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Slovakia: Teachers Call for Help in Open Letter to Education Minister

When non-governmental activists visited an elementary school in Šariské Michaľany, north-eastern Slovakia, they found that most of the Romani children were separated in “special” classes. They filed a lawsuit, in which the school was accused of segregating students based on their ethnic origin. The school lost, despite arguments that the children were not divided due to their skin color, but in accordance with their capabilities, to help the ones with poorer results by using individual approach. In reaction, some parents of the children who were doing better decided to move them to a school in a nearby city.

A study conducted among the UK-based children of the Roma migrants from Central and Eastern Europe found that in the new environment children could achieve good results and there was no reason to place them in special classes.

In fact, the idea of “a new environment” has also been considered in Slovakia. However, the proposal of moving children out of their parents’ homes to campuses was rejected as inhuman and is also not supported by parents who are afraid to lose their childcare-related social benefits.

These days, there is much discussion in Slovakia of the open letter [sk] to the minister of education, written by two ordinary elementary school teachers from Dobšiná (or, as they formulate it, from the “Far East” – as opposed to the capital city of Bratislava, located in western Slovakia).

Below is a short excerpt from this letter:

Dear Mr. Minister,

[...] Our letter is just a reaction to the intolerable situation in the Slovak education and the country's dysfunctional, unjust social system. We believe and hope that it will serve as an impulse to review the current situation and position of teachers.

In Bratislava, far from your favorite “marginalized and socially disadvantaged groups,” you have no idea what stalemate we are forced to fight every day. Come for a few days to live with the issues we are dealing with every day. Let's look into our schools, finally meet with the real students and let's sit in the classroom for a few lessons. Instead of empty talk detached from reality, you should get to know the real situation. [...]

The greatest difficulties we have with students who are significantly maladjusted socially, they are almost exclusively students of the Romani origin. However, we want to emphasize that this is not about race, skin or the prejudices and reservations against the Roma.

Truants, whose numbers of unexcused absences are abnormally high, are the first problem in our school. Because the relevant authorities and institutions hardly ever penalize students or their guardians, students continue to be absent with impunity and, what's worse, give negative example to other classmates [...].

In addition to this, these students are usually aggressive, arrogant, and there are various types of sexual harassment going on not only towards fellow students, but also towards female teachers. [...]

Almost all parents are avoiding solving the problems and do not show even the minimal willingness to cooperate with the school. [...]

The parents of these children receive financial contributions of €17, paid mostly to a group of maladjusted citizens just for having their children complete basic schooling. [...]

School supplies, ordered by the school for these children, are absolutely not valued by the students and are destroyed, broken, torn or monetized in just a couple days. [...] Children wear torn, dirty, stinky pieces of clothing, broken shoes, come to school without snacks, have lice and various kinds of skin diseases, and lack the most basic ideas about hygiene! But they always find money for mobile phones, alcohol and cigarettes. [...]

The vast majority of children are not trained at all, they have never attended a kindergarten and some do not know the Slovak language at all, they have never picked up a pencil and never drawn, they are unfamiliar with toys, colors, and during the first weeks of their stay with us they are not being taught the first letters, numbers and colors, but are getting familiarized with running water, flushing the toilets [...].

Communication with these children is very hard, they understand speech poorly, do not understand what is required, because of their limited vocabulary (and not only in Slovak, but also in the Romani language). [...]

We cannot provide them with equal access to education when they do not start at the same “starting point.” [...] As a result of the artificial efforts of integration, the clever minority [...] drops to the level of the clumsy and integrates with them. [...] Deferment of compulsory schooling in these cases resolves absolutely nothing; on the contrary, the child will lose a whole year (because the family will not care about him again). [...]

Therefore, do not be surprised that parents of brighter children prefer to enroll their children in schools outside their place of residence [...].

Maladjusted fellow citizens quickly become accustomed to the benefits that are offered to them by the state and get used to the idea that everything will be free [...]. It's a vicious circle: They are poor because they have no jobs – they have no jobs because they are uneducated – they are uneducated, because they are not interested in education. [...]

The number of pregnant schoolgirls in the lower grades grows not only in our schools. [...] Again, the result of the poorly adjusted social system and the conscious ignoring of the problem is that the young student girls do not see any problem with their pregnancies – on the contrary, they perceive it as a welcome way of earning money. [...] The situation is alarming! [...] The officials, instead of imposing penalties, paradoxically even give them advice on what to do to get extra money [...].

We have a huge amount of obligations, orders and restrictions for teachers, but any possibility of self-defense or the power to intervene have been taken away. We must do everything, but we can do nothing… [...]

Is there anyone who will stand up for us teachers? [...] When the teacher's imaginary cup of patience overflows and he raises his voice at the student, he is immediately accused of causing the child mental anguish. [...]

We love our work, we've chosen the teaching profession in the belief that we will create a “better world” – but under these circumstances it is not possible. [...]

Erika Polgáriová and Eleonóra Liptáková

Roma children in Košice, Slovakia. Photo by JURAJ SUCHARDA, copyright © Demotix (25/05/10).

Miriam Králiková wrote [sk]:

these non-productive individuals, as you call it, should be seen by our society primarily as people with the same rights as everyone else

Zuzana Kolláriková (Mišová) of the Association for Helping People with Mental Disabilities wrote [sk]:

Once they were dropping them off the rock… Is this the approach that you find attractive…? Because after reading your letter, the question arises whether our society needs only the pioneers – the intellectuals…!? Or a clean race with IQ 120 and above? No comment. [...]

Anyway, inciting hate against any marginalized group is one of the worst things to do. Why you chose it is a mystery to me.

Below are some comments from the discussion on the blog that published the teachers’ letter.

AdrianVT:

basically anyone who will agree with the authors’ opinions will be labeled as racist

Evička Mierová:

These teachers are definitively not able to cope with their job. I was working as an assistant teacher for Romani children, and children who had a problem taking any exam at all were suddenly able to pass the Slovak language with excellent grades, and math as well – and teachers were shocked. I just cared about them and was not using force but a playful approach.

pegasus76 (in reply):

Dear Evička, do not mix the job of an assistant with the work of a teacher. It's nice that after your care students were able to pass exams with excellent grades. But try to care about students when near you some 25 other “hooligans” are screaming, making fun of you, or, in the best case, ignoring you.

Lianka:

in no case can we blame these children, they are doing and know just what they see at home … but can we blame their parents? … the vast majority of these children have parents who are 20 years old, they have never been working, [...] no one will employ them, they have no chance for a normal life

daduli:

I've been teaching for 25 years and I can confirm that it is getting worse and worse every year. Much paperwork, statements, reports and so on. And I'm teaching secondary school, which is more or less selective. I always tell students that when you do not want to be at school and learn, then you can leave any time. But in elementary school you can't kick anyone out.

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