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Up to 75% enrolment target for young Roma children in ECEC in Slovakia

Specific Steps of the Slovak Roma Inclusion Strategy 2030

The Strategy for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of Roma 2030 was approved by the Slovak Government on 7 April 2021. This framework material forms the basis for action plans, which will always be drawn up for a three-year period, i.e., 2022-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030. Representatives from REYN Slovakia have been actively involved in the development of the Strategy and Action Plans.

The Strategy is a framework document that defines the direction of public policies in order to achieve a visible change and improvement in the field of equality and inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. It presents a set of starting points and objectives that aim to stop the segregation of Roma communities and to make a significant positive turn in the social inclusion of Roma.

“The areas of employment, education, health, and housing are key to the fulfillment of the Strategy’s objectives, and special emphasis is also placed on stepping up interventions to combat anti-Roma racism,” state the submitters of the material from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

The subsequent Action Plans propose measures in the same five priority areas that were previously stated in the Strategy.

Strategy and Action Plans

Education


The vision of the Strategy in the field of education is to increase the real participation of children from marginalized Roma communities in care and education. The share of the youngest Roma children under three years of age participating in early childhood education and care programs is to reach at least 30%.

“The proportion of Roma children aged 3-6 in pre-primary education is to be increased from the current 25 to 75%, ” the submitters state.

The Strategy also aims to halve the proportion of children from the marginalized Roma communities who repeat a year in primary or special primary schools, as well as halve the proportion of pupils from the marginalized Roma communities who drop out of school. Conversely, the proportion of Roma with completed upper secondary education is to be doubled to 45% for males and 40% for females.

In the education field, the proposed action plan focuses on the need to improve the results of children from marginalized Roma communities. Besides, it aims to improve the quality and number of teachers and assistants in the education of Roma pupils, to increase the capacity of schools and kindergartens in areas with Roma communities, and support measures for children and pupils from Roma communities with insufficient knowledge of Slovak, which is not their mother tongue.

Housing

The Strategy aims to eliminate significant inequalities in housing between members of the marginalized Roma communities and the majority population of Slovakia.

“By 2030, all residents of the marginalized Roma communities, and therefore all citizens and residents of the Slovak Republic without distinction, should have proper access to safe and potable water. Closely related to this challenge is the gradual legalization of technically compliant dwellings and the settlement of land on which illegal dwellings of marginalized Roma communities residents are located,” the material states. 

With regard to segregated settlements, the vision is to reduce the proportion of Roma living in segregated communities, as well as to reduce the total number of segregated settlements.

As stated in the proposal of the action plan, priority tasks in the area of housing are to reduce the number of illegal dwellings, to improve technical infrastructure and amenities in localities of marginalized Roma communities, but also to implement measures aimed at reducing residential segregation of Roma, for example through the promotion of rental housing in municipalities.

Employment

The Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of Roma aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor already in education from the current 68 to 40%, as well as to increase the employment rate of Roma aged 20 to 64 from the current 20 to 45%. In particular, the Strategy and its action plans will address the issue of Roma women’s employment, which is significantly lower than that of men.

The proposed action plan defines measures to increase the chances of Roma on the labor market, but also, for example, targeted support for equal access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, for persons from marginalized Roma communities.

Health

The global objective of the health strategy is to reduce health inequalities between Roma and the general population of the Slovak Republic, with the aim of reducing the gap in life expectancy between the general and Roma population by 50% over the course of a decade.

The tasks related to health in the action plan are designed to improve health conditions at the community level, and also aim to strengthen the professional qualifications of community health promotion workers.

Anti-Roma racism and support of participation

Besides, the Strategy sets targets for eliminating anti-Roma racism, with the ambition to halve the proportion of Roma who have felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. The Strategy will also use supportive anti-discrimination instruments to reduce the proportion of Slovak citizens who would not want a Roma neighbour from the current 54 to 20%. The aim is also to increase by 30% the confidence of Roma in the police.

In the proposed action plan, the section on combating discrimination against Roma and increasing their inclusion in mainstream society calls for anti-Roma racism to be legally recognized as a specific form of racism. One of the other measures proposed is to increase the participation of young Roma and Roma women in policy-making at all levels.

The Strategy and action plans were developed by thematic working groups in each area, with representation from different government departments and institutions, NGOs, the academic sector, and local authorities.

After a long period of participatory preparation of all materials, and a recent personal change on the position of the Plenipotentiary, the drafts of action plans proposing measures in five priority areas for the period 2022-2024 have been submitted by the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the inter-ministerial comment procedure.

More information about the materials and recent developments can be found here.

Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development

Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.

Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.

“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”

So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total.  KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.

Promoting ECEC Professions Among Roma Through Workshops for Families

There is still room for improvement in the promotion of education among Roma in the field of Early Education and Care (ECEC) in Slovenia. Some specific activities can help in promoting ECEC professions among Roma, and the research that analyzed the number of Roma professionals in the field, conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018, proves it.

There are no recent data on the rate of successfully finished education on a higher level by the Roma students. An evaluation study reports that around 500 Roma children among 4 350 finished primary school in 2005-2009. This means that around 60% of Roma children, who were enrolled in primary school, successfully finished their primary education. Even though this information is not up to date, it still indicates that there is much room for improvement on the promotion of education among Roma in general or specifically in the field of ECEC.

The Educational Research Institute that led the research, invited two Roma preschool teachers to visit some Roma settlements in Slovenia and present their job and work experiences. 13 parents, 8 preschool children, and 24 school children attended these workshops in three different Roma environments. These activities introduced the profession of a preschool teacher to parents and children and encouraged them to apply for a secondary or higher school to employ in this field.

The preschool teachers spoke about their profession and shared a video, which showed their routine work in the preschool. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to creative activity, through which they presented an aspect of their work in the preschool. Children and parents together created, for example, a glass lantern.

Children were impressed by these presentations, and some of them even pretended to be preschool teachers during the discussion. They enjoyed watching the video and looking at how a preschool by the Roma settlement was working.

“We could also have such a preschool in our settlement!” said one of the girls from the audience.

After the workshop, some children’s mothers requested more information about vocational retraining in education, which would allow them to get a job as preschool teacher assistants.

In some settlements, though, parents did not show much interest in the presentation – in some cases, the workshop facilitators sensed that parents felt a bit inferior to them, in some cases parents sounded quite pessimistic.

“Education does not ensure you a job if you are Roma,” shared one parent, while some other parents would be eager to get educated in this field, but lack financial support in fulfilling this wish.

The preschool teachers plan to have the same workshops also in the future.

“When planning such events, it is important to carefully choose the facilitator, a secure and known place, and ensure an informal atmosphere. Then the participants are more relaxed and open to ask questions. If they receive relevant information in an appropriate manner, parents could be empowered to encourage their children to decide for the profession, which we present,” concluded the preschool teachers, who conducted the workshops.

REYN Ukraine Member Anastasia Tambovtseva Teaches Children Written Romani Language

Anastasia Tambovtseva is a linguist, who practices foreign language teaching. She is also a well-known TikTok blogger who runs an educational Romani blog. Anastasia researches the problems of getting an education among the Roma population and introduces her own unique methods and tools.

Anastasia joined REYN Ukraine network two years ago. During this time, she took part in 10 webinars for network members, a notebook for writing in Romani language and an author’s webinar “Modern technologies as a tool to overcome illiteracy” for REYN Ukraine members. She also won REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition that was aimed at testing and implementing innovations in the field of Roma children early development.

Anastasia, you are the winner of REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition. What was the idea of ​​your project?

– I have developed a notebook for Roma children, which is called “How to learn the letters in Romani language”, and, thanks to the support of REYN Ukraine, I will be able to publish it and disseminate it within schools with Roma students and educational centers. This tool is great for studying the letters of the Romani alphabet, for learning how to write them. It is very strange to start teaching children how to write not in their native language, so if children speak in Romani at home and think in Romani, it is better to teach them writing in their native language. Sometimes a child does not understand why writing and reading are important, if everyone at home expresses themselves orally.

How will your notebook help Roma community?

– I really hope that in the nearest future this notebook will help to create even more educational materials for children in Romani language. First of all, the child gets acquainted with the letters: what do the uppercase and lowercase letters look like. There are also pictures with words that start with this letter. Besides, there are also some tasks – like finding a word that starts with this letter, and so on. In this way, children train their attention.

There are many Romani dialects though. In which dialect of Romani language will the notebook be published?

– It will be in Vlax Romani. The choice fell on Vlax, because Roma community in the area where I live is Vlax, so I studied this dialect and I understood that without knowledge of the language I will never be close to children. It was difficult to learn it since it is not English or German and there are not many materials with which you can learn to speak Romani. I like learning and spend most of my time in front of a computer screen or with books. Therefore, whoever wants – can find materials and study. I’m still learning. In my telegram channel, I sometimes ask how to say this word and my subscribers write comments and respond to the stories. We have disputes and very interesting discussions from time to time. I believe that I am still learning this language.

When you first had a lesson with your students in Romani language, what was their reaction?

– It was the reaction I wish all teachers could experience in their professional lives. My first lessons I had in Russian. We learned the letters, and when we learned how to write and pronounce some of them, I thought I would write Romani words. It was the word “dad” (dad) and the word “dorov” (hello) children froze it in astonishment. At first I did not understand why. I thought perhaps because it was their native language and that is why they reacted like that. Something inside told me that there was some deeper reason though. Then, when I attended REYN Ukraine webinar about the oral cultural tradition and the peculiarities of communication with Roma children conducted by Marianna Seslavinska, I realized that children believe that they could write and read in any language but Romani. When children saw that it was possible to write in Romani, for them it was a big surprise. Therefore, after that I started to teach the Romani language more. At that time I already knew it better and I felt that I had a more strength to teach in Romani. I hope that for Roma the education is more accessible. I am grateful to REYN Ukraine that it is becoming more and more like this.

– Are you Roma yourself? How did you become interested in Roma theme?

I am not Roma. I am often asked by Roma what my nationality is. It is actually hard for me to say. My ancestors are  of different nationalities. The ones I am aware of are Ukrainians, Russians, Polish and Georgians. Maybe even more.
I became interested in Roma because I met some Roma families due to my tutoring. Then I started to learn about the situation with Roma children in schools, and I wanted to teach Roma children literacy in their native language. One of the reasons for the difficulties of Roma children in school is the language barrier, because Ukrainian is the mostly spoken language at schools. In Kyiv region Roma speak Romani or Russian. Very few of them know the Ukrainian language, and obviously, the child gets into a new environment, where they also speak another, new language…

What is your online blog about?

– I started shooting and publishing online in various social networks because in this way my students could study at home on their smartphones. The first topic of my blog is learning, the opportunity to learn letters, sounds and reading by yourself. It is literacy training. The second direction is the history of Roma people. This information is not only for Roma, but also for people of other nationalities or origins, for everyone who is interested in learning about Roma history. Another area is socially useful information for Roma people. Ukraine is currently undergoing medical reform, so I tell how to sign a contract with a doctor, how to get a passport etc. We had a live broadcast with professionals working in this field, and they also gave some useful advice. Later I wrote a post about it and now Roma can benefit from this information.

Spazio Baby Welcomes Roma Families in Rome

Spazio baby – a place for early childhood – is located in Polo Ex Fienile – a former barn turned into a polyfunctional building, located in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome. It is open four mornings a week and welcomes children from 0 to 3 years old, accompanied by a family member, usually a mother, who also often participates in other activities and courses organized by Associazione 21 Luglio.

It is important for the mothers from the Roma community to have a place for early childhood where they play and discover new experiences with their children in a nurturing and welcoming context, where they can be supported by educators and by professionals – midwives, pediatricians, and nutritionists – who deal with early childhood and who periodically offer advice to the families. It is also important to share parenting experiences, doubts, and fears with other moms who may have very different cultural backgrounds. We talked to three educators and asked them to share more information about their activities.  

How do families spend their time at Spazio baby?

Marcella: We offer handling and free play activities with educational toys and on sunny days children can play in the garden. Thanks to the mobile play hub that contains games and teaching materials, we can bring a well-equipped playroom to the green spaces of the Polo Ex Fienile. For a few days a week the family members take part in small craft workshops together with their children. Families come from extremely diverse origins. There are both Italian and foreign families. Most of them come from Sub-Saharan and Northwest Africa. There are also families from South America and Eastern Europe. Sometimes some Roma mothers and children come to spend their morning with us as well. Outdoor activities became very essential in this pandemic period. That is why we offer to children and parents games, walks and sensory path in the green space and also in the vegetable garden.

Dzemila: When we are outdoors, we use lots of natural elements in our activities: twigs and leaves, sand, soil, and seeds. We use fruits and vegetables both to eat and to color or to do decoupage. We can see that children have fun doing these activities with their mothers, who also participate with enthusiasm. Besides, we have sown some vegetables, and it was also lots of fun. Recently we started to grow green bean seeds, and we already see the first sprouts.

How is your work team composed?

Dzemila: We work in shifts of three or four educators. We are five in total, and three of us are from Roma origin.

What is your career path?

Marcella: I have a degree in psychology, and for several years I have been working on a project with minors from 0 to 13 years.

Miriana: I am a Roma educator. I have participated in many training sessions on the subject of early childhood organized by Associazione 21 Luglio, with which I have been working for about 10 years.

What does being a Roma educator working on early childhood mean to you?

Miriana: I am a little more comfortable working with children outdoors. For me, it is essential to work and have experience exchange with colleagues, but above all with mothers who have no prejudices to me as a Roma woman. Seeing that mothers, with such different origins, trust us and bring their children to us is a nice compensation compared to some situations of discrimination that I experienced as a young girl. When I was little, the parents of the other children didn’t want them to spend their time with a Roma girl. As an educator, on the other hand, I never had problems with discrimination.

Dzemila: As a Roma who has worked for many years in the social sector, first in a refugee center, then in a foster home, and later with Associazione 21 Luglio, I find that the best thing is when the families we work with come from many different origins and backgrounds. On the contrary, I think doing an activity for mono-ethnic families is a form of racism. I believe that working with those who are different from you leads to a greater open-mindedness. My life experience as a Roma, but above all as a woman, has helped me a lot in my work. Being Roma helped me to avoid labels and prejudices.

Marcella, did you already work with Roma colleagues?

Marcella: No, it is the first time that I have Roma colleagues. I already knew Roma families, but I never worked together with them. Now I am delighted working with them. Maybe it’s a matter of personality… All three colleagues are very pragmatic, they find a solution for anything, they fix broken things, and, if needed, they even climb trees. Moreover, they are predisposed to listening. I see that they talk willingly with parents, giving good advice, perhaps learned in past experiences, when they lived surrounded by so many children.

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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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Inclusive Kindergartens in the 8th District in Budapest

A complex kindergarten development program was launched in the 8th District Municipality in Budapest at the beginning of this year. The program is implemented in partnership with Partners Hungary Foundation/REYN Hungary (PHA) and Rosa Parks Foundation that received a tender from the European Commission.

In recent years, large numbers of young people, including middle-class families with small children, have moved to Józsefváros (the 8th district), which for a long time was one of the most disadvantaged areas in Budapest. However, these newly arrived families do not enroll their children into the local kindergartens (in many cases with a Roma majority), which prevents the possibility of building a diverse and inclusive atmosphere.

The goal of the project “Inclusive kindergartens for the quality education of Roma” is to make 12 local kindergartens inclusive and attractive to middle-class parents who now send their children to kindergartens outside the district, reflecting on the diversity that characterizes the district. Keeping its own program and building on its strengths, each kindergarten will develop its own institutional inclusion program and attractive high-quality programs and services to invite middle-class families to the local kindergartens.

“You think you are doing perfect, but when a second eye sees your kindergarten, you realize you can always develop,” says Melinda, the kindergarten principal of the 8th district.

As part of the project, PHA will develop a complex methodology and an associated set of tools, which will be tested in the project. These tools will be available to all municipalities and other kindergartens who similarly want to make their kindergartens inclusive.

The tasks of the Partners Hungary Foundation and REYN in this project are to:

  • Develop institutional strategic planning in the kindergartens and its implementation with the involvement of all stakeholders.
  • Help the kindergartens to renew their methodological tools and offer new services in accordance with the mapping the needs of the kindergartens and parents.
  • Communicate the new services to the residents of the district, families, strengthening the district identity.
  • Modify the district boundaries for the optimal use of kindergartens and in order to ensure a proportional presence of Roma, children with special educational needs, and foreign children in each kindergarten.

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