It’s okay they can’t draw a spine, but they can draw a butterfly. And that’s inclusion…

“When we were visiting Wellington, where Slovak families work and live, we saw how in one top-class art class, British children drew a detailed human spine and Roma children from Sabinov drew a simple butterfly. The school headmaster said that it is completely fine for students of the same age in one class to draw different things because they have different skills. Children who came from Slovakia had weaker motor skills, so drawing a butterfly was progress for them. Gradually, they will learn to draw more complex 2D images, and they won’t be graded based on whether they can draw a spine or not, but whether they can draw a butterfly. And that’s inclusion. Giving children a chance to develop and appreciate what they know.”

This is how, the deputy mayor of Prešov, Peter Krajňák began his speech. He was one of the participants in the Round Table event, the goal of which is to connect people, institutions, organizations, and local governments to influence and create the best possible conditions for education, care, and inclusion for children from impoverished Roma environments.

Activities for children in the organization Childhood for Children in Dobšiná. Foto: Róbert Németi

The Round Table in Prešov took place on February 17, 2023, at the town hall. It was attended by town leadership, representatives of schools, social and field workers, a representative of the Research Institute of Child Psychology and Psychopathology, a commissioner for children, members of the Carpathian Foundation, and others. The main purpose of this event was not only to discuss what doesn’t work and why, but also to share ideas and activities that may change the lives and future of specific children and families. It was Edita Kovářová from the Equal Opportunities Association (OZ Vyrovnávanie šancí) who shared such experiences.

Edita Kovářová
Peter Krajňák

Edita has been working as a teacher in an inclusive kindergarten in Stará Tehelňa, Prešov for 16 years and is also the founder of the Equal Opportunities Association (OZ Vyrovnávanie šancí). She works not only with children but also with their families and schools. At the meeting, she described successful activities such as inclusive kindergarten, Toy Library, Reading Mothers, the project Cheerful and Playful (Veselo a hravo) with Roma mentors, cooperation with People in Need (Človek v ohrození), individual work with families, and more. She also pointed out that “when the tuition fees were increased in January, children stopped coming to kindergarten in droves. Parents are waiting for benefits that come on the 16th to be able to pay for lunches, which is a big problem that needs to be addressed.”

A zero grade would also solve the problem.

Another reason why children do not attend preschool is that it is too far away and parents rather keep them at home. But Edita says that children do want to go to preschool, however they need an individual approach: “I understand that some institutions do not want to accept children from marginalized Roma communities. It’s because teachers have to spend a lot of time and energy not only on individual children, but also on their parents. And five-year-old children are often at the level of two-year-olds. It is not possible to prepare them for school in one year. It can only be improved if they regularly attend preschool. And without a postponement of attendance.” Why? “They won’t attend preschool anyway and nothing will change. The problem would be solved by the zero grade of school. And to create as many opportunities as possible for children to go to preschool as soon as possible,” explained Edita.

After her presentation, a discussion among the participants followed. We are highlighting a few observations and thoughts:

"We are losing babies and children in shacks because they don't have suitable living conditions. We must ensure accessibility of education for all children. Their parents really can't afford it financially. And children are our future."

"Generational poverty is our severe problem and we cannot get rid of it. How can we expect a child to prioritize education when they have nothing to eat, no water, basic hygiene habits... A aby sme mohli robiť inkluzívne vzdelávanie, musí sa zmeniť naše školstvo či nastavenie známkovania a hodnotenia.“

"In England, the social system is very strict. That is why they can be proud of strong attendance of all migrants, not just Roma people. If a child does not attend kindergarten or school, it is immediately dealt with it strictly. In our country, we report missed hours from school to social services and the police, and we are happy if we get a response within a year. That is also why parents dare not to send their children to kindergarten or school. There is also a lack of state support and assistants. The state wants us to do inclusion like in foreign countries, but with a third of people."

"My wish is that a person does not leave the round table only with information, but that we start networking, communicating and cooperating. After the meeting, we can start mapping the situation in the town of Prešov - what is the situation of children from marginalized Roma communities in early childhood, what challenges do children and their families face. We want to create a working group that will start addressing these challenges realistically."

Round tables are a new activity of the Carpathian Foundation within the Roma Communities Development Programme. They are just one piece of a puzzle we once want to complete, so that children in need have equal conditions and opportunities for education and care, and organizations that work with them have the best possible conditions and experience for their work. And this will only be achieved if we work together on it.