Roma preschool children and language in Slovakia

Still today, Roma children are placed in special schools and classes because they do not master the national language. Preschool is failing on them and they are often exposed to communication in Roma language only at home. How can we help them?

Preschool education for children is indispensable and provides them with the right prerequisites to master school, social skills, hygienic habits, ability to work in a collective environment and respect others. The use of the language has to be mastered at a sufficient level to enable the pupils to learn in school. For example, the process of learning to read, write and calculate assumes that the pupils have sufficient vocabulary and understand simple tasks.

Our experience shows that children who speak in a dialect with their parents at home, and have not been in contact with the national language, face communication problems. This is even harder for children from the marginalized communities. Not only do they come into contact with a completely new language, they are also burdened by the psychological feeling of shame when they express themselves, or are afraid of being mocked by their classmates.

Preschool education presents the best opportunity to adapt and get prepared for the first year of school. The compulsory final year in kindergarten before entering school is unfortunately not sufficient in the majority of the cases: Roma children mostly fail to fill the skill gap that separates them from the majority children.

Statistically, Roma children are often ill, miss many days of preschool and their preparation process is not continuous. Also, a sufficient mastery of the Slovak language usually requires a longer adaptation time and these children are often exposed to communication in Roma language at home. So how can we help them?

Invest in families

Roma mothers usually do not work, they are at home, so they prefer the children to stay at home with them. Shouldn’t we therefore look for ways to “enlighten” parents so that they can support their children adequately?

In addition, Roma often lack sufficient funds to pay the school fee, which is about 150 euro per year. Long-term segregation and lack of interest in addressing these key issues have produced critical consequences. Shouldn’t we motivate the families with suitable economic tools to help them?

Provide services

There are, however, also examples of good practice provided by municipalities, non-profit organizations and volunteers that have created spaces for families with small children in community centers. TOY for Inclusion is an example in this direction. The Play Hubs created by TOY for Inclusion have been helping vulnerable children prepare for preschool and school in eight European countries. To read more about the project, go to

By Miroslav Sklenka, PhD., Executive Director at Škola dokorán and
Peter Strážik, Principal of the primary school of Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.

EU Roma integration is still lagging behind on school segregation and early childhood services

In the very recent European Report on Roma integration, the European Commission indicates progress in primary and secondary education. At the same time access and quality of early childhood services (birth to 6 years of age) remains a challenge.

Delivering on quality early childhood education and care for Romani children remains a challenge in many EU Member States. In early September, the European Commission published its Report 2019 on the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies.

The report focuses on the adoption of Roma inclusion measures and summarizes the most important trends on four policy areas of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (education, employment, health, housing), as well as fighting discrimination and antigypsyism.

Some important achievements have been reached so far. As the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, mentioned: “Now, 90% of Roma children attend primary and lower secondary school.”

However, the Commissioner also mentioned that “receiving proper education from an early age gives every child a chance in life.” Half of the Member States have adopted some measures to increase the access to quality early childhood education and care, especially to increase kindergarten capacities, but the investment in early years means more than providing preschool education.

Early childhood is more than preschool education

In terms of services, much more should be done to support young children’s healthy development and learning (age birth to 6). For example by investing in early intervention and prevention programs; and by removing the financial and non-financial barriers to quality inclusive education.

In addition, although health and housing are two main policy areas that are closely monitored, we unsatisfactorily noticed that not much was mentioned about what impact those key areas had on young Romani children.

School segregation remains a pressing problem that undermines the success of other inclusion measures. The provision of early and free access to quality and inclusive early childhood education and care for Romani children could be one of the powerful solutions to this problem. At the same time, it will not replace the prejudice and discriminatory practices that schools need to address as educational communities.  

our contribution

The road to achieve educational equity for Roma children is still long. In four EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia) the National Romani Early Years Networks (REYN) have helped implementing some successful measures, such as the provision of in-service training and support for kindergarten teachers to improve the quality of their practices when working with children, families and communities. Also, they developed non-formal or community-based services that are connecting families and professionals of different generations both Roma and non-Roma.  

We look forward to work with the new European Commission and with the Members States to find efficient and just ways to increase the access to quality early childhood services for all young children and their families.

For further information, download the EC report.

International days: are they just a pin on the calendar?

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

Photo UNICEF/John McConnico

International days remind us of memorable events, however sometimes they don’t seem to bring real change. Last November we’ve celebrated two important dates for Romani children’s education and early childhood health but how much have we achieved so far?

Ten years since the end of Roma segregation

In many European countries, for decades Roma have been sidetracked into parallel systems of education. On 13 November 2007, a glimpse of hope crossed our hearts when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of 18 Romani applicants from Czech Republic and confirmed that Roma faced discrimination in schools. They had been segregated into special schools initially designed for children with disabilities.

The case had started some ten years earlier after researchers had found out that Romani children were 27 times more likely to be sent into special education, often labeled as Roma schools or Roma classes. Ten years later after the ruling the situation has not changed for many.

Right to be free from discrimination

Some recent studies confirmed the negative trends. Just last year the EU Fundamental Rights Agency confirmed in their European survey that:

  • 80% of Roma, including young children and their families, live at risk of poverty
  • 62% of Romani children go to schools where all or most of their classmates are Roma
  • In comparison to the mainstream population, less than half of the Romani children attend kindergartens: e.g. 28% Roma against 84% of the national average in Greece.

Romani children face a vast number of challenges on their road to academic and professional development. The conditions might be even harder for those suffering multiple discrimination, e.g. Roma immigrants in Italy who face a daily threat of eviction. Numerous reports, coming from civil society or intergovernmental organizations indicate that what is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is still not fully implemented for Romani and Traveller children. The anniversary of the UNCRC adoption on 20 November was another important date that just passed.

We need a wake-up call

As international dates seem to pass without delivering tangible impact what shall we do? The negative trends of Roma-only classes and schools continue, the lack of access to early childhood education and care persists and children’s rights remain violated. Also, in most cases early services focus on five-year-olds and formal kindergarten settings. Younger children, from birth to three, are often ignored in the policies as well as in practice.

Soon, another reminder will beep in our calendars. Let’s make sure that the Human Rights Day next 10 December does not pass without notice. Let’s work together not only to commemorate but to really celebrate children’s rights and urge policy makers to end segregation. If you have ideas for joint actions, get in touch here! And please do not forget to follow us to get our ideas.