Since February 24, 2022, around 100,000 Ukrainian men and women, mainly women and children, have taken refuge in France. After receiving a temporary residence permit in France, Ukrainian children are educated in French schools.
Compulsory education, place of parents, school programs… A year after the start of the war in Ukraine, two Ukrainian mothers testify to the difficulty of integrating into a different educational system, even though the children often do not speak French.
Two countries, two schools
Hanna Karatieieva stayed in France with her 13-year-old son Kyryl from April to July 2022. A French teacher and Doctor of Letters, she is a lecturer at the National Linguistic University of Kiev. She knows better than others the importance of studies.
Hosted in Luçon by a French family she has known since childhood, Hanna decided to look for a new school for her son. Kyryl therefore entered college in Luçon. “While being in France, Kyryl continued his studies at the Ukrainian distance school, because we planned to return to Ukraine as soon as the situation stabilized. He took classes in both schools at the same time and did double work,” she explains.
Complicated school adaptation
At first, adapting to this new culture was not easy. Kyryl was learning English in Ukraine and didn’t know a word of French when he arrived in Luçon. Alongside her teleworking, Hanna also had to help her son learn French and “it took a lot of effort and time”.
In addition to the language barrier, Hanna was afraid that the French children would not accept the new boy in their class and would laugh at him. “In adolescence, children can be very violent. Moreover, he is a rather reserved boy, but the meeting went well”. Kyryl was well supported by a college teaching team during his schooling and welcomed by classmates, according to his mother.
Different school programs
According to Hanna, teaching methods in Ukraine and France differ considerably. “French teachers try to put everything into practice, visualize everything. Even when we talk about the smallest children, if they learn fruits and vegetables, the teachers bring them and show them during lessons, rather than looking at pictures in books. This is a great advantage of the French educational system”.
Despite the difficulties of adaptation and fatigue, Kyryl has shown himself to be very diligent. “A very solid level. Kyryl is reserved, but always attentive, ”noted his English teacher, in a report card. “French middle school students learn the rules of grammar that I learned a long time ago in my Ukrainian school,” says Kyryl, happy to be the strongest in English in his group.
Since July, Hanna and Kyryl have returned to their hometown of Brovary. Homesickness took over the fear of war.
Stepanok Natalia, a psychologist from the city of Odessa, arrived in France in May 2022 with her 6-year-old daughter Alyona. For Natalia, her daughter was not ready to go to school. “In Ukraine, I wanted to send her to school for a year, because I saw that she was not ready for school. She is still used to sleeping during the day. In France, we couldn’t wait any longer, we had to go to school, our host families put pressure on me”.
School closed to parents?
During her adaptation to primary school, Alyona encountered several problems, including school bullying. “The boys in his class have gotten used to picking up his stuff and throwing it on the floor regularly. Very often, we could no longer find our school supplies”.
For Natalia, when a child is bullied, “if he is not already traumatized by the war or by fleeing his country of origin, perhaps he may not take this stupidity to heart”. This is not the case with Alyona.
To resolve the situation, Natalia approached the teachers with the desire to speak with the parents of the boys who harassed her daughter and resolve the conflict, but “the school promised to take everything in hand”. According to Natalia, the French school is not as “open” to parents as the Ukrainian school: the parents cannot discuss whenever they want with the educational team of the establishment.
In order to be able to enter the school and meet her daughter’s teachers, the mother made an appointment with them in advance, but “the conversations did not come to fruition”. In the end, after her mother’s advice, Alyona managed to befriend the boys. Common games have done their job. The French friends now take her in their arms, hug her.
Lack of psychological support
According to Natalia, the absence of a psychologist at school is “a major defect to be corrected”. “Sometimes the work of the psychologist is essential. As a specialist, I can accompany my daughter myself, but who will take care of the other schoolboys and schoolgirls? “, she explains. Not long ago, a group of children kicked a pupil in a school hallway, his mother was desperate and did not know who to turn to, according to the Ukrainian mum. As for Alyona, the move to France affected her a lot, but she is adapting little by little and has made new friends.