In the last decade, Slovakia has witnessed a massive outflow of primary school pupils from schools that provide education not only to the majority but also to Roma pupils. The quarantine because of COVID-19 virus left children, pupils, students, and teachers at home. Unfortunately, teaching from home did not reach all the children, as although we live in 2020, not every family has an Internet connection. Most Slovak families are connected to the Internet, but in Roma families, an Internet connection is still rare.
Migration: maintaining the quality of education or a tool of segregation?
Migration happens mainly in areas of eastern Slovakia with a large representation of marginalized Roma communities, or in schools that have Roma settlements in their catchment areas. In response to greater representation of Roma pupils in the classroom, Slovak parents are seeking ways to place their children in schools with exclusively Slovak pupils, or with a minimum number of pupils of Roma origin. This logically leads to the creation of segregated schools, with either children exclusively from the majority population, or purely Roma schools, or not to sound racist, schools attended only by Roma children. So what about inclusion?
Due to the increasing population curve of Roma in specific localities, it is nearly impossible to find an ideal pattern of an inclusive school, where the differences and variety are beneficial. Can we say that one group suffers because of the other? Where to find the ideal solution? How to meet the needs of the parents, students, politicians, critics, and activists? If Slovak parents are saying they notice a declining quality of education in mixed classrooms, because the teacher devotes more time to Roma children who are lacking pre-school preparation, they are probably right. But the tendency to segregate the two concerned groups can lead to catastrophic consequences for the society. Let’s try to bear that in mind.
COVID-19 and a compromised inclusion
The course of the pandemic around the world has harmed the social and economic situation. All countries are reporting economic downturns, a rise of unemployment, a decline in investment rates, and negative prospects for the future. Unfortunately, teaching from home did not reach all the children, as although we live in 2020, not every family has an Internet connection. Most Slovak families are connected to the Internet, but in Roma families, an Internet connection is still rare. Through various online teaching applications, the teachers were able to fully explain the new curriculum, revise, prepare tests, communicate with students, and get their feedback. Social field assistants in many municipalities were helping Roma pupils with the distribution of teaching materials during the pandemic. However, without the support of their less-educated parents, Roma pupils often did not manage to work at home. Without their parents’ understanding and their families being motivated, they were not able to do much. Of course, even in this excluded environment, there were families with parents with at least secondary education, who willingly dedicated their time to help their children prepare for online classes.
These new aspects of education brought to our attention during the pandemic are recreating the space for controversy and criticism of the Roma issue not only in Slovakia. The parents from the majority are asking whether the Roma are not obliged to attend classes, whether the same rules don’t apply to them as apply to Slovak children. Why do we grant them benefits that do not apply to everyone? Why are the Roma abusing the system again? These and other similar questions are again emerging and starting to undermine the process of inclusion that took many years of effort to become successful in Slovakia.
Written by Peter Strážik, School Principal