Roma Professionals in Slovenian Preschools

A research that analysed the number of Roma professionals in Early Education and Care (ECEC) and their employment possibilities was conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018. According to the results, there were 12 Roma professionals employed in preschools in Slovenia, among which one preschool teacher, three preschool teacher assistants, and eight Roma assistants (additional person in preschool groups, which includes Roma children).

No opportunity to enter the ECD workforce

REYN Slovenia interviewed different Roma professionals – preschool teacher assistants and Roma assistants – and asked about their roles at work, cooperation with children, parents, and other co-workers. Besides, REYN Slovenia was interested to hear about the opportunities for professional development they have and any potential challenges they face in finding a job. Their responses showed that they do not feel being treated the same way as their non-Roma colleagues.

“I wish that the society was aware that I am equally qualified for my job as other teacher assistants,” said one of them.

Moreover, many of them expressed frustration about the fact that there are educated Roma professionals who have difficulties finding a job in preschool.

“There are at least six girls with an adequate education in our settlement, who are interested in entering the ECD workforce, but they do not get the opportunity,” shared another Roma colleague.

REYN Slovenia gathered further information on the situation of Roma professionals in preschool through focus groups with 13 leaders from nine different preschools. Discussions were focused on the changes that need to be implemented to enable employment opportunities for Roma professionals and the role of preschool principals in this process.

The outcomes of these debates confirmed the significance of Roma professionals being present in the preschool group, in which the Roma children are also included during:

  • the introductory period when children are newly enrolled in a preschool group:
    • “When children enter preschool for the first time, they feel scared, uncomfortable. Some of them are not familiar with a new language. This can lead to shock, distress, which children do not understand. If there is at least one familiar person to whom they can return to and be comforted by, this transition can be much easier for them.”
  • the transition from preschool to school:
    • “The presence of Roma assistants in preschools can be mostly noticed in the phase of changing the learning environment from preschool to school. They know me already, our relationship is completely different, more relaxed, trustful.”
  • building trust with parents:
    • “My presence in the group has largely contributed to the fact that the parents trust us more, there are more children being enrolled in preschool than in the past.”
  • understanding the Roma language and culture.

Guidelines on tackling the challenges with employment

The research also indicated some challenges that Roma professionals are facing in their professional lives. They mainly refer to their limited possibilities of being involved in the whole process of work in preschool, in fewer opportunities for continuous professional development and fewer opportunities for acquiring the desired employment.

This research resulted in a developed report and guidelines on how to tackle the challenges in employing Roma professionals in our preschools, which was also presented to the authorities on the national level. Besides, a video was made to promote the awareness of the importance of employing Roma professionals in ECEC. Moreover, two Roma professionals conducted workshops in Roma settlements and presented their profession to Roma children, students and parents.

“We, the Roma, can also work in a preschool?” asked a very surprised local girl during one of these workshops.Such a question is an important signal for REYN Slovenia that they still need to put a lot of effort into promoting the profession of preschool teacher among the Roma. Furthermore, they should outline the positive impact of having Roma professionals in the preschool group and empower preschool leaders to be aware of giving equal opportunities for employment to the Roma professionals. All of these are priorities in the work that REYN Slovenia Network does now and in the next years.

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Roma integration is a success in Pusča

“Child education is our priority” says Darko Rudas, prominent politician of Pusča (Slovenia). The village used to be the Roma settlement of Murska Sobota, today it is a municipality with its own kindergarten and fire brigade. Pusča looks at its future without forgetting the past.

Situated in the North of the country, among endless cornfields, which are characteristic of the region, Pusča has shown to Slovenia that investing in inclusion pays off.

We get a tour by Darko Rudas, who is one of the main figures of  the village. Everyone knows him here but his fame reaches also outside of the settlement: he is a politician and member of the local government. Mr. Rudas has been advocating for the integration and the rights of Roma people for the past 20 years.

Mr. Darko Rudas

“Pusča has 850 inhabitants”, he says. “It is the only settlement in Europe with their own municipality and one of the few where everyone has access to water and electricity”, he adds.

Also, the majority of the population is employed. They have integrated well with “the majority-community”, this how he calls the rest of the inhabitants of Murska Sobota. “In the South-East of Slovenia, there have been problems between Roma and non-Roma”, he admits “but here, it is really different”.

The preschool

Murska Sobota has eight preschools units and Pusča is officially one of them. Roma and non-Roma learn here together and when children leave to go to primary school in Murska Sobota they integrate without problems.

The preschool was launched in 1962. Mr. Rudas was among the first ones to go to preschool, “it’s there, where children learn to expand their horizon”, he says. “They learn to think out of the box;” but there is more: “for 50 years there were only Romani children in that preschool, now things have changed”, he adds. “Children from outside the village come here to attend too.”

“Besides preschool, football plays an important role for integration”, he says, while looking over nicely maintained camps. “Trough football, you get in touch with the rest of Murska Sobota. Pusča has its own club since 1959. Marinko Sarkezi, one of the inhabitants of the village lately has even played in the Champions League,” Mr. Rudas continues. 

What is the secret? We ask.

He smiles revealing a bit of pride. “The local community has granted inclusion in exchange for respect of the rules and the Roma people have accepted it.” As he likes to state: “as many rights, so many duties. That’s just how society works.”

He indicates the trees at the entrance of the settlement. They were planted by the president of Slovenia together with the children of the preschool. “You have to know,” he says, “the tree is an important symbol for Roma, it has to do with the roots of the settlement”.

The preschool in Pusča

We arrive in the “White Street”. The majority of people that live here have mixed marriages Roma and non-Roma, hence the name. After, we reach the fire brigade, “we are maybe the only Roma settlement in the world with their own fire association,” Mr. Rudas says proudly. A new car just been bought and the service is ensured by volunteers only.

Next to it, there is a social center for arts, sport and child care. It has a playground with swings and other games. A European flag waves in front of it, next to the Slovenian one. “Child education is our priority”, he states, “that’s why we organize everything around them.” The playground is a place where children and parents can play together. The citizen took the initiative to build the center. After, the municipality of Murska Sobota decided to contribute financially.

Towards the future

In the future a music school will add to it. Also, the village plans to expand the preschool and promote Pusča as a tourist attraction. So tourists will be able to visit and see how the village became such a success. They will be able to learn about the Romani culture, music and cuisine.

We pass by the only house in state of disrepair in the whole village. There are entire chunks of wall missing. “This is the only wooden house we have left,” Mr Rudas says, “we do not want to forget our past, so we keep it as a museum piece”, he adds. 

Almost at the end of our tour, we stop at a cross road. “This is a place with positive energy,” Mr Rudas looks us in the eyes. “It is marked by four maple trees; this is where the first man who bought this land, started the settlement once. If you are in despair and need some good luck and good vibrations, you should come here,” he smiles.

The educators of Pusča are members of REYN Slovenia.

REYN Slovenia helps little Valentina hear again

- News

Thanks to the help of the Local Action Team established by REYN Slovenia, Valentina, 5 years old, has received hearing aid.

The little Valentina, was often sitting in the corner. She did not attend pre-school although she regularly went to the Centre for School and Outdoor Education activities organized in the Roma settlement.

Valentina, so we will call her to protect her privacy, was always enthusiastic to go to the workshops but did not actively participate in signing or dancing. With time, the professionals who worked with her, realized that she had difficulties with hearing.

She was not being brought to the doctor despite the advices of the Local Action Team (LAT). The LAT, is formed by professionals from preschools and schools, Roma representatives, health and social workers of the Social and Health Care Centre, which operates in the Roma settlement. They meet regularly, and with the local municipality of Grosuplje plan activities towards the inclusion of Roma.

Valentina’s family lived in difficult economic conditions. They do not have water and electricity at home. Also, they were off the radar of the public health authorities and they couldn’t afford private medical treatment.

With the involvement of the LAT, a local practitioner built a strong and trustful relationship with the family. This led to the arrangement of a doctor’s appointment where her hearing problems were diagnosed. Her parents also enrolled Valentina to preschool.

As the communication between the parents and the preschool was on a good level, they could follow the girl’s progress after she received her medical treatment. The Social and Health Care Centre monitored her development too.

Thanks to the hearing aid Valentina is now more responsive, self-confident and can actively follow the activities inside and outside the school.

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