Roma children studying in foreign schools have excellent results
Roma children are intelligent and diligent, but they also need a lot of attention and trust instead of discrimination, they need to feel trusted from the first moment you meet them. They have excellent results in school when their families move abroad. Furthermore, they achieve that in a foreign language that neither them, nor their parents spoke before. This makes one wonder what they could have achieved in their home country where they could have studied in their mother tongue.
I read about the excellent results of the Babington Community College, an elementary school in Leicester, England. Leicester is rightfully called a multicultural center of Britain, and Babington is a school attended by children of immigrants out of whom 54 percent have a native language that is not English. Eighty-two Roma pupils study at Babington as part of the inclusive system, which takes into account their Roma origins. Schools in Slovakia or the Czech Republic would have tried to segregate such a large number of pupils, and would have constructed special classes meant to help them tackle their “learning problems.” Some of these children went to special schools back in Slovakia, while in Babington they have no problems following all the subjects included in the English-language curriculum.
Another example is another British school called the Rochester Academy. Children often had problems due to their low attendance back home. How does Rochester Academy deal with this issue? If a child is not present for 5 percent or more of its classes, the school invites the parents to a discussion about the child’s absenteeism. The child’s attendance is strictly monitored afterwards, and if the problem persists the parents may get a penalty of up to 100 pounds per one child. If such a measure will not bring about positive change either, social services have a right to take the child. Similar practices are applied in Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well, so what is to blame for the low attendance of Roma children back home?
I would say that it is the environment. Roma children living in Slovak communities must flounder through mud and snow to take the bus, a problem they do not deal with abroad. Abroad they are integrated, while at home they feel segregated. At home, everybody treats them as illiterate because they speak Romani and don’t understand Slovak well. Of course, there are Slovak and Czech schools whose Roma students have good results. The main thing that helps with that is the attitude of teachers and schools. The former do not have to be almighty and do the impossible. But a lot depends on them, almost as much as on the Roma communities and settlements where a child grows up. While at home a majority of Roma children are considered a “lesser breed” and criminals, abroad it is different. I am not saying that discrimination and racism do not exist there, but somehow Roma children get a fairer chance to fulfill their potential.
I had an opportunity to see that with my own eyes in the Irish town of Ennis. Roma families from a small Slovak village decided to leave their home country for better living conditions abroad. Now they happily live, work and study in Ireland. Their two daughters are amazing. They learned English incredibly fast, and one can see how they enjoy the schooling system there. Their teacher is in a close contact with their parents, so any issue related to their education can be easily addressed. The girls, who are currently attending primary school, do not speak Romani among themselves after coming home from school, even though their native language is Romani. They have been speaking English with their parents as well, and they have enjoyed it as much as they would enjoy a game. I found watching them very interesting. I wonder whether the girls would have enjoyed school so much and learned English so well in their village school.
When I criticize the approach of Slovak teachers and schools towards Roma children, I focus on the prejudice that Roma children are low-performers, and I speak out of my own experience.
After completing primary school, my cousin and I had a chance to continue at a secondary school. But my teacher assumed we might not able to complete our studies, so she did not file our application. According to her judgment, my cousin and I were only able to complete a vocational school for tailors, so we ended up there. We did not even dare to think that we could have achieved higher education. However, the teacher was a great person, who knew my family and often let me come to school later because I had to help my mother, who was very sick. My father was at work, one of my sisters was already married, while the other sister studied in another town, and my brother was very little back then. So, my mother really needed my help, and appreciated my teacher’s understanding. Only when I got older I understood that she did not let me continue my studies because she was convinced I would not perform well. Despite her humanity, she also suffered from the deep prejudice that a Roma child simply cannot succeed.
I was better at some subjects and worse at others, like every student was. But instead of supporting my inclination towards literature and writing, my teacher told me to postpone the writing stories for when I was older. I loved the empty pages which I filled with poems and stories. I managed to publish a poetry book after some years, and I am currently working on a novel. I told myself that nothing would stop me from doing what I liked. And eventually journalism, which became my love, found its way to me. To conclude, Roma kids have no value for some teachers, who simply write them off and later they complain what an uneducated nation we are. Other teachers do not hate Roma children, but try to protect them from failure because of their often unconscious prejudice that Roma are low-achievers.
If I had not been stopped by irrelevant bias, I would not have worked as a tailor, I would have attended secondary school right away. How many Roma children never get any chance just because of the prejudice that we have ignorance and failure in our blood? How many Roma children and their parents do believe that their ceiling of education is very low? The vicious circle starts here: Roma go to special schools, and their graduation is followed by unemployment, discrimination and hatred by society.
Michal Miko, who works for the civil association Slovo 21, is convinced that special schools are necessary for children with mental disorders. He adds that, according to a report of the Czech School Directorate, 3600 children ended in such facilities without any prior evaluation. “How can you place children into these schools without testing their skills? It is not normal,” said Miko. “Until Czech education authorities will not make desegregation a priority and eliminate unequal education, the vicious circle of discrimination will continue,” stated Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).
The Czech Republic has been receiving a lot of criticism from various international organizations and institutions due to its treatment of the Roma minority. Foreign media notice this more and more. One of the most pressing problems of Czech Roma is the unequal access of the Roma children to education, a fact confirmed by a 2007 verdict from the European Court of Human Rights. However, several years after the verdict, the Czech government is still not able to tackle the problem effectively.
Amnesty International has concluded in a report that the situation of Roma children has not improved during the past five years. “This inactiveness means a breach of governmental duties. The right to education without discrimination is a part of international human rights since 1948 declaration. Despite that, and despite the European Court’s verdict from 2007, Roma children are still not receiving proper education,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Program Director at Amnesty International. The Council of Europe supported this stipulation, criticizing the fact that the Czech government has created three “strategic plans” during the previous past years without dealing with the issue in practice yet. According to the Council of Europe, the Czech Republic is breaching the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Special schools are dead-end roads to further education and a better future.
I am pleased with the attitude of Colin Boxall, the principal of the Rochester Academy, who said that, first of all, Roma children should not be forced to change. The conflict starts when you attempt to change their culture, because they will not change. But if you try to integrate them and work with them, the change will take place within them. The school organizes a variety of sports and cultural projects aimed at integrating Roma children into a collective team. This, of course, costs something. The school’s budget needs 200000 pounds each year for teachers, health services and other personnel. Boxall clarifies that, by not doing so, the children would not attend school. In the long-term, this means they would not be able to find legal work, end living off the black market, and even in prison. So the officials are now spending money which they will eventually save in the longer term. He stressed that 200000 pounds spent now will save millions later. And he is so right!
To wrap up, one Roma woman who has been living in England for some time already confesses that Roma children study very well there. They learn English fast and later they study whatever profession they like. Most of all, they like school because their teachers are warmhearted and welcoming towards them.