Refugee flows from Ukraine
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that around 10 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes since the Russian invasion of 24 February 2022. This figure represents almost a quarter of the total Ukrainian population of 44 million inhabitants. Many of those people fled to other regions of Ukraine, away from the fights, while over 5.7 million left the country entirely to seek haven abroad. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War.
The flow of refugees from Ukraine is different from other migration flows in the past. Many of the people involved are women and children, while adult men stayed in Ukraine to keep working or fighting in the war. This means that a large number of school-age children have to be accommodated in host countries. According to estimates from the United Nations Refugee Agency, the largest group of refugees – over 3 million – travelled west to Poland, while other smaller groups went to other neighbouring countries such as Hungary, Moldova, Romania or Slovakia. On 12 April 2022, UNICEF stated that 4.8 million of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children were displaced, with 2 million having left the country. Of those, an estimated 1.9 million are of school age (please see note below for details on how the estimates of this story were produced).
There are reasons to believe that there might be an undercount regarding estimates of the number of Ukrainians in the EU following the war. One reason, as a German association of migration research stressed, is that Ukrainian citizens can travel into the Schengen area without a visa, and freely reside for some time in any one country without registering. This factor alone makes it particularly difficult to determine exactly how many Ukrainians have reached the EU in the last few months, and where they are now. Many were counted as refugees as part of the humanitarian effort, but others might have just reached relatives that were already living in the EU.
Data provided by Polish authorities allows us to better understand who those children are, and the efforts that were made to accommodate them as quickly as possible into the school system. According to this data, in the span of a few months, a little less than 150 000 pupils were enrolled into Polish schools.
At the same time, data on the total number of refugees arriving in Poland shows that not every child was enrolled in a school. The highest rate concerned children in primary and lower secondary schools (i.e. aged 7 to 15 years old), of which about 40 % were enrolled. Around 20 % of young children that could have been enrolled in a kindergarten or a similar institute were able to do so, while only 10 % of upper secondary students were enrolled in a Polish school. This means that there are a few hundreds of thousands of school-age children who are not attending any school. Nonetheless, it should be considered that some children, along with their parents or relatives, might have left Poland for another country.
The age distribution of children tends to be strongly skewed towards the younger ages. As this reporting has highlighted, pupils were mostly enrolled in primary or middle schools in their host countries, while high schoolers often relied on remote learning provided by teachers that stayed in Ukraine. Data from countries that provided a detailed age breakdown of young Ukrainians enrolled in their schools, such as Poland, confirmed that the vast majority of those students were attending a primary or lower secondary school.
All in all, a little more than 110 000 children, aged 7 to 15, were enrolled in Polish primary or lower secondary schools, 24 000 in pre-primary schools, and another 6 500 in upper secondary schools. In order to maintain the current teacher-to-student ratio and meet the new demand, Poland would need to hire an additional 10 500 primary or lower secondary school teachers, 1 900 kindergarten teachers and a few hundred teachers for older pupils.
If we were to project this distribution of children onto other EU Member States, we would get a rough estimate of the additional needs of school systems in the EU. Given their ample flows of arriving refugees – from 300 000 to 450 000 people up until early May – Czechia and Germany can expect to host the largest number of pupils in their schools, with figures exceeded only by Poland.
Assuming that the same proportion of enrolment and the same distribution in schools observed in Poland applies, Germany would host a little less than 50 000 Ukrainian pupils in their primary or lower secondary schools, and roughly another 4 000 in pre-primary schools such as kindergartens. A few more older children might be enrolled in upper secondary schools, but those numbers could be limited, as many may prefer to keep working with their Ukrainian teachers remotely, as they did in Poland. In order to maintain the current teacher-to-student ratio, Germany would need roughly 5 000 new teachers to accommodate these new students.
Under the same assumptions, Czech schools would need to adapt to only a slightly smaller number of new pupils, with about 40 000 children in primary or lower secondary schools, and another 3 500 in pre-primary schools. A total of 3 000 additional teachers would be needed so as to not increase the burden on existing ones. While this is lower in terms of numbers, it must be noted that Czechia is a much smaller country than Germany. It has a population of 10.5 million inhabitants, compared to Germany’s 83 million, and all things considered the adjustment will be harder for the former.
All other countries hosting Ukrainian refugees, such as Spain, France, Italy and Lithuania, will receive a much smaller number of new pupils in their schools. Nevertheless, the impact of these new pupils will be much greater for smaller countries such as Lithuania. With only 2.8 million inhabitants, the current number of school-age child refugees relative to its population is equal to more than four times that of Germany, a burden that may hinder Lithuania’s ability to adjust their schools.
Detailed and up-to-date datasets, such as the ones provided by the Polish government, allow us to understand what the flow of Ukrainian refugees might mean for school systems in the EU. Those datasets can also be useful to create estimates for other Member States and help them better prepare for the arrival of school-age children. The estimates could be even more accurate if more countries collected and published separate data about refugees and their age structure, whenever possible.
Our estimates are calculated as follows. We defined refugees of school age as Ukrainian refugees that are between 3 and 17 years old. UNICEF estimated the total number of children refugees (i.e. under the age of 18) to be 2 million. We used data on the age distribution of refugees in Lithuania and Poland to estimate that an average of 5 % of children refugees are between 0 and 2 years old. Therefore, the number of Ukrainian refugees of school age is roughly 1.9 million.
The data sources for the total number of refugees in selected countries are the following:
Czechia, latest update 5.5.2022,
Germany, latest update 4.5.2022,
Spain, latest update 26.4.2022,
France, latest update 29.4.2022,
The number of under 18-year-old and 3- to 17-year-old refugees in those countries, when not directly available, was estimated based on an average of other countries that provided such data. The resulting estimate is that 39 % of refugees are under the age of 18, based on an average of 34 % in Italy, 41 % in Lithuania and 42 % in Poland.
To produce an estimate of age classes and possible schools attended by refugees, we used Polish data that detailed how many pupils went into different schools, and assumed that other countries analysed in this story would have a similar distribution. The difference between enrolled school children and the total number of children of school age is also estimated using Polish data gathered about refugees, which is then projected to other countries, assuming they would have a similar distribution.
Whenever necessary for our estimates, we also assumed that age had the same frequency in each age class. For example, in an age class of 0 to 6 years old, we assumed that all ages were represented in equal numbers.
The number of additional teachers needed is estimated by multiplying the number of pupils by the teacher-to-student ratio for each country. The teacher-to-student ratio definition might not be identical in all countries because of some differences in the Eurostat dataset that was used. For more information about this, see the ‘Coherence and comparability section’ of its metadata. The dataset refers to the year 2020.
To access the data used for this story, you can download it here. To download the visualisations, click on the following: Refugee flows from Ukraine and School enrolments of Ukraine's refugee children.
Article by Davide Mancino
Data visualisations by Federica Fragapane