Pupils Prepare Policy Briefs: Displacement Masterclass with Prisma Ukraїna
By Prisma Ukraїna Team
On Thursday, 29th of June 2023, the class 8b of the Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium visited the Forum Transregionale Studien for a full-day workshop on the topic of displacement in the context of Russia’s War against Ukraine. In the Displacement Masterclass, conducted by Prisma Ukraїna Fellows Viktoriya Sereda and Lidia Kuzemska, pupils learned about the Forum Transregionale Studien’s Prisma Ukraїna: War, Migration and Memory project, an interdisciplinary research group of Ukrainian scholars in Ukraine and Germany that has been constituted in 2022 under the direction of Viktoriya Sereda. The research group offers a multi-scalar perspective on the transformational effects of war and dislocation on people’s memory, history, and sense of belonging. Since 2016 the Forum cooperates with the nearby Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium and arranges encounters of pupils and fellows on issues of common concern. This time, the idea for a Masterclass on the theme of Displacement arose from conversations between Viktoriya Sereda and Dorothee Poche, class teacher of 8b at the Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium.
The goal was to give the pupils an insight into the practical work of an international research institute, to show what politics, history and geography lessons are good for in practice, and also to let them slip into the role of social scientists themselves and develop policy briefs for decision makers in politics.
Since summer 2022, Ukrainian scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds work together in the research group War, Migration and Memory. The Prisma Ukraїna project has established a working group that connects scholars from different locations, crossing physical borders through collaborative digital working spaces and other formats and facilitating knowledge exchange between German and Ukrainian academia and society. One of the unexpected project effects was that all the scholars, irrespective of their disciplinary approach, felt that it is important to document and record the experiences of their compatriots and the societal transformation processes in relation to the war. As a result, a big archive of survey data and interviews with displaced Ukrainians in Germany, Poland and Ukraine has been created.
Viktoriya Sereda and Prisma Ukraїna fellow Natalia Zaitseva-Chipak created three sets of anonymized case studies out of these collected, first-hand data – about displaced Ukrainians in Poland; about displaced Ukrainians in Germany; and about IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Ukraine. These case studies served as the basis for the students to draft their policy briefs in group work. The results were presented to the entire class at the end of the day.
The workshop day started with a short self-introduction of the hosting scholars from the Prisma Ukraїna team and the pupils of the class 8b. As it appeared, the Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium classes are very diverse in regard to the family histories of the pupils, so many students could immediately relate to the topic and build the following group work on the expertise based on their own personal experiences and ways overcoming similar difficulties. In a later reflection of the experience, the students recap in their school publication: “Since our class is incredibly multicultural, it was particularly interesting to hear and process the experiences of classmates and their families and friends. Through the workshop we learned a lot of new things about internal migration, immigration and the internal problems that emigrants have to struggle with every day.”
This first part was followed by a substantial introduction on the history of migration, including reflections about nature, scope and patterns of migration from early times until today. One of the main questions discussed were how we differentiate, call and count different forms of migration, and how stereotypes are formed. After these theoretical inputs, the students worked in groups of six on the case studies in a tabletop exercise. It was suggested to them to imagine that they were scholars who collected data about the new wave of Ukrainian refugees or internally displaced, and based on these findings they were invited to advise deputies of the parliament (German, Polish or Ukrainian) on difficulties displaced Ukrainians experience.
Each group had to work on one country case. They received an integrated note with country specifics, describing which steps had already been taken by the respective government, short descriptions of the social and demographic profile of the respective groups, and how these defined their main needs in available opinion polls. Additionally, the students received several real-life stories from the interviews that the Prisma Ukraїna War, Migration and Memory research group had collected. The concluding presentations at the end of the day offered the following findings.
Needs of forcibly displaced Ukrainians in Germany.
The first group presented the analysis of needs of forcibly displaced Ukrainians in Germany and an accompanying analysis on the existing response strategies by the local, federal and national authorities in Germany and opportunities to improve them.
Based on the preliminary prepared case studies and materials collected during the interview with Ukrainian families and individuals, the first group identified that over 50% of forcibly displaced Ukrainians in Germany are between 30-39 years old, which determines the character of their needs. The primary area of concern was, in their opinion, the lack of employment opportunities for forcibly displaced Ukrainians in Germany and certain difficulties to penetrate the job market, despite their formal professional qualifications obtained back in Ukraine. Following the respondents’ concerns, this group advocated to facilitate the acknowledgment of these formal credentials in line with the German labor market standards. According to their argument, key aspect of the labor market integration was a pressing need to acquire unimpeded access to German courses (or other foreign languages, like English) to boost their competitiveness and increase their competencies and skills in demand at the local job market.
Given that most of the forcibly displaced are woman in their thirties with children, another pressing issue for them is to ensure the prompt integration of their children into the schooling and education systems as well as in general in the local communities to overcome various social barriers in place. The last but not the least recommendation made by this group was related to uplifting the existing barriers on the way to affordable and long-term housing solutions.
A second group of students presented their analysis of the case study along with mapping of the forcibly displaced Ukrainians’ needs in Germany, by dividing the background material in the case study into the following categories: a) positive facts; b) issues; c) solutions. Following this categorization, the second group looked into the current state of affairs of Ukrainians living under the temporary protection mechanism in Germany and the benefits they receive with the alleged positive impact on their current situation. Such aspects as free transportation, medical insurance, social housing or subsidized rent along with the monthly welfare of about 450€ in addition to payments for each child received positive feedback among the Ukrainian community and should be continued by the host country (Germany in this case), the group argued.
The most severe problems overlapped with those identified in the first group. These are the persistent and growing need for ensuring enough language courses in villages and small cities in Germany; creating more opportunities as well as kindergartens and daycare spots for children in order to relieve caregivers (mostly women) from time-consuming daycare. Along with the suggestions to improve governmental support infrastructure, group 2 has expressed an idea to allocate extra funding to civil society organizations and initiatives, helping Ukrainian forcibly displaced on the ground to settle down and receive support, which they reported to depend on.
Having laid out the most critical points of concern, the group formulated the pillars for decision-makers in Germany to take into account while planning further response strategies. These are: provision of more kindergartens, and German language courses in villages and small towns (or provide online courses); and financial support for non-governmental organizations.
The plight of Internally Displaced in Ukraine.
Throughout the group work session, two other teams of students have conducted a profound situation analysis of IDPS in Ukraine, who did not flee to another country but were forced to change their place of residence inside Ukraine due to the ongoing military actions in or in proximity to their home towns, threats to their family and children security etc.
Following the preliminary prepared case studies, the first group identified as the most severe issues for IDPs the following: complete or partial absence of electricity and hence a disruption of internet connection, which takes a toll on staying connected with friends, family circles, ability to work remotely for adults and follow school classes online for children if such opportunities exist; impeded access to employment, school and in some cases loss of mobility or inability to leave their current place of residence in Ukraine. Some bold and innovative ideas, including the improvement of connectivity between Ukraine and Europe through infrastructure projects were advanced as possible solutions to bring IDPs in Ukraine to safety in Europe.
Their analysis also offered a perspective with a focus on vulnerable people among IDPs in Ukraine, including 2.5% people with disabilities and 5% women who are either breastfeeding or pregnant and thus require more needs-oriented infrastructure of targeted support services from the Ukrainian state.
The second group gave insights into the IDPs state of employment before February 2022 and after, with the number of employed before February 24 shrank from almost 69% to 48%. Following the description in the case studies, group 2 captured main types of support services IDPs already receive from Ukrainian state, including food supplies, medical and social services.
Forcefully displaced Ukrainians in Poland
Media discourses tend to emphasize the examples of remarkable solidarity and readiness to help shown towards forcefully displaced Ukrainians in Poland. The comprehensive analysis by two groups of students confirmed the breadth of humanitarian aid provided in Poland but also carved out difficulties and offered possible solutions. Based on the contextual information, the first group started with an overview of government responses to the incoming displaced Ukrainians. The students’ analysis revealed that children and youth were a particular focus of the Polish government’s policy, which paid a monthly child allowance and provided free education for Ukrainians. A further measure was a one-time cash payment upon arrival and the legal fixation of the support for displaced Ukrainians in the act of assistance for Ukrainians.
Although official data report that 760,000 displaced Ukrainians are employed, finding work according to their occupational qualification was mentioned as a pressing issue in the interview accounts the students analyzed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, displaced people named the housing conditions and access to healthcare and social services as further challenges. The reported lack of language skills and insufficient social and cultural integration probably exacerbates these problems.
The students mentioned a range of well-tailored possible solutions to the identified difficulties, including labor rights initiatives and more affordable housing. In their view, a greater variety of multilingual information, language courses and support networks could foster greater integration of Ukrainian displaced people in Poland.
The second group focused on presenting the challenges and difficulties of Ukrainian displaced people closely along the lines of the interview accounts. The lively talk emphasized the multiple responsibilities of forced displaced women juggling between finding employment despite the non-recognition of their qualifications and meager possibilities for childcare. Those who worked found it challenging to find time for their families beyond helping their children with schoolwork.
Students becoming scholars
The Displacement Masterclass with the 8b of the Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium sparked a great synergy among the pupils. Within a short time, they turned into young academics-ambassadors advocating for IDPs and refugee rights and needs, demonstrating great empathy, deep argumentation, and strong English language skills. Their respective presentations to the group were well-thought and structured. In the aftermath the class concluded: “This workshop was a first-class opportunity to perceive and understand the coexistence and changes of people and their nations over the years, to recognize problems and to discuss possible solutions.”
The collaboration between the school and the Forum Transregionale Studien felt less like a day with an eighth grade class and more like a university event. Admittedly, we from the Prisma Ukraїna team were positively surprised by the commitment, great interest and content quality of the students’ group work and, at the end of the day, the two accompanying teachers were visibly proud of their class.
 The first encounter was in the framework of aWorld Café on the theme of “Refugees in the City” that took place on 28 Apr 2016. See: https://trafo.hypotheses.org/5214. On another occasion pupils from the the Walther-Rathenau-Gymnasium spoke about their experiences and thoughts on questionsof Migration, Displacement and Integration:
Citation: Pupils Prepare Policy Briefs: Displacement Masterclass with Prisma Ukraїna, in TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 22.08.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/48232