Roma parents in Slovenia are seeing the value of early education and care

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

Roma education: what the EU Commission report doesn’t say

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

In a recent survey, the European Commission asked for an assessment of the perceived changes in education, healthcare, employment, discrimination, housing and services. The results? In all the areas except education the “no change” was the dominant answer. On Human Rights Day we reflect on a public survey that may harm instead of help Roma education.

The results of the survey on Roma integration submitted to the European Parliament and to the EU Council were published last week. The survey was open to anyone living in the EU or enlargement country. Participants were asked to rate progress towards the achievement of the National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS). With a lot of space for criticism and a clear call for urgent improvements, the 240 respondents also perceived education as the area with the most progress, including early childhood education (here).

The danger of surveys

The European Commission had already published its own review of the implementation of NRIS in 2017. Back then, they saw “a clear improvement in early childhood education and care (ECEC).” Since ECEC is described as improving also in the above mentioned survey, we may be triggered to think that education is already on the right path.

Firstly, we must clarify that these are not official data on Roma education; the survey results reflect the opinions of a marginal number of respondents (only 240 people). Secondly, even when the data was used (as in the case of the 2017 European Commission review), the selection of information and the conclusions were still questionable. In fact, in their follow up to the EU-MIDIS II report on education and employment, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency contradicts the European Commission (page 10, here).

It is certainly positive to see the EU asking for people’s opinion. However, more talking about compulsory preschool attendance will not improve the situation of children. Neither will it a higher school access without quality. As long as Romani children will be sidetracked into non-mainstream schools and kindergartens, segregated ethnically or by disadvantage, we cannot speak about progress.

There is a way forward. Let them know about human rights!

There is already a list of promising practices, encompassing science and the state-of-art knowledge, not beliefs and ideologies. Many successful initiatives are backed by data and the only step we need to see is the adoption of systems that work for all, including children.

Human Rights Day, gives us a great opportunity to think about Roma inclusion and its validation. As experts often talk about the economic advantage of early childhood inclusion, some may stick only to economics and forget about the importance of rights in the first place.

Along with the specific measures targeting children, we cannot forget about human rights. All the countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must ensure the right to education and to a healthy and happy childhood for all children. Tell children that it is their right not to be discriminated and not to be sent to segregated schools. Then there will be progress.

Don’t forget to celebrate the heroes. Commemorate 2 August

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

Should we or should we not teach young children about the historical persecution of Roma? If yes, the “Final Solution” imposed on Roma by Nazi Germany on 2 August 1944 should be remembered in schools.

For several years now, young Europeans have been meeting in Poland to remember the persecution of their ancestors under the Nazi Germany. On 2 August 1944, about 3000 Roma were exterminated all together in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, Poland. The initiative Dikh he na bister – Look and don’t forget, driven by young Roma, raises awareness and advocates for the official recognition of 2 August as the Roma Holocaust Memorial Day: to “pay homage to the victims, heroes, survivors and strengthen the identity based on the deep knowledge of the past”. Read the full story on their website

The aim of the Roma Holocaust Commemoration is not to commiserate Roma. Instead, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the heroes, to listen to the survivors, to remember the victims and to make sure that history will not repeat itself.

There is a universal rule for when is a good time to start talking to children about difficult topics: it is when they ask! Let’s take Antigypsyism – a specific form of racism towards Roma. It is still widespread in our daily lives. Sadly, there is a high chance that young Romani children will experience hatred early in their lives. Many Romani parents ignore this and teach their children to ignore racism. But that will only work until the next time they face racism again.

Analyzing historical facts can make children, adults and the whole society stronger. Knowledge can help us to recognize the symptoms of fascist tendencies in politics. However, the facts of 2 August have often been left out of school curricula.  By including this topic in history textbooks society would nurture the knowledge of children and young people.

Two years ago, we wrote about the need for more Romani heroes in connection to Jud Nirenberg’s book, “Johann Trollmann and Romani Resistance to the Nazis”. There are two aspects of the book worth highlighting again: firstly, it provides us with a story that Romani children can connect to.  The young Rukeli made it from poor living conditions to being the German light-weight boxing champion. However, a few days after the victory, he was stripped of his title because of his Roma origin. Secondly, the book also shows the persecution of Roma while describing the bravery of ordinary people who fought against the Nazi.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said once the writer and philosopher George Santayana. Build your knowledge, spread the word and help preventing the history from repeating: commemorate 2 August.

TOY for Inclusion toolkit launched

- News

The new ‘TOY for Inclusion Toolkit – A step-by-step guide to creating inclusive Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Play Hubs for all generations’, provides the necessary information to enable trainers and practitioners of different sectors to set-up and run play spaces for children, families and communities.

The toolkit pays particular attention to social integration, intercultural and intergenerational dialogue, and social inclusion in the context of ECEC.

It addresses the following topics:
  • Setting the vision for all the children in the local community;
  • The importance of community-based ECEC and integration of services for inclusion, equity and respect for diversity;
  • Play spaces as community resource hubs;
  • All generations learning and playing together (intergenerational learning);
  • The importance of desegregated ECEC for Roma and non-Roma children, and anti-bias education;
  • Quality in community-based ECEC projects.

The TOY for Inclusion partners are available to provide guidance and training to organization interested in setting up ECEC Play Hubs.

If you want to have more information about the TOY for Inclusion approach or you want to set-up a Play Hub, please contact us.

The training materials (Power Points) mentioned in the Toolkit are available upon request.

Download the toolkit here.

TOY partners unveil plans to create play hubs

- News

TOY for Inclusion partners unveil their plans to create play hubs for young children in seven EU countries (Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia). The play hubs will be launched in early 2018. Click on the image below to see the details for each country.

TOY for Inclusion is creating non-segregated intergenerational play spaces in the mentioned countries. These spaces are located in areas that are reachable for both Roma and non-Roma families. They are designed and run by local committees composed by representatives of both communities (called Local Action Teams), school and preschool teachers, community development workers and local authorities.

Along with activities aimed to help children develop competences and knowledge for formal education, these spaces mobilize local communities around young children, and organize intergenerational activities involving older people with and without a Roma background.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion here.

“We share a desire to support children all over the world”, Global Leader for Young Children says

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

Global Leaders for Young Children work in different countries to help children of minority communities. The one thing that emerged when we met them at the World Forum on Early Care and Education in New Zealand, is that despite the differences and the distances these communities often share similar issues.

Global Leader Siniša-Senad Musić at the World Forum

The Global Leaders for Young Children is a program aiming to support emerging influencers in early childhood education and care. The Romani Early Years Network (through its host – ISSA) got involved in the program with the current cohort of Global Leaders Europe. Six leaders receive training and additional support within the program as they are developing and implementing their advocacy projects for improved access for young Romani and Traveller children to quality early childhood services.

It has been more than three weeks now, since our delegation came back from the World Forum on Early Care and Education in New Zealand, one of the face-to-face meetings in the program which mostly runs online. We have already managed to clean our mailboxes and started our daily routines, but the Haka still resonates. The traditional war cry of Māori has been there all the time – welcoming us, entertaining us and telling us goodbye. New Zealand gave us a lesson how traditions are preserved in diversity.

“I felt completely pleased, challenged, loved, involved and energized at the same time,” says Sonila Dubare, one of the Global Leaders and child rights advocate from Albania. There were hundreds of participants at the Word Forum, and the world is what defines the attendees the best. Practitioners, experts, activists, social entrepreneurs and many other professionals working with all kinds of children were attending to learn from each other and contribute with their knowledge and expertise.

Learning from the similarities and inspiration from the differences – that could have easily been the motto. “I was surprised by how different our lives are in various circumstances and yet what we all shared was this unique desire to support children all over the world. We donate our free time as volunteers, we are not in this for money,” says another Global Leader, passion-driven Brigita Mark, who works as a civil servant.

Similarities between Roma and Travellers and other disadvantaged groups from around the world were significant. “I learned so much about different communities, from the Aboriginal groups in Australia to the Native American tribes of Dakota. It made me feel I am not alone in my efforts for cultural inclusion and preservation in education, to nurture the very being of our children,” comments Lisa Smith, a Romani Traveller from the UK and another Global Leader from Europe.

The energy was so strong that it reached Driton Berisha, children’s rights champion from Kosovo and a Global Leader, who could not participate at the World Forum. He said: “I am sure the positive energy would not have been easy to forget. I saw in the pictures; everyone brought a big smile with them.” We can only confirm that. World Forum gives us hope that the hundreds of attendees can make the world better for children around the world.

Find out more about the Global Leaders program here.