Slovak Language and Literature" (supplementary course) and "The World Around Us" (preschoolers and first graders), which have not been practically used in practice so far.

Support for school staff and principals

This whole complex process can be managed only if there is a well-established model of training of pedagogical and professional staff, including utilizing the potential of advisory bodies under the headmaster, aimed at the education and integration of Ukrainian students. Adjusting the system of school funding to take into account the increased costs of educating such students and providing appropriate pedagogical and professional staff, taking into account the peculiarities and needs of education. For example,

  • Ukrainian-speaking assistants (20-29 children = full-time),
  • for category 1 schools - an additional full-time psychologist and special educator,
  • for schools of category 2 - additional 0.5 rates of a psychologist and a special teacher,
  • for category 3 and 4 schools - no benefits,
  • support of experts and specialists to support schools in the field of inclusion of foreign children = 1 full-time for every 140 children from Ukraine in schools.

Psychosocial and social support for "odídenec"

We must not forget the Ukrainian children, who are often demotivated, disgusted with life and do not want anything... This is the effect of the war and let us not take their temporary state as their personal failure. What is needed are preventive activities, psychologists directly at schools, activities (sports, artistic activities, etc.) suitable also for children from abroad, and prevention of bullying of these children.

Example of the German model

Maybe we should also create a zero-prep class for children who are not yet ready to go to school without preparation. There are many more examples of this in Europe, we just need to find a suitable and proven solution in practice. For example, we will certainly have children coming to us during the summer of 2024. A school modelled on the German model could create a half-year zero year with a subsequent timetable and focus.
Obligatory classes:

  • Slovak language at a minimum of 2 hours per day in grade 1 of elementary school, 3 hours per day in grade 2 of elementary school, 4 hours per day in secondary school (lessons in Slovak as a foreign language).
  • Computer literacy using own or school computer equipment
  • Preparation for university studies (these courses will be prepared by individual universities for their future students)
Optional classes:

  • Learning another language (English, German, Spanish, etc.)
  • Courses organized by the Ukrainian side within the framework of online education, possibility to join online programs in UA.
  • Other courses organized in Slovakia.
  • Sports and cultural events organized by NGOs involved in projects supporting the integration of Ukrainian emigrants (e.g. #PohybSpaja).

The child doesn't wait...

Changing the position of the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, which recommends including its citizens in the school system of the state where they are now, is a very good and logical step. It is already obvious that they realize that this situation will last for a long time, the child will not wait, and it is the school, even a foreign one, that is the best social background for him/her, which will help him/her to grow up and be successful in adult life. Has Slovakia realized this as well? "The first thing we need and what should be in Slovakia's interest is to teach these children the Slovak language," Education Minister Drucker said recently. This, he said, would create more chances for their employment and integration in Slovakia, which could also help improve the economy. But for this to happen, compulsory schooling must be introduced as soon as possible and careful preparation for this step must not be skipped.

Alona Kurotova's current articles are also available at