“Welcome to school”: 3,500 Ukrainian refugees already in class (21.03.2022)

On Saturday morning, 55,711 refugees had entered Italy since the beginning of the conflict: 28,537 women, 4,776 men, 22,398 minors. For a child and a boy, school is as synonymous as possible with everyday life and normality. How do we as a country set up the school integration of these children and adolescents, through the videos with applause that are popular on social media today? What are the main lines of our design? We talked about this with Stefano Versari, Head of the Department for Education and Training of the Ministry of Education, which note no. 381 of March 4, 2022 with the first indications for the school reception of Ukrainian students in exile, followed by note 9584 of March 8, 2022, the 20 million euros for psychological support and note no. 269 ​​which opened a survey on the school reception of Ukrainian students.

What are the first answers the school gives these children and adolescents?
The response from the schools and the administration was immediate. As early as March 4th, we issued an explanatory note on the first reception methods. Solidarity and school inclusion are the two cornerstones of our action. We work to welcome all children and young people on the run from the war. To date, about 3,500 of them are in school, of which 3 out of 4 (about 75%) are in schools in six regions: Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Campania. The prevailing age group is that of childhood in primary school (about 65%). They are welcomed by adopting as a style the “pedagogy of the ladder”. That is, there are many steps prepared to enable you to rise from the abyss of suffering. Socialization, linguistic, cultural interventions, welcoming styles, “community pacts” with the territory, institutional connections … Last but not least, relations with the community of Ukrainians already living in Italy: about 250 thousand before conflict. Each of these interventions forms a step of the ladder to build the ascension and light of every exiled student.

These people are probably not here to stay, they want to get back to their cities as soon as possible. “Pedagogy of return” was spoken of. To set up a pedagogical and educational intervention with the perspective of integration or return, specifically, how does this change?
This migration phenomenon is characterized by three elements: brutality and violence based on flight; the immediacy of the time (about 3 million refugees in about twenty days); the temperature of the Exodus (at least as far as personal hope is concerned). These are special conditions that require specific didactic and pedagogical interventions. They also propose the close connection with the Ministry of the Interior and the prefectures. To try to “govern” the everyday problems of the “arrival” at the first reception.

Let us think about the period from now until June, what activities can be planned and presented? What slips instead of avoiding them? In the consciousness of the different ages.
Let us hypothesize the tripartition of the time before us. The first phase is that of “slow time for hospitality ”, until the end of the school year. A time to compose socialization groups, to gain first communication skills in Italian, to deal with trauma. A second phase of “consolidation and strengthening” of the same elements, also through community agreements, it can be implemented during the summer period. Finally, with the school year 2022/23, a third more structured phase of “school integration” could begin. For this last phase, however, the conditions under which it will move are largely unknown.

For the first phase of these weeks?
For the current first phase, it seems sensible to adopt the “pedagogy of return”. Let me explain. The time spent in our country will probably not be short: at least one has to wait for the reconstruction of the many destroyed houses and infrastructures. But Ukrainians want to go back to where they came from. Therefore, inclusion paths that are not assimilated are needed. It is good that the Ukrainian language, culture and school are preserved in some way, as far as possible with the support of the communities to which they belong in our country. It is also necessary to avoid educational “slips”. Excess: Exiles must be greeted with open arms, but their grief for all they have lost must be respected. Therefore, I believe that sobriety should be the rule that is accepted in the greeting.

What is the role of community pacts in collaboration between schools, communities and third sector?
According to an African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a childThe “pedagogy of the leader” implies the need for more steps, with diversified functions for the reception of these new students from us. The school alone can not compile all the necessary steps. The community pacts set out the steps , made available by the “village”, the municipality, to provide the best welcome, also at school, of the exiles, they are the contribution that local authorities, private social organizations, families, Ukrainian communities decide to offer the school the best fulfillment of its task.

Our schools are equipped for the first time to welcome immigration students who enter the classroom without speaking Italian … However, the urgent demand for cultural and linguistic mediators is now coming from the territories. How to deal with this specific problem? With what resources? And in any case, for example, would people who are not qualified as mediators be paid with these resources?
Together with the traumas experienced, the language barrier is the first obstacle to the pedagogical action of the school, particularly in the reception and socialization phase. However, the linguistic mediators are not equal to the needs. However, with the cooperation of the Ukrainian communities and the exiled teachers, he is confident of meeting the multiple language needs of at least the communicative type. It is worth remembering, however, that linguistic and cultural mediators are the responsibility of local authorities and the intervention of the Ministry of Education has the function of direct support, not as a substitute. I also believe that the resources for the emergency and therefore for this important point will be allocated in a future “Ukrainian law decree”.

What if the incoming student has a disability? It will probably not be certified. Is it conceivable to require certifications to have, for example, the support of a teacher in this humanitarian emergency?
Unfortunately, the modalities of flight suggest that few disabled minors can leave Ukraine. Those who succeed, as always, will still be welcomed in a way that suits their condition. The documents, the certifications favor the knowledge of the situations, but they are not set on condition of the welcome. The school, like the hospital, welcomes and cares first and foremost about the person who is confronted with competence, commitment and ethics against the day-to-day emergency.

Photo by Nati Pexels

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