Teacher Assistants and de-segregation
All over Europe education systems are in rapid transition. This is caused not
only by the sheer quantity of knowledge students have to learn – and teachers to
teach, but also by the quality of knowledge needed in rapidly developing
economics and sciences. Therefore the introduction of self-organised learning
processes are overdue, and it is common knowledge that learning doesn’t end with
school or university exams.
At the same time we can observe a growing social distance between large parts of
the Roma population and the elites; a phenomenon that came into view with the
end of the socialist period in the Eastern and Southeastern European countries.
One wonders to what extent this phenomenon is a result of the transition period
which brought forth the unemployment of a vast number of Roma, groups which had
been integrated into the working class during the socialist period, or is it the
overture to a broader social tendency which will concern other strata of society
in the near future? This new phenomenon which we can observe day by day is
verified by growing numbers of young Roma people dropping out and by increasing
numbers of analphabets among the young generations – the demographic figures
show an increasing percentage of young Roma within this segment of the Bulgarian
This new discrimination is not a transitory obstacle that can easily be overcome
by schooling. The experiences in other countries show that schooling is no
longer the ticket to social integration. The integration of Roma children into
mainstream education is a main feature of political programmes, both of national
governments and international institutions as well as of Roma NGOs. However, it
is still unclear what ‘integration’ means or could mean, especially if we take
into account the different developments in the societies of Western and Eastern
This is the background of every discussion on Roma inclusion and access to
education. The RPI project with its core activity on training of 100 young Roma
to become teacher assistants triggered off a discussion on the development of
the education system concerning Roma children. The political preference of
de-segregation is obviously favoured by governments and a number of Roma NGOs.
De-segregation is being presented as an explicitly political concept, pprimarily
focussing on special schools for disabled children, and on neighbourhood schools
in Roma quarters. To what extent is this solely a political question ? The other
important topic is, how to improve the quality of education for Roma children,
and for children in general. Here, teacher assistant may play a role in the
introduction of new methods and in implementing multi-cultural education.
De-segregation as a political concept only is not sufficient. De-segragation
also needs a pedagogical concept to evoke positive long term results. This
includes frequent teacher training on intercultural education, understanding of
the characteristics of children with bi-lingual background, and the introduction
of new methods in the education process – including the position of the teacher
assistant supporting the education process inside and outside the classroom.
De-segregation is not a general solution for all ‘Roma schools’ or all locations
either. Even in places where de-segregation projects run, representatives of
Roma communities state that they do not want their neighbourhood school to be
closed down. Many reasons are given for that position : not all children will
participate in the de-segregation project; not all parents agree to send their
children out of the neighbourhood; the schools around the neighbourhood do not
have the capacity to enrol all the children; bussing and support for Roma
children only causes tensions with Bulgarian parents; some children do not feel
welcome in the mainstream schools – a number of children return to the
neighbourhood schools; the Roma school arrived at some success as long as the
school received reasonable support from the Ministry of Education and Science
and the municipality; the ongoing de-segregation projects produce a new
dependency for the children and the parents on NGOs and external financing.
However, most of the children from the neighbourhood schools stay in these
schools. The support for these schools is poor, and the political concept of
de-segregation excludes these children – with the effect that these children are
losers twice over. They stay in the underprivileged schools, and projects and
programmes forget about them. It is obvious that the concept of de-segregation
has to deal with this situation, too.
It is worth considering that de-segregation has to include the mainstreaming and
improvement of neighbourhood schools. It needs to be underlined that this is not
a general solution but an option for communities, based on an analysis of the
local situation, especially in neighbourhoods where de-segregation projects
cannot reach all children, for various reasons. The neighbourhood schools in
Bulgaria are legally ‘normal’ mainstream schools, with the same curriculum as
any other school. Their position is weak because of a lack of funding by the
municipalities, often because of less qualified teachers, poor equipment, etc.
However, they are - in legal terms - not more special schools than Jewish or
Armenian schools. (dieser Satz is tmir völlig unklar geblieben, sorry).
‘Model schools’ in specific neighbourhoods may follow the concept of language
schools in Bulgaria : the schools may put an emphasis on music, on languages
including Romani, etc. The model schools should develop new approaches to
attract teachers, parents, students. This needs proper environment, equipment,
new teachers, new and interactive methods, and curriculum development. However,
the idea is to mainstream the neighbourhood schools to meet national and
international standards. The improvement of neighbourhood schools should be a
complementary alternative to de-segregation initiatives; it is not intended to
replace de-segregation projects.
Teacher assistants - trained at universities and qualified to support the
education process in the schools and to bridge the gap between schools and the
communities - may contribute to the improvement of the quality of education. The
RPI project has proven the positive role teacher assistants fulfil in their
position. The experiences gained include the setting up of groups for drop-outs
in order to bring them back to school and catch up with the level of the
classes; the support for teachers in addressing children with bi-lingual
background ; the individual support for children in the classroom, whenever
difficulties in the education process show up; addressing children in their
mother tongue and expressing thus respect for the culture of their community.
All this contributes substantially to the wellbeing of the children in the
schools, no matter whether they visit neighbourhood schools or so-called mixed
schools outside. If parents feel that the mother tongue is taken care of in
school, they take it as a sign that the school is accepting Roma, that the
institution estimates their background and will safeguard the continuation of
the Roma community. This is of major importance to the Roma communities, it
helps them to associate with the majority and to experience empowerment with
school and the education of their children.
The teacher assistants succeeded in establishing bridges between school/society
and Roma homes and clearly promoted the integration and interest in educational
matters in general among the Roma. This outcome can not be estimated highly
enough. The teacher assistants` competence in the children’s mother tongue gives
the children a greater chance to develop their language skills in both
languages, and to improve their Bulgarian skills properly.
Last but not least, the training for the teacher assistants fulfilled the
expectations in other aspects as well : of the 92 trainees who passed the final
examination successfully, more than forty applied for university studies, and 32
of them passed the exams. However, only 15 have been accepted at the Veliko
Turnovo University because vacant places were limited. The training obviously
can open doors for higher education – before the training only one participant
was enrolled at university, although all the trainees had secondary education.
For the Bulgarian education system therefore the position of the teacher
assistant should be introduces to all schools which identify the need .
Opportunities for higher education teachers in the field of minority education
with a special focus on Roma need to be provided in an adequate number in order
to meet the interest of young Roma who want to become teachers.
Published in Hristo Kychukow : "Desesgregation and Quality Education", Veliko
Tarnovo 2005 (in Bulgarian language)