ON THE SEMINAR
The Training for Roma/Gypsy school assistants and mediators
Timişoara, March, 31 – April, 4, 2004
The interest on Romani population has kept growing during the last years, on behalf of states as well as that of international organisations. This can be explained by the worsening of the situation of this population and the raise of awareness on it, especially after the nineties. Several measures have been taken at national and international levels to improve this situation, and sometimes even general strategies and plans of actions have been adopted, within a comprehensive approach. An analysis of these policies shows that very often the stress is put on the education, as a necessary starting point for the improvement of the general situation. Indeed, and this despite of the local specificities, the education of this community encounters several difficulties: poor living conditions, restriction of access to education, discrimination in school, high rates of drop out etc. In some countries the position of the mediator or that of assistant was imagined and implemented in order to help the access of the Romani children to the educational system. The initiatives in this sense as well as the role of each participant involved in them vary from a country to another, according to the specificities of each situation and to the approach of intervention.
The involvement of the Council of Europe in the education of Romani children
The Council of Europe shows a great interest on the issue of education of Romani community. Its role and its involvement have been presented to the participants by representatives of the DG III and DG IV, co-organisers of the seminar. Indeed, the situation of the Romani community interests the goals of the Council of Europe’s activities in different aspects. One of them is the social cohesion. Mrs. Eleni Tsetsekou exposed to the participants the reason of the existence of a Division on Roma/Gypsies within the Directorate General of Social Cohesion and its activity. The problems that Roma face do not touch them exclusively; they are rather threats for the social cohesion in general. The Roma/Gypsies Division contributes for several years within the DG IV-Social Cohesion to find ways and means to improve the situation of Roma. It is particularly involved in the project “Roma under Stability Pact”, by supporting experts who evaluate the activities led in its framework.
Concerning the education, as many other fields, the Council of Europe intervenes by adopting standards addressed to its Member States. Its concern on Roma is translated in a series of recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly, since the year 1969. A large majority of these texts stress on education, while in the year 2000 the Committee of Ministers adopted a special recommendation, R 2000 (4), on the education of the Roma/Gypsies children. As noticed by Ms. Aurora Ailincai of the DG IV, even though one can interpret the proliferation of the recommendations as being the result of lack of their implementation, it is also true that some achievements are to be recorded. Apart the activities led in the framework of the project “Training Programme for educational staff” aiming at the training the teachers to work more efficiently with Romani pupils, a whole project is being implemented on the issue of Roma education: “Education for Roma children in Europe”. The outline of the work for the project adopted by the Steering Committee for Education (CD-ED) at its meeting on 25 and 26 February 2002 expressly states the need of a better implication of the Roma in the project through the participation at all levels, including the steering group, in which they are to be the majority. This document further develop the work themes, recalling the necessity to treat the problem of Roma education as a whole: the lack of quiet spaces for Roma pupils to do their homework or that of the transportation, the lack of financial means for the parents to afford the education of their children, the racist prejudices and attacks, the training of the teachers, the use of the mediators and assistants, the introduction of classes on multiculturalism, the use of Romani language in the educational system and the work with Romani families. The organisation of the Seminar on the role of the Romani school mediators/assistants is also part of the projects mentioned above. The Migration and Roma/Gypsies Division of the Council of Europe was represented in this seminar, as well as the DG IV- Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport.
The main aim of the seminar was to discuss the role of the Romani school assistants/mediators and as a consequence, the issue of their training. Organised by the Council of Europe in partnership with the Intercultural Institute of Timişoara, the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research, the School Inspectorate of Timiş County and the Teacher’s House Timiş, the seminar was attended by about 55 participants coming from 19 countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and United Kingdom. They came from different backgrounds:
- representatives of the Ministries of Education
- representatives of governmental structures responsible for minorities affairs
- representatives of teaching personnel
- Romani school mediators and assistants
- academics and specialists of education
- representatives of Romani and non-Romani non-governmental organisations involved in education
- representatives of the Council of Europe
The diversity of the participants’ profiles permitted a rich discussion and exchange of experiences, which led to the elaboration of a set of recommendations. The possibility to speak in different languages (English, French, Romani and Romanian) thanks to the simultaneous translation facilitated considerably the dialogue. This report tries to present as accurately as possible the outputs of the seminar development of the seminar, through four chapters corresponding to its sessions. The first chapter will give a general overview of the situation in different European countries concerning the role of the mediator/assistant. This will lead then to the question of the situation of this profession within a large system of participants in the education, treated in the second chapter, and eventually to the training of the mediator/assistant, subject of the third chapter. Finally, the conclusions of the seminar and a set of recommendations that came out from the different workshops will be exposed in the fourth chapter.
The role Romani school assistant/mediator in Europe - an overview
The mediation as a concept is used in a large set of contexts and recently it has been developed as a means for resolving different situations. Mr. Jacques Chevalier, a prominent academic and collaborator of the Council of Europe for a long time, stressed on his intervention the link between the mediation, the changes in societies and the politics. In general, the concept of mediation is closely related with conflict, and in the educational process, or more precisely concerning the Roma school mediator, it is linked with the gap caused by the difference. The policies on education of minorities have passed through three main stages:
Belonging to a minority, thus being different from the others, was first considered as a social handicap. This conception naturally led educational policies to try to obliterate the differences. Then the conception changed, and the difference was recognized. The educational policies were adapted consequently and the pupils could conserve their identity and even develop it. Nevertheless, the activities related to the development of this identity, such as language courses etc, were to be run as additional activities, after the school programme. The third stage, which is running currently, corresponds to a new conception of the difference: the differences concern everyone, the minority as well as the majority, in the new context were the multiculturalism becomes a pedagogical tool. This excellent analysis performed by Mr. Antonio Perrotti, rapporteur of the Council of Europe, suggests that, on the contrary of what traditional politics believe, the conflict and the coexistence between different identities is not an accident, a temporary situation. T
he multicultural society is rather the durable reality, which should be managed in a proper way by promoting normal relations between the different identities that compose it. The role of the mediator is, of course, very important in this context. While defining this role, one should take into consideration the whole system in which the mediator is integrated.
Concerning the school
mediator/assistant, this system includes public authorities, educational staff,
students and families. The existing experiences in different countries
illustrate the position of the mediator/assistant in this system and the role
that he plays in it. If all of them aim at improving the education of Romani
children both in quantity and quality, by using the potential of Romani
communities, what Mr. Liégeois calls “relying on the internal dynamisms of the
community”, the conceptions and the terms vary from one country to another:
In some countries, the term used is “Romani teaching assistant”. As indicated by the expression itself, the activity of the assistant is more related with the teaching process and the school as an educational institution. His role is quite similar with that of pedagogic assistant in a system of integration of the students with special needs. Nonetheless, the fact that we speak here of a “Romani” teaching assistant affect this resemblance according to the global approach of the system. In the past, as noticed above, the belonging to an ethnic minority was assimilated to a social handicap. Thus, if we place ourselves for a moment in a system based on this conception, the role of the Romani teaching assistant would be to outshine the differences, meaning the identity of the pupils, at least in the school. This ancient approach aiming at the assimilation of Roma is commonly condemned nowadays. On the contrary, the role of the Romani teaching assistant is now to help the teacher in the organisation of the courses and bring to this process the identity dimension of the pupils.
The other concept, used in other countries, is that of the Romani school mediator. Normally, the mediator has no role to play in the teaching process. Unlike the Romani teaching assistant, the position of the mediator is not inspired by some position of educational or education related staff, but by the role of the social assistant or that of the community mediator. His activity concentrates more in the community and with the children and their parents.
As any other generalisation, this presentation of the role of the mediators/assistants is to be taken with precaution, as in reality the distinction is not so clear, nor so categorical. In fact, when we look at the situation we record many similarities between the mediator and the assistant:
When the first Romani monitors and assistants started working in the eighties in Andalusia, their role was to establish a link between the community and the school and to combat in this way the very high rates of the absenteeism. Then, in the nineties in Finland there are Roma social workers and mediators who intervene in different fields, including education.
It is the Czech Republic who starts, in the nineties, to employ Roma as teaching assistants that intervene in the school. Their main role is to facilitate the communication between the teacher and the Romani pupils and to support these last in the learning, but they also act as mediators, linking the school and the local Romani community.
Slovakia also created the profession of Romani teaching assistant, with three categories of responsibilities:
- In the teaching process, the assistant works together with the teacher and the teaching staff of the school. He performs different tasks defined by the teacher, prepares the didactic material and contributes in implementing personalised teaching methods for the pupils. He is also in charge of organizing different learning activities, in which are introduced also elements of cultural knowledge. The assistant is supposed to facilitate the adaptation of the children to the new environment of the school, overall when they come from a disadvantaged social and economic environment and helps them in overcoming possible social, cultural and linguistic barriers. Integral part of the educational staff, the assistant prompts the pupils to be tolerant and open to other cultures.
- In the spare time activities, the assistant acts as an adviser, a supporting person and a representative of the Romani culture. For performing these functions, the assistant cooperates with all the relevant participants, including educational authorities, cultural centres, parents etc. The spare time activities are intended to improve the relationship between the Romani community and the majority, by raising the implication of the Romani community in Slovak society as a whole. In this respect, the assistant has to play a role of interface, being in the same time a member of the Romani community and a privileged interlocutor of the authorities.
- The Romani teaching assistant intervenes also in the family. A regular contact with the Romani community permits the assistant to be informed and updated on the situation of the families, especially those in a difficult economic and social situation, as well as the health situation of the children in order to adapt the professional support to the needs. The assistant collaborates with the Romani families and organizes with them meetings and activities aiming at raising their awareness on the importance of education, their implication in the educational process, the tolerance, the creation of positive relationship between Romani and non-Romani families, etc.
In Austria, the situation is quite different, since the initiative of the NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION “Romano Centro” consists of employing university students to support Romani children in their homework. Initiated first as a work with groups of pupils, this initiative did not show the expected results, thus the “Lernhefers ” has been transferred at the homes of the children. It has to be noticed that these Lernhelfers work exclusively with the pupils, without any link with the school they attend. A comparison can be made here with the activities of some Non-governmental organisations in France, who organize support to pupils in difficult situation through volunteer university students, even though in most cases they build partnerships with schools and public authorities.
In Poland, after the pilot implementation of the Romani assistant in Małapolska since 2001, the Governmental Programme on Roma adopted in 2003 provides also for the employing of Romani assistants. Having the confidence of the local Romani community, they support both the children and the teachers in the teaching process, promote the Romani language and culture in school, identify the potential and the difficulties of the children, encourage the interest and the participation of the parents and link the community and the school in terms of information.
In Bulgaria, it was first the civil society who initiated the employment of the Romani assistants. Later on, the government took over these initiatives, especially within the measures aiming at combating the segregation of Romani pupils and facilitating their access in preschool education. According to the governmental documents, the Romani teacher assistant intervenes in preschool and primary education institutions as a facilitator of the communication between the teaching staff and the pupils but also between the teachers and the parents.
The pilot implementation of the position of the Romani teaching assistant that started in 2000 in Croatia led to the integration of the concept within the national programme for Roma three years later, in 2003. A ministerial decision regulates now this position, which tasks are to be performed both in the school and outside it, with the community. The Romani teaching assistant follows the participation and the progress of the learning process of the Romani pupils in the school, supporting this process in different ways, including by translation for the pupils in their mother tongue. Besides this function linked directly with the process of teaching/learning, the assistant makes also the link between the community and authorities, including, but not only, the educational ones.
The position of the school mediator was created in Romania in the middle of the nineties, in the same time with that of the health mediator. Unlike the Romani teaching assistant in Croatia, in Romania the school mediator performs the duties corresponding to his position outside the classroom. Currently, these duties are defined by the Ministry of Education and Research. They are quite close to the second conception of the mediator/assistant exposed at the beginning of this chapter, meaning that they are concentrated in the community. The school assistant supports the education of the Romani children in close cooperation with the local community and the Non-governmental organisations, facilitates the organisation of parents’ meetings, helps to list the children at age for attending school, informs on one hand the community on the measures and procedures to follow for the education of their children and on the other hand the school and the authorities on the problems identified in the community. The prevention and the resolution of possible conflicts within the community or inter communities is also part of his attributions, as well as the identification of the eventual Romani candidates to be trained as teachers.
It may appear at the first sight that the duties of the school mediator place him far from the school and make this position very close to that of a social worker. Nevertheless, the interventions of a Romani teacher and a school mediator in the seminar showed that the mediator often uses the possibility to contact the school and inform on the problems identified in the community. The mediator and the teacher can make in this way a team that can lead to the improvement of the teaching process even without a direct implication of the mediator in it.
This overview allows setting a series of problems that raise already or can raise with respect to the role of the assistant/mediator. For instance, can the current needs for mediators/assistants be satisfied with the existing human resources? This question comes naturally from the fact that the assistant/mediator should ideally have a double profile:
- Belonging to the Romani community, ideally of the same community in which he will work, is necessary for a better understanding of the needs and better efficiency of the activities in it, due to the fact that it will be there strong links between the mediator and the given community.
- Meeting some criteria of professional character is necessary for the efficiency of the mediator/assistant work especially with the children and the education professionals and authorities. The importance of this second feature of the profile is all the more considerable as in many cases the mediator/assistant takes part in the teaching process in different ways.
In practice, it is often difficult to make these criteria correspond. This is due to the fact that in the communities where the need for the mediator is the more significant it is extremely difficult to find people who have reached a sufficient level of formal education. We are here in presence of a vicious circle that should be broken. For achieving this, the common method used is to start by accepting a relatively low level of formal education of the candidates, exception that often is limited in the time.
In terms of job description of the mediator/assistant, the double profile required corresponds to a double set of duties and activities that are performed either in the school or in the community. The positive point in this double role is that, when necessary, it permits the community to change their opinion on the school. More concretely, this means that:
a) The school is open to all and the Roma should not feel excluded by it.
b) The school does no longer seek the assimilation of the Roma, but rather their participation on a foot of equality with other identities.
But this double role or double belonging includes also some risks. The mediator/assistant can be considered by the community as its speaker in school or elsewhere. This can lead to too much dependence of the mediator/assistant towards the community and could affect the quality of the work. On the other hand, the mediator/assistant himself will find his authority on the community increasing and use it for other purposes than those of his position, or even misuse it. Here again, the activity of the mediator/assistant would be affected.
It seems therefore necessary that the place of the mediator/assistant in the wide system composed by the different participants in the education be clearly defined so as to optimise the chances of success of this profession.
The status of the Romani school assistant/mediator and its place in a wide system of education
Here again, the experiences are various according to the countries, with more or less similarities in a given geographic area. There is nonetheless a common tendency observed everywhere: although the mediator/assistant was often initiated by non-governmental organisations and/or implemented in the framework of pilot projects, the status of the mediator/assistant is now more and more generalised and regulated at the governmental level. Thus, the sustainability of these initiatives is being concretized. The European Union programmes, especially PHARE, have been of a great help in this process as they financed a considerable part of the projects together with the governments of the countries where they were implemented. It is true that, as the mediator/assistant works in the field of education, it seems normal that the public authorities engage the necessary efforts for supporting this profession, including financial resources. This point was frequently highlighted by the seminar’s participants.
There is nevertheless some contradiction between this stability of the profession and the conception of the role that it is expected to play. The role of the mediator/assistant being the integration of the Romani pupils within the educational system in equality with children of other ethnic backgrounds, the indicator par excellence of the achievement of this role is the loss of the profession’s usefulness. In certain moment, it should not be necessary to continue any longer employing mediators/assistants. The role of the mediator/assistant and therefore his professional status are, at least theoretically, precarious. On the other hand, as the fulfilment of the needs for mediators/assistants is made difficult by the scarcity of human resources, as indicated above, one has to motivate people to apply for this position and the stability of the work is a good factor of motivation and should be used as such.
In fact, in the current
conditions the priority has to be given to the employment of
mediators/assistants and the necessary resources for it. The Romani children and
the schools that they attend need this link and it is very likely that they will
need it for a relatively long time. The work contracts of the
mediators/assistants can therefore be passed for a long or even for an
undetermined time. Of course, this long time during which the
mediators/assistants will continue to be necessary should not lead to a
definitive stabilisation, what would simply mean that the mediation failed. On
the contrary, it can and should be used also for finding the possible ways to
facilitate the integration of the mediators/assistants in other positions, in
which they can valorise and utilize the competencies acquired during their
For the time being, the status of the mediator/assistant is more to be discussed from the point of view of the competence corresponding to this position. Some aspects of this issue have been exposed in the previous chapter, as the competence goes together with the role of the mediator/assistant. One of the questions asked during the seminar was whether there is not a confusion of roles between the teacher’s assistant and the teacher as they both participate in the pedagogic process and such a question deserves to be further developed. It has reference to the relationship of the teacher and the assistant, who are intended to work in team and thus, a clear determination of the assistant’s status is more than necessary. In addition, and beyond this practical reason, there are also others, more psychological but at least also important. Of course the main responsibility on the teaching process belongs to the teacher, but the very fact that an assistant join his efforts is a proof that this responsibility is shared and both the teacher and the assistant have to be fully aware of this. Recognizing expressly that the assistant is an integral part of the educational staff and accompany this recognition with concrete assignments creates for the assistant the favourable context that an efficient work requires.
More generally, the place of the mediator/assistant in the school has to be clear, in terms of tasks, competences and procedures. This precondition is fulfilled if the profession is regulated in all its phases, starting with the recruitment, and if all concerned persons are made familiar with this regulation. In practice, the public authorities have already adopted rules on the profession of the assistant/mediator and the seminar was an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences also on this subject. Who decides on whether in a school is necessary to recruit an assistant/mediator and upon which criteria? On which criteria for the assistant/mediator will be selected and by whom? Which will be the concrete tasks of the mediator/assistant and to whom will he report?
The questions are more or less
answered according to the countries and in different manners. In some countries,
there are precise rules, such as in Slovakia for example. A teacher assistant
may be recruited if there are at least five pupils needing additional support in
the learning process due to their socially disadvantaged background. The law
does not refer to the ethnic background as it considers that this disadvantaged
situation is not proper to a given ethnic identity. This can have a direct
consequence on the selection of the candidates. In fact, one can ask whether the
assistant should belong to the Romani community or not. An indication for the
answer is included in another legal provision that reads: “The teacher’s
assistant is a pedagogical employee, who carries out the educational-training
process in schools and in pre-school facilities and takes part in the formation
of the conditions vital for overcoming principally the language, health and
social barriers if the child as part of ensuring the educational-training
process.” By mentioning the “language barriers”, and the support that the
teacher’s assistant is supposed to provide, the law indirectly refers to the
ethnic background of the assistant in cases where the Romani children face
difficulties to learn in the majority language.
In other countries, the reference to the ethnic background of the mediator/assistant is direct. The difference between the countries who set the Romani identity as a criterion for the position of the mediator/assistant and those who do not is to be found on the different conceptions of the difficulties’ origin, but also in a concern not to stigmatize the Romani community. Indeed, it is sometimes considered that affirmative action in favour of one community can lead to the strengthening of the frontiers between this community and the majority population and impede the intercultural communication. On the other side, it is answered to this concern that the problems faced by Romani community are specific and can not be considered only in terms of social exclusion, this last being not the cause, but rather the consequence of long time discrimination, assimilatory policies etc, thus positive discrimination is needed as a first step towards achievement of equality of chances.
These differences of conceptions and policies can be interpreted also in another manner, taking as axe of the reflection the role of the assistant as a representative of the Romani identity in the school and more generally in the educational authorities or that of the mediator as a privileged interlocutor of these authorities and institutions. If the assistant/mediator has to play this role, then the ethnic background should be a criterion of the candidates’ selection. The fact whether this criterion is expressly stated or not is not very important if commonly it is respected.
As far as the possible negative results of the positive discrimination in terms of inter-community dialogue and relationship are concerned, the issue is not proper to Romani issues, and even less to the problems that the Romani community face in the education field. Generally speaking, for avoiding this risk, the affirmative action should be limited in the time, what means that it should target very well its objectives, according to a precise timetable.
Another effect of the affirmative action is sometimes the creation of a feeling of guiltiness towards the community and inferiority towards the colleagues and collaborators:
The beneficiary is aware of having gained an advantage because of his or her ethnic belonging, while the community in general continues being in a difficult position. It is thus important that the person be followed and explained that this new position is due to a mission that he or she has to complete. In normal conditions of accompaniment and if the selection led to the choice of a good candidate, this can be very stimulating for the mediator/assistant and his/her activity.
This exceptional way leads the beneficiary to a position that in other conditions would be inaccessible. Aware of this advantage, the person enters in a circle of people who, for having the same position or a similar one, have had to satisfy to some criteria that he or she has not. This causes certain inferiority towards the colleagues and the collaborators. For avoiding this risk, it is necessary that the beneficiary person understands the importance of this exceptional way of recruitment for the employer. Here too, the proceeding is also a means to stimulate the employee and to make him/her aware on what is expected from him/her.
It seems that the principle of special measures in order to employ assistants/mediators is anyway accepted, be this openly or indirectly, or that at least it is to be accepted very soon. The question who these special measures apply to can be solved also by indirect references, as does the Slovak law. The question is very often to know what these special measures will aim to and how they will reach their aims. The mediator/assistant represents a presence of Romani identity in the school and an example for the children. The main aim being to promote the Romani participation in the school requires, additionally to the physical presence, a cultural one.
In this respect, the mediator/assistant should ensure also the promotion of the Romani identity of the children. In the case of the teacher’s assistant this function may be facilitated by the direct participation in the educational process, which is not the case for the mediator, because he does not participate in it. Nevertheless, the simple participation in this process does not mean necessarily that this function is fulfilled, because it depends also on the approach. The best example to illustrate this assertion is the use of Romani language. Either it is considered as a simply barrier for the learning process, and in this case its use will be limited to the strict necessary, that is to say some translation when the child does not understand something, or it is considered as an opportunity to be used in the development of the child, in which case its use will expand as a learning and/or taught language.
In order to raise the
self-esteem of Romani children, the second approach is to be preferred. This
approach is also preferable because, in cases of communities who see in the
school a threat for conserving the identity of the children, this fear is
eliminated. A good example is provided in this respect by Romania, where there
is also a teaching in/of Romani language, as for any other national minority.
This teaching, provided by teachers who have completed a special training,
compensates the fact that the school mediator does not participate in the
The mediator/assistant is one way to improve the access of Romani children to education, but it is not the only one. For ensuring a proper access to education all possibilities should be explored and in the case of Romani children it seems that taking into consideration their ethnic identity and incorporating it in the educational process seems to be one of these possibilities. According to the national contexts, the ways for using this potential may differ, but the common point is that it exists and should be used. This is what makes the difference while adopting an approach for the education of Romani children. If it is true that a majority of Romani children live in a difficult socio-economic situation, this situation is also that of a part of the majority population.
The respective percentages do
not justify thinking that the root of the problem exclusively of social origin
and should be tackled as such. A better knowledge on the issue is needed for the
whole system, and the mediator/assistant could play certain role here. This is
the reason why the mediator/assistant should be given the possibility to
influence educational policies and practices. As noticed during the seminar, the
mediator/assistant is not only someone who brings the Romani children to school,
but also someone who brings the school closer to them. This mission is certainly
difficult and can not be ensured by a single person or an isolated category of
professionals. It needs the combined effort of all those who take part in the
educational system. As far as the mediator/assistant is concerned, the
definition of this profession’s responsibilities should take into consideration
that it may play an important role in the development of policies aiming at the
integration of the Romani component in education.
The training of the mediators/assistants
Both the role and the situation of the assistant/mediator in the educational system are linked with the competences of those who employed in these positions, and thus with their training. Two examples can illustrate the idea, one concerning the teacher’s assistant training in Slovakia and the other that of the school mediator in Romania.
The training of the teacher’s assistant in Slovakia
The law 29/1984 of the Republic of Slovakia modified contains a paragraph which reads as follow: “The teacher’s assistant meets the needs of specialised functioning, if he or she has acquired secondary education or higher university education at the undergraduate degree level and has completed supplementary pedagogical studies”. Notwithstanding, bearing in mind the current situation in terms of available human resources, there is an exception until 2010, by which elementary-school leavers, secondary vocational or secondary specialised schools can also act as assistants if they complete a course accredited by the Slovak Ministry of Education.
Currently, the four courses, proposed by non-governmental organisations that work on education related issues, have been accredited by the Slovak Ministry of Education:
Number of hours
Romani assistant for extracurricular club activity “DŽIVIPEN”
Educational information-agency centre
Social work assistant for the Romani community
Citizen’s association ‘Dignified Life’ (Dôstojný život)
Romani teacher’s assistant in nursery school, teacher and trainer in elementary school
Open Learning School Foundation (Škola Dokorán)
Teacher and trainer in collaboration with a Romani assistant
Open Learning Foundation (Škola Dokorán)
These courses consist of basic notions of pedagogy and learning psychology but also other themes with an actual interest and related to the assistant’s work, such as:
- The learner centred instruction
- The fundaments of the communication
- The creation of an inclusive environment in the classroom
- Cultural and social features of the Romani population
- Methods of class management and creation of a positive atmosphere of learning
- Methods of personalised learning
- School and community - the partnership with the parents
As the transitional period during which the exception concerning the academic criteria is applicable ends on 31st of December 2010, different PHARE projects have been implemented under the authority of the Slovak Ministry of Education, in order to prepare the conditions for a full application of the law. These projects permitted to prepare training modules and the tests as well as methodological documentation for the teacher’s assistants. Also, a university training programme could be prepared for the future teacher’s assistants.
The training modules contain, alongside with the above mentioned themes, some others that aim at facilitating the future work of the teacher’ assistants with the Romani children, the parents and the teaching staff. The development of competences in multicultural communication represents an important component of the training modules.
The training of the school mediator in Romania
In a first time, the school mediators were trained by non-governmental organisations who occasionally offered short time training. It is in the framework of the Phare project “Access to education for disadvantaged groups”, managed by the Ministry f Education, that a long training programme institutionally recognised recognized is being conceived.
The new training programme of the school mediators, managed by the Pedagogic College of Cluj, corresponds to 1500 hours of courses on a 28 week period of time, distributed as follows:
Type of training
Duration of training
Theoretical training in a training centre
Training at the school where the mediator is employed
Individual training assisted by mentors
A thirty hour module is added to this training for the evaluation and the accreditation.
The training programme is conceived so as to provide the mediator with the necessary competences for performing the different tasks of his job, meaning:
- to be able to identify the problems and the situations that might impede a regular attendance of the Romani children and transmit them to the school staff
- to provide with advice and consultancy the families on the access to social and educational facilities and the relevant institutions
- to communicate adequately with different types of interlocutors
- to assure mediation when necessary in school or family environment
- to work in team with the school direction, the teaching staff and with community members
- to promote the values of multicultural society, inclusion and equality of chances in school as well as among the community
- to help the disadvantaged pupils to overcome the barriers that prevent their full development in accordance with their potential
The training curriculum is composed of two parts: one core training and complementary modules on which the mediator choose those more relevant and important for the local context.
The core curriculum contains seven themes:
- the role of the school mediator
- the inclusive education
- prevention, mediation and resolution of conflict
- Romani language, literature and culture
- European Computer Driving License
- communication, public speech and presentation of information
The complementary modules are the following:
- legal protection of the child
- difficulties in learning
- social, emotional and comportment problems
- training of the Romani parents and families
This theoretical training is accompanied by a training at the work place, during which the competences acquired are put into practice. During this phase, the mediator learns how to use his knowledge in the accomplishment of different tasks, like the identification and the analysis of the needs, the planning of the intervention or the evaluation and the optimisation of this intervention, both in school and in the community.
An important component of the training is also the individual one, as the mediator has here the support of a tutor, which is commonly an experienced colleague, who helps the mediator in training to put in practice the methods and the tools recommended during the theoretical training.
The general tendency concerning the training of the school mediators/assistants, as shown in these examples but also in other countries, is its transfer to recognised training institutions, what leads to an unquestionable improvement. Even though this transfer is still too much recent for being subject of a definitive evaluation, one can anticipate its positive impact in terms of quality because of the time of the training and of the quality of the programmes.
On the other hand, the gap between the needs for assistants/mediators and the available human resources remains present and from this point of view, some advantages of the short-time trainings are lost. Indeed, these trainings offer more flexibility and are often more suitable for the candidates, who would be more numerous with this system of training.
It is anyway certain that an institutionally recognized training offers to the candidates more competences that could be used also in the long term in case of new employment opportunities. This new situation might modify the profile of the mediator, attracting young people willing to complete short term superior studies or university students that wish to work as mediators/assistants. This could contribute to fulfil the existing needs in the middle term. In the same spirit, the recognition and the certification of the competences is a means to meet the needs for mediators/assistants. In this last hypothesis, if necessary the candidate could also complete this certification with an in service training.
Conclusions and recommendations
The idea of implementing new supportive structures for the education of the Romani children, even though recent, has developed quickly. The employment of school mediators or assistants who would make the link between the Romani community and the school is the most widespread and the most dynamic example of the concretisation of this idea. Started often at a local level and in the framework of pilot projects, it tends to be generalized today. Alongside with this geographic expansion, the profession goes currently under a transformation and an upgrade. The governments’ involvement in this process is constantly increasing, what means that they see in this profession a means to improve the access of Romani children to education.
The positive results produced already in some countries militate in favour of their duplication elsewhere. Of course, this is not to say that the employment of mediators/assistants is the miraculous solution that will resolve definitely all the problems that the Romani community face in terms of education. It is only one mechanism among others, which will be more or less efficient according to the other measures and mechanisms put in place and the way they are combined within a global policy aiming at the improvement of the general situation of the community.
For different reasons, and sometimes even for hardly identifiable ones, there is still a kind of amalgam between the ethnic and social background of Romani community, not only concerning educational issues, but also in general. Even though the specialists are aware that the belonging to a different identity is a potential that should be exploited and that considering it as a handicap is unfolded and old fashioned, these ideas hardly penetrate in the school environment. The introduction of the assistant/mediator can facilitate this necessary change of the mentalities, if he is provided with the necessary formal and intellectual competences to do so and if he is supported in this role by the relevant actors: academics, institutions, non-governmental organisations etc…
At the current stage of the implementation, particular attention should be paid also to the evaluation of the projects putting in place the Romani school mediators/assistants. Implying often provisional special measures and given the fact that negative effects of these special measures are possible, this evaluation should allow a clear balance of the results and not to limit to only some quantitative data such as the number of mediators/assistants recruited or the increasing of the percentage of children who attend school. A new approach of evaluation is to be adopted encompassing all components of the project and putting in balance the efforts made with the concrete results that can be identified in the community. Of course, this evaluation is technically more difficult to be processed, because it needs a preliminary effort for setting indicators on the basis of elements not naturally measurable, but it is the most reliable. As the mediators/assistants have to put regularly in question their activities in order to adapt them to the needs, they can be the first evaluators of their own and help in this way a more global evaluation. In order to give them the possibility to do so, more attention should be paid to the themes of self-evaluation and its techniques in the framework of the training.
Lastly, after a first phase of considerable support from the European structures, the main responsibility of the process is to be transferred at the national level. Nonetheless, the consultations, the communication and the exchange of experiences at the European level keep their importance in order to create synergies and augment the chances of success. In this respect, the international support will still be necessary. The Council of Europe and other European institutions and organisations, by providing an international forum with the participation of different stakeholders and Romani representatives can also stimulate a more efficient implication of the governments through adequate measures and efficient implementation.