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Romani preschool children and language in Slovakia

Part 1: Still today, Romani children are placed in special schools and classes because they do not master the national language. Preschool is failing on them and they are often exposed to communication in Roma language only at home. How can we help them?

Preschool education for children is indispensable and provides them with the right prerequisites to master school, social skills, hygienic habits, ability to work in a collective environment and respect others. The use of the language has to be mastered at a sufficient level to enable the pupils to learn in school. For example, the process of learning to read, write and calculate assumes that the pupils have sufficient vocabulary and understand simple tasks.

Our experience shows that children who speak in a dialect with their parents at home, and have not been in contact with the national language, face communication problems. This is even harder for children from the marginalized communities. Not only do they come into contact with a completely new language, they are also burdened by the psychological feeling of shame when they express themselves, or are afraid of being mocked by their classmates.

Preschool education presents the best opportunity to adapt and get prepared for the first year of school. The compulsory final year in kindergarten before entering school is unfortunately not sufficient in the majority of the cases: Romani children mostly fail to fill the skill gap that separates them from the majority children.

Statistically, Romani children are often ill, miss many days of preschool and their preparation process is not continuous. Also, a sufficient mastery of the Slovak language usually requires a longer adaptation time and these children are often exposed to communication in Roma language at home. So how can we help them?

Invest in families

Roma mothers usually do not work, they are at home, so they prefer the children to stay at home with them. Shouldn’t we therefore look for ways to “enlighten” parents so that they can support their children adequately?

In addition, Roma often lack sufficient funds to pay the school fee, which is about 150 euro per year. Long-term segregation and lack of interest in addressing these key issues have produced critical consequences. Shouldn’t we motivate the families with suitable economic tools to help them?

Provide services

There are, however, also examples of good practice provided by municipalities, non-profit organizations and volunteers that have created spaces for families with small children in community centers. TOY for Inclusion is an example in this direction. The Play Hubs created by TOY for Inclusion have been helping vulnerable children prepare for preschool and school in eight European countries. To read more about the project, go to toy4inclusion.eu.

By Miroslav Sklenka, PhD., Executive Director at Škola dokorán and
Peter Strážik, Principal of the primary school of Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.