Overcoming Educational Barriers

How does one make a journey of a thousand miles? One step at a time.  

This old Chinese proverb has significant relevance to the issues facing Roma communities in Slovakia. To rephrase it, “How do you reduce generational poverty, substandard housing, lack of education, and unemployment?”   

One step and one person at a time. 

First step – Help Roma children get a good start 

A child can only be successful in school if they are first accepted into school.  Laws can mandate that a child must attend school, but no law can mandate that the child receive a good education.  

In Slovakia, every child must take a test to determine whether they will enter normal school or be sent to special school. Disproportionately, many Roma students are placed in special school, where after the mandatory nine years of schooling, the student exits with the equivalent of a fourth-grade education.  

To pass the test, a child needs a working knowledge of the majority language, in this case, Slovak. In many Roma homes, the primary or often the only language spoken is Romani. Roma Learning to Fly has developed a program whereby parents can learn to use daily life situations to help a child learn basic Slovak. They learn their colors and shapes, the alphabet and begin to read. They also learn how to write their name.  

And the beauty of the program? It is simple enough that any parent can use it, even if they don’t know how to read themselves.  

Second step – Help Roma girls stay in school 

Culture plays a big part in keeping kids in school. In some Roma settlements, girls are not expected to stay in school past the age of 12-15. It is assumed that they will get married by 16 and have a child soon after.

A challenge for Roma children is that often the only schools in the village in which they live is a primary school. Further education involves travel to a larger city, usually by bus. The expense of the bus as well as concern over a young girls’ safety, leads to many Roma girls remaining in their village and outside of any further educational opportunities.  

Lack of education, early marriage, and early pregnancy, normalize the situation. Roma Learning to Fly has established a scholarship program to help pay for the expenses for Roma girls to attend school, up to a Master’s Level degree. We work in cooperation with local Roma churches, seeking to create a new normal in Roma settlements, a normal where women can succeed in all aspects of life.   

Take a step – Get involved

Watch the video featuring Alina, one of our scholarship recipients and a role model in her village. Then, click the link below to learn more about how you can help further the education of Roma children. 

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