In the period between the end of 2021 and spring 2022, National REYNs conducted research in their own countries on the situation of Roma families with young children (REYN Research Study). In Slovenia, the Educational Research Institute led this unique process in the country, which implied involving members of the Roma community along the development of the study. They gathered data from Roma parents, ECEC practitioners, professionals who work with Roma families, and from local and national policy makers.
In this article, we would like to highlight some interesting information obtained through questionnaires and focus groups with Roma parents. Mothers and fathers from Prekmurje and Dolenjska, two Slovenian regions with large populations of Roma, participated in the research which examined various topics, such as health and wellbeing, hygiene and nutrition, play and early learning, responsive parenting, family and living conditions, safety and security, and accessibility, availability and affordability of ECEC services. The main focus of this piece will be on how Roma parents feel about early childhood education and care.
Through the research it became evident that Roma parents are aware of the significant impact that they have on their children in the early years. This is illustrated by one of the fathers who said, “If I were to raise my voice to my wife, the children would hear us and this is not right. What kind of a message am I sending to my children with such behaviour?”
The parents also demonstrated an awareness of the importance of being caring and attuned to their children’s needs. It is important for parents to show affection to their children through a caring attitude, talking to them, and spending quality time with them. Especially for younger children, who cannot yet express themselves verbally, it is very important that parents do their best to interact and connect with the child in order to understand what it is they need. Many parents — mainly mothers — confirmed that they had no problems understanding their children and that they had a feel for what their children wanted to tell them. “A mother just feels what the child needs,” one mother said.
The value of preschool
We often emphasize how important it is for parents to view education as a value and to enrol their children in preschool early — enabling them access to quality education and care, and a supportive learning environment.
Participants in the studies agreed that attending preschool indeed supports children’s development. They witnessed advantages in the children in their acquiring a new language, understanding the daily routine, learning about tolerance and good manners, as well as improving their independence during meals (table preparation, serving the food, cleaning the table after eating etc.), hygiene, and dressing. Additionally, parents recognised that in preschool, children are able to make new friends, and learn how to act in society. All of these skills help children have a smoother transition into school.
Another huge benefit parents in the research saw in preschool education was that it gave their children an opportunity to learn the language of the majority. This is one of the most important factors in helping children to be successful later in school. Otherwise, it is likely that they would have difficulties with understanding the teachers’ lessons, their learning outcomes would be lower, and peers might tease them. All of these things have an impact on the child’s development and level of self-esteem.
Furthermore, some parents were inspired by the amount of effort that certain teachers and peers put into helping their children feel welcome at preschool. One couple shared that, ”Our daughter could not speak Slovene, when she entered school. One boy really tried to help her with the language as much as he could understand her. Then her teacher decided to attend a Romani language course to be able to help our children. All of us respected this noble decision. We also had another teacher, who regularly took our children to the playground and worked with them on their physical condition.”
However, there were also parents who expressed uncertainty about preschool. They feared that their children might not be given as much care as they receive home. For other parents it is difficult to take their children to preschool due to their demanding living conditions. In such cases, it is the duty of REYN Slovenia and the other national REYNs to work for and with these parents with the aim of empowering them, gaining their trust, and ensuring adequate conditions to enable them to enrol their children in preschool as early as possible.
Petra Zgonec, Mateja Mlinar
Researchers at the Educational Research Institute, coordinating institution of REYN Slovenia