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.