Education of children of foreigners (not only) at the time of the coronavirus pandemic

Education of children of foreigners remains a marginal issue despite the recent significant increase of the number of foreigners in Slovakia. While in 2010, approximately 62 thousand foreigners had a certain type of residence granted in Slovakia1, in June 2020, it was 145,000.2 

Since many foreigners come to Slovakia together with their families and their children are gradually finding their home here, too, the number of these children in Slovak schools is also rising. When compared to 2010, the number of children of foreigners in the state, private and church schools has tripled to the current 3,500 children.3 Considering the demographic forecast, the gradual ageing of population and the improving social and economic situation, it is highly probable that the number of these children in different types of schools will continue to rise. This is specifically true for Bratislava region where there is already a relatively high number of foreign children in all types of schools. It is because almost half (42%) of all children with foreign citizenship living in Slovakia go to school in this region. 

Although the Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture together with Milan Šimečka Foundation pointed out many obstacles and barriers children of foreigners faced in the education process in their 2011 research4, almost no progress has been made in this area in the last 10 years and our schools are still not prepared for teaching children of foreigners.

Children of foreigners were „left behind“ during the coronavirus crisis

This became obvious at the time of the coronavirus crisis when pupils were taught online for several months. The crisis has clearly shown that disadvantaged groups face the most serious problems in education. According to the analysis of the Institute for Education Policy, more than 32,000 primary school pupils may not have internet access. It negatively impacts primarily children from poor families and Roma families – every other poor family has no internet connection and in Roma households, only every third or every fourth child has internet access.5 

There were other children who faced similar issues with education, for instance those with various special educational needs or children with health impairments. The coronavirus crisis  has exposed the extent to which the education system is not prepared for educating children who, for different reasons, do not have enough support from their parents or relatives in the situation of distance learning. 

Therefore, it could have been anticipated that children of foreigners might be in a similar or even more difficult situation regarding education. No state institution including the Ministry of Education or any other directly managed organization addressed this issue during the pandemic – no analyses were carried out and no methodological or other support was provided to teachers or parents of children of foreigners. The parents had no support due to the language barrier, poor contact with schools or poor orientation in the education system. However, no statistical data is available on how children of foreigners were educated during the pandemic, how many of them were completely left out of the education process and what kind of barriers they were facing at that time. 

In April 2020, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture and Milan Šimečka Foundation carried out a small survey among teachers who had children of foreigners in their classes. 

The survey revealed that children of foreigners really faced many barriers in distance learning, which the teachers were unable to respond to properly. It showed that although many children of foreigners had internet connection and received e-mails with tasks form teachers and even downloaded them, they only did the simple and comprehensible tasks and the tasks their parents and relatives could help them with. Moreover, there were situations when children of foreigners withdrew and did not respond to online communication from their school at all. There may have been several reasons for that – starting with poor internet skills and ending with not understanding Slovak language well enough (they did not understand the e-mails from their teachers). Some children, especially the ones who have lived in Slovakia for a long time, can speak Slovak well and their teachers have regular contact with their parents, which helped them deal with distance learning well, similarly to other (Slovak) children. However, this was very likely not true for all children of foreigners who go to Slovak schools. 

Even though the survey did not have parameters of a detailed research or an in-depth analysis of the situation, it pointed out the long-term, system problems Slovakia has had with education of these children. The above mentioned two organizations have issued a short handbook with a view to helping teachers of children of foreigners keep in contact with them and be able to provide at least a basic form of education to them during the pandemic. There were other non-governmental organizations such as Mareena that provided tutoring to children of foreigners during the pandemic, tried to mediate contact with schools and helped the children do the school tasks. Many children would not have had any support without help from the civic sector. 

Positive signals from the Ministry of Education for future

Open communication with the new management of the Ministry of Education, which not only responded to the offer of NGOs, but also uploaded the handbook Teaching Children of Foreigners at the Time of the Coronavirus Crisis6 to its website, marks a positive change. Also, the first steps taken by the new Minister of Education indicate that this issue will be dealt with systematically. The Inclusive Education Unit has been set up at the Ministry, which should, among other things, ensure adequate support for education of children of foreigners. 

The National Institute for Education is also planning to address the issue of educating children with the mother tongue different from the language of instruction at schools. At the present time, the institute is implementing several projects focusing on this area, for instance an Erasmus + project called „Educating Teachers towards Inclusion of Children of Foreigners“ or projects such as „Slovak for Foreigners“ and „Support of Multi-lingual Classes“.7 However, we do not have information on what the programmes have achieved and so far, no tangible results can be seen in the education system. 

It will be necessary to address this issue in a more complex way, to take into consideration the various barriers children of foreigners face and to develop more complex policies to support not only the teachers educating these children, but also their parents and the children themselves.

What do we need to change in the education system in order to eneable children of foreigners to succeed in it?  

The coronavirus crisis has only revealed the tip of the iceberg and has pointed out how very marginal education of children of foreigners still is despite the rising number of these children in schools. There are still several barriers that need to be reflected on and gradually eliminated if we want the children to be integrated into the education system. What is needed is political will, awareness of the existing shortcomings and an effort to develop effective and complex solutions in future. The 2011 research showed that when the number of children of foreigners in schools is low, teachers can deal with their integration individually and on their own. When the numbers are rising, as we can now see in schools in Bratislava, teachers are not be able to handle the situation on their own and they need tools of support at the system level. 

So, what is currently missing and what are the barriers in education of children of foreigners in Slovak schools? 

  1. Inadequate legislation

According to the current Education Act, children of foreigners are provided education under the same conditions as apply to the citizens of the Slovak Republic. This wording is very important because it includes children of foreigners into compulsory education and enables them to enjoy their right to education. This unambiguous and non-discriminatory approach is fundamental for having the children in our schools and for ensuring that they can fully enjoy their right to education. However, the implementation of the term „under the same conditions“ can also be problematic. Children from a different cultural background, who cannot speak and use the language of instruction and often come to schools in the middle of a school year or at the age when they have already received education in a different country, cannot be educated under the same conditions. They need a specific approach like the one used in case of children from a disadvantaged background or children with health impairments. 

At the same time, children of foreigners are often not socially disadvantaged and do not necessarily have health impairments or learning disorders, due to which they could be placed among students with special educational needs. This means that they are not entitled to teacher’s aides or other tools to compensate for the disadvantaged position they are in regarding language and culture.

  1. Language barrier

The Education Act enables schools educating children of foreigners to ask the relevant District Office for funds needed to eliminate language barriers, that is for Slovak language courses. The Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture and Milan Šimečka Foundation research of 20118, but also information gathered from teachers within the KapaCity9 project show that such courses are not enough for children and they are of poor quality. Many schools do not use them either because they do not know about the funds available to them or because they are difficult to administer. Education of children of foreigners should be a part of a more complex issue of education of children with a different mother tongue. At the same time, their specific situation needs to be considered, especially the fact that many of them were not born in Slovakia, they do not know the alphabet and have special needs in this area that should be adequately addressed. Therefore, their situation is different from the situation of children from national minorities who may not speak the language of instruction (and definitely need a specific approach when learning Slovak), but were born in Slovakia and have grown up in the shared education system, which is not the case of children of foreigners and can be another barrier in their education. This is particularly true when they arrive here at older age and start school attendance at the lower secondary education level. 

  1. Unclear methodological guidelines and absence of methodological support

Currently, schools do not have adequate and comprehensible methodological guidelines for grade-level placement and evaluation of children. The current methodological guidelines for grade-level placement allows a school principal to place a pupil at a certain grade according to the level of their knowledge and the level of the official language proficiency for the period of one year. However, this is problematic for both schools and pupils. It is a problem for pupils because they are often placed at much lower grades with much younger children. At the same time, the grade-level placement alone, without adequate methodological support, does not guarantee that a pupil eventually reaches the level of knowledge and language proficiency needed for their placement at the appropriate grade. The absence of methodological guidelines and the lack of adequate language learning cannot be replaced by such a simplified measure.

The same applies to evaluation of pupils, which is the same for children of foreigners as it is for all other children with their mother tongue different from the language of instruction. If a pupil transfers from another school, they get the same mark as they had in their former school for the first two evaluation periods at the new school. This is often problematic for children of foreigners because the school may not have the relevant information or because the evaluation in their country of origin is not compatible with the Slovak education system. After the first two evaluation periods, if a child still has low level of skills in the language of instruction, the child’s language proficiency is evaluated based on more moderate criteria. In relation to other subjects, the level of knowledge should be evaluated, not the language skills.

However, it is problematic to gain adequate knowledge without adequate language skills. Therefore, it is much more important to adapt the methodology to help teachers provide quality and effective education (in relation to language learning, but also to other subjects). The fact that we use more moderate criteria for student evaluation does not mean we provide effective education to children.

  1. Soft forms of support – adaptation of children 

Coming to a new country, a new school and a completely new environment is very difficult for children of foreigners. Many of them experience so called „culture shock“ and they need support to adapt to the new environment. The new situation is stressful enough and  it is even more difficult for them to integrate at school. Teachers are not adequately prepared to help with adaptation of children; they lack intercultural communication skills. At the same time, we need to work with the whole class, communicate well with parents, and thus get children ready for education in a completely new environment for them. There is still a lack of such support in Slovakia and we consider it crucial for successful education of children.

We need a completely new approach

After having identified the basic barriers children of foreigners face in education, it is obvious that emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning connected to it necessarily affect education of children of foreigners. In future, we need to develop a much more effective system of support that will also work in „fair-weather times“. The number of children of foreigners will probably continue to rise, which will place more demand on teachers. They are already in a rather difficult situation since they teach very diverse groups of children with very special needs. An overall change of attitude to education and readiness for diversity of children is a key prerequisite for improving education of all children in Slovakia.


  1. Bureau of the Border and Foreign Police (2011), Statistical overview of legal and illegal migration in the Slovak Republic, available at:
  2. Bureau of the Border and Foreign Police (2020), Statistical overview of legal and illegal migration in the Slovak Republic, available at:
  3. Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (2019), Statistical Yearbook of Primary Schools for 2019/2020 School Year, available at
  4. CVEK, NMŠ (2011), Education of Children of Foreigners in Slovakia: Needs and Solutions, Bratislava, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture and Milan Šimečka Foundation. 
  5. Institute for Education Policy (2020), How to ensure education for all children at the times of crisis, Comment 1/2020, available at:
  6. Milan Šimečka Foundation, CVEK (2020), Teaching Children of Foreigners at the Time of the Coronavirus Crisis, available at:
  7. Information available at:
  8. CVEK, NMŠ (2011), Education of Children of Foreigners in Slovakia: Needs and Solutions, Bratislava, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture and Milan Šimečka Foundation. 
  9. For more information see

Elena Gallo Kriglerová is a founder and a director of CVEK. She studied sociology in Bratislava and took part in numerous groundbreaking research projects concerning the situation of Roma and foreigners in Slovakia. She focuses on integration of foreigners, inclusive education, social cohesion and trust.