During the last week of January, the Romani Early Years Network Croatia provided members of REYN International – early childhood practitioners, activists and experts from Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Czech Republic and the Netherlands – with a unique opportunity to see the results of their work. Today, reflecting on the study visit and the REYN Croatia Conference, the experience reminds me of an excellent speech by James Heckman, Nobel laureate and champion for quality early childhood development. As the world is rushing to reach the best cognitive results of children, Heckman reminds us that cognitive skills are not enough.
Addressing policy and business leaders in Chicago on 16 December 2010, Heckman pointed out that motivation, sociability, ability to work with others, attention, self-regulation, self-esteem and ability to defer gratification matter a great deal, and along with cognitive skills they determine success at school and in labor force and in life itself. Interestingly, it may be good to remind ourselves that Heckman is an economist, someone you would expect to look for numbers and easily quantifiable phenomena.
Earlier in 2010, in the case of Oršuš and Others versus Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the state and found ethnic discrimination in establishment of Roma-only classes at some schools in Međimurje County. The ruling set the tone for discussions about education of Romani children in the county, this tone was evident during our visit to primary schools in Orehovica and Kutina. In order to fulfill the judgment, many schools started busing programs, especially in places where Roma-only classes would result from the local demographic trends. While some see this practice as a solution to segregation, many understand that physical placement of children next to each other may not be enough. To promote real inclusion, children’s soft skills have to be developed, just as James Heckman suggest.
During one of the meetings, Dragica Varat, a teacher at Vladimir Vidrić School in Kutina, expressed how thankful she was for the opportunities offer by Croatian REYN. After many years’ experience of working with Romani children, having taught parents as well as children in many families, she says she still has a lot to learn. Visiting her classroom and seeing Romani and non-Romani children cooperate, work together and being confident when talking to the visitors, one may think she is unnecessarily modest. But this is probably just how you become a great teacher – growing professionally as well as personally all the time. And REYN is there to help if you do just that.