Barriers to the Inclusion of Roma Children

In this article, a study is presented[1], elaborating on the problem of Roma children excluded from the education system. In the Roma settlement at Deponija[2] (Belgrade, Serbia), at the end of year 2000, there were nearly two hundred school-aged children who did not go to school. Examples of their exclusion and, later on, their inclusion in the education system were explored by applying the methodology of action research.

Roma children in Serbia

According to the last Census, there are 108,193 Roma in Serbia (Census, 2002) or 1.44% of the total population, but according to expert estimates made by NGOs and the Government, there are up to 500,000 Roma living in Serbia. If these estimates are correct, Roma represent the biggest national minority in Serbia, with about 6% of the total population.

The Roma population is the youngest population in Serbia; 32% of them belong to the age category up to 14 years, and 41% to the age category up to 20 years. This age structure is the consequence of the high fertility rate and high mortality rate among the Roma (four times greater than among the majority population). During the next few years, the percentage of Roma children of primary school age will increase compared with the children of the majority population. These changes will have implications for the school system and it will need to adjust to wider and increased differences between students, and therefore a greater diversity of classrooms (Needs Assessment Study for the Roma Education Fund, 2004).

As in most European countries, there is a lack of completely reliable evidence on Roma children in the Serbian education system, but available data indicate that there is a large number of Roma children who are excluded from the education system. Out of 82,800 primary school Roma children, 65,500 do not go to school at all (Needs Assessment Study for the Roma Education Fund, 2004). Only about 2% of children in the relevant age group are attending preschool institutions, and less then 40% are included in primary education.

Exclusion from education denies Roma children one of the basic human rights – the right to education[3], and thus makes the development of a child’s potential and his personality impossible. Furthermore, the social consequences of Roma exclusion are the ongoing replication of poverty and a lack of any opportunities for a better future.

Some of the specific features of acquiring education for a small number of those Roma children that do go to school comprise extreme school failure, segregation, ethnic pressure, exposure to discrimination and lack of respect for Roma cultural identity.

Roma children’s school failure is shown through numerous indicators: a low rate of enrolment to school, a low rate of school achievements such as the completion of grades (even in the first four grades), a high rate of grade repetition (by the third primary school grade 5% of Roma students will have repeated a grade, compared with only 0.2 % non-Roma students), and a low rate of continuing education in secondary school.

The low level of school achievements is illustrated by results of a recent pilot study – an assessment of third grade students in language and mathematics. Results showed that Roma students are scored “extremely low”. As a result of lowered expectations and the lower quality of instruction by the teachers, half of the Roma students tested in this study had not mastered elementary mathematical knowledge after the third grade, and 56% had not mastered even basic knowledge of the Serbian language grammar after the third grade. Roma students are often automatically passed from grade to grade without acquiring basic literacy in the early grades at primary school, precipitating their drop-out in the higher grades. Between 70 and 90% of Roma children who enrol in primary school drop out at some point (Baucal, 2006).

In Serbia, as in many other European countries, there are many forms of segregation affecting Roma children: in special classes, special schools for children with disabilities, or schools for adult education. Roma children comprise 50-80% of the total number of children in special schools for intellectual disabilities; most of them wrongly assigned (Denied a Future, 2001).

One of the causes for such an overrepresentation of Roma in special schools is inappropriate and biased testing for enrolment in school. In testing, Roma children’s previous life experiences, knowledge and maternal language are ignored, and so testing is culturally and linguistically discriminatory.

Another reason lies in school professionals’ understanding of special education as a “humane” solution for Roma, where they can fit in more easily than in regular primary schools, but the truth is that in these schools Roma children get only lower quality education and the stigma of being “handicapped”.

Most Roma children in Serbia are exposed to dire poverty, as the Roma are poorer than other ethnic groups, and the poverty rate of Roma is ten times higher than that of the majority society. One of the faces of poverty is life in slums[4], which are most often situated in suburbs, under bridges, on city dumps or near factories.

The one that is called Deponija Settlement is an example.

Action research in Deponija settlement

In this settlement, I carried out action research within the project “Slum Upgrading in Deponija Roma Enclave”[5]. My perception and understanding of the exclusion of Roma children was marked by personal experiences, values and attitudes that I gained while taking part in this project.

I had the opportunity to watch the harsh life of Roma people from Deponija closely. I saw unhappy people living at the bottom of society, in poverty, isolated in the ghetto. I was able to listen to their experiences of humiliation, feelings of despair, apathy and helplessness. I was witness to open discrimination against Roma children in school. I felt a deep sense of injustice and a strong need to change something in the perverted values of the majority society regarding the education of Roma children, and that was the attitudes of the group of people who implemented education programmes in Deponija. For all of us, working on the inclusion of Roma children was a professional and personal challenge.

Out of 150 Roma enclaves that exist in Belgrade, Deponija settlement is one of the worst and poorest. The settlement grew up in the 1970s, on a site which used to be one of the city dumps. Today it is an industrial area by the Danube river, and this illegal settlement is squeezed in between concrete factories. Deponija gradually grew when Roma started to settle there, but the pace of development increased when new Roma families came from Kosovo in the 1990s.

People in Deponija live in shacks without water or electricity, among the dumped garbage, on the spot where the city sewage cisterns are sited. Very few Deponija inhabitants are employed; they work in the city service for garbage disposal. The most common source of income for the majority is collecting recyclable materials.

Results of a survey carried out in 2000 showed that nearly 850 people lived in the settlement and they were grouped in about 170 households (defined as group of relatives living under some roof). Most of the households consisted of one family and the average number of household members was 6.25. The population in Deponija was extremely young. Those under 16 years of age constituted 47%, and those between 16 to 20 years old constituted 12%, but there were only 6% older then 50 years (Macura, Vuksanovic, 2003).

At the beginning of the 2000/01 school year, out of 193 primary Roma school-aged children in Deponija, 172 (90%) were not enrolled in school. The exclusion of such a huge number of children from the education system, segregated in a ghetto only 4 km from the centre of the capital, was a real life problem, the dramatic fact of life that inspired and initiated action research.

The subject of action research was the process of the inclusion of Roma children into the system of regular schooling. The concept of inclusion in the research was defined by :

  • its physical aspect, whose indicator was the number of Roma children enrolled in first grade;
  • its educational aspect, whose indicators were the Roma children’s learning achievements and attendance at classes; and
  • its social aspect of inclusion, whose indicators were relationships between Roma and non-Roma children, relationships between Roma students and their school teachers, and how Roma children experienced school.

The aim of the action research was to include as many Roma children as possible in primary school and to enable them to accomplish at least average learning achievements as satisfactory.

The overall action plan included activities designed for Roma children, Roma parents and local school staff. It was carried out in four cycles, in a period of 32 months from October 2000 to June 2003, during two school years: 2001/02 and 2002/03. The research followed the classic format of action research studies. Each cycle started with defining the initial problem, based on data collected in field research, which provided the context of the implementation of the cycle. The cycle ended with reflection on the results achieved, with a view to redefining the problems to be addressed in the next cycle. The data resources and data collection used for the follow-up and evaluation of implemented actions comprised interviews and questionnaires for Roma children, their parents and school teachers, school documentation, minutes and reports from meetings in the local school and other institutions, correspondence with the local school and other institutions, and photographic and video documentation.

Integral to each cycle were educational programmes for children, psycho-social workshops for their parents and a cooperation programme with the school in which the children were enrolled during the research. A necessary prerequisite for working with the Roma children and their parents was the children’s house, a small wooden construction built in the location of the settlement. It was the only safe, secure and friendly place where the children could learn. In there, they had everyday support for learning and homework with the purpose of improving their grades, provided by teachers and research team members.

It was a place where we also had workshops with Roma parents, fostering their motivation for their children’s enrolment in school and taking care of their schooling. Parents’ meetings, home visits and individual meetings were also carried out in the settlement; their purpose was fostering parent’s motivation to co-operate with the school and to take responsibility for the children’s school achievements and regular class attendance.

Outside the settlement we initiated meetings with the local school staff, aiming at obtaining, giving and exchanging information on the adaptation and achievements of the Roma children, defining their specific needs and drawing attention to their special abilities and talents. We tried to foster teachers’ motivation for participating in solving the problem of the Roma children’s school failure and exclusion by organising teacher training as well. Programmes for parents and school staff were organised and carried out by two psychologists, one of them author of this article.

Action research participants

The approach to the problem of the exclusion of Roma children was a holistic one, as in its basis lay the intention to include as many relevant actors of the inclusion process as possible. The general idea was that this process might be facilitated by linking all relevant participants and by their education and psychological empowerment. That is why the research participants were 68 Roma children aged 7-14 from Deponija, 34 Roma families (parents), eight teachers and the headmaster from the local primary school, and eight research team members (two psychologists and six teachers engaged on the Project).

The life of children from Deponija was marked by growing up in the ghetto, where there was extreme poverty – a violent neighbourhood and an unhealthy and deprived slum environment. The children took care of younger siblings and participated in family economy, taking care of the household. The children’s maternal language was Roma, and in some cases Albanian[6]; they hardly spoke Serbian at all, and then incorrectly.

All these circumstances caused a huge gap between their preschool knowledge and experiences and the demands of the school curriculum. Previous exclusions from the pre-school and school system, together with specific features of their social and living circumstances, resulted in the Roma children from Deponija being denied the possibility of acquiring knowledge and developing their capabilities. They belonged to the category of children with special educational needs.

The parents of Roma children from Deponija belonged to an extremely marginalised social group in Serbia, the poorest national, linguistic and cultural minority. They had a low educational level (only one third of the parents had completed primary school, the rest had completed no grades, or few grades). Their main source of income was collecting recyclable materials from the dump site, and in the majority of cases they were unemployed. Their priority was how to survive the present day; their existence was marked with fears for the safety of their children and households.

Children from Deponija attended the nearest primary school, located about ten minutes walk from the settlement. It was a small school, with some 340 students, about 5% of them Roma. Each year, the school had fewer students, due to stigmatisation on the part of non-Roma neighbours, who called it the “gypsy school”. Non-Roma parents chose other schools in the area for their children, and there was the possibility that the school would be closed because of the small number of students.

Most of the school teachers had had many years of experience with Roma children from Deponija, because the school was established long before the settlement. This experience had not changed their negative attitudes towards Roma children; on the contrary, as we shall see later on, they used various forms of “neutralisation” in dealing with the children from Deponija.

Results of action implementation

In this section I will briefly present the most relevant results of action implementation. The major results of implemented actions were related to the accomplishment of the physical and educational aspects of the inclusion of Roma children. Compered with the situation before action inplemetnation, the results show that the number of enrolled Roma children in first grade primary school increased (Table 1).

Table 1 Roma children enrolment in first grade

Roma children enrolment in first grade

Before the action implementations (school year 2000/01), there were only five Roma students from Deponija enrolled in first grade primary school. During the action research, in 2001/02 school year, 40 children were enrolled (in primary and adult school), and in 2002/03 school year, 18 more children were enrolled in first grade (in primary and adult school)[7].

The second important result of implemented actions was in the educational aspect of the inclusion of Roma children – the improvement of school achievements. At the end of the second year of our work – 2002/03 school year, more then two-thirds of Roma students (68%) had average school grades (Table 2). Besides that, 82% of Roma students attended classes continously, and 75% completed their grades. All of these results indicate that the basic aim of the research was accomplished.

Table 2 Roma children school achievements

Roma children school achievements

But, on the other hand, the indicators of social aspects of inclusion mentioned previously speak of the fact that on the level of social relations, Roma children remained excluded from the school culture, which will be illustrated by the quality of their school experiences and relationship with non-Roma peers.

Research into the Roma children’s experience[8] of the school, (conducted in the 2001/02. school year, when we interviewed 51 Roma children from Deponija), comprised exploration of its cognitive and affective component, whose indicators were: a) understanding the concept of school; b) the function of the school; c) the role of a good student in school; d) the role of a good teacher in school.

The results of qualitative analyses of the children’s answers show that the majority of Roma children interviewed (69%) defined the concept of school by using functional definitions (‘School is for learning, reading, writing’, Roma student, second grade). The function of school was understood through its educational aspect in 65% of the answers (‘Children should go to school to be literate’, Roma student, second grade; ‘We go to school so that we can find jobs later in life; I want to be hairdresser’, Roma student, fourth grade). The role of the student was described in terms of discipline in 59.3% of the answers (The student should sit at his desk and he shouldn’t talk to anyone while in the class’, Roma student, first grade). The role of the teacher was described through not being violent and aggressive towards students and Roma, in 46% of the answers (‘Teachers should not beat students’, ‘Teachers should not hate Roma’, Roma student, third grade).

Relationships between Roma and non-Roma students were explored by sociometric tests, carried out in eleven classes with enrolled Roma students from Deponija, in the 2001/02 and 2002/03 school years. Results of sociometric tests showed that in the majority of interviewed classes (10 out of 11) Roma children had the lowest index of sociometric status (status of rejected and/or isolated pupils). Motives for rejection on the part of non-Roma students were:

  • Roma children’s lack of hygiene (“dirty, smells”),
  • conflicts (“He often fights with me”),
  • social distance (“He is not my friend. He is different”),
  • school failure (“bad student”),
  • nationality (“I don’t like to sit with Gypsies.” “I don’t like to be near blacks…”).

How Roma students felt about the rejection from their class-mates, we can see from the following answers, given to the question, ‘Tell me about some event in the school when you felt sad’; ‘I was sad when they call me gypsy, because I am black’ (Roma student, second grade, interview), ‘No one wants to be my friend; I am alone during the breaks, and I am sad then’ (Roma student, fifth grade, interview).

The results of exploring the social aspect of inclusion showed that Roma children had a clear understanding of the instrumental value of education, its benefit for acquiring knowledge, and the need for further education and employment, but results also proved a lack of socio-affective relations between Roma children and their teachers and class mates, namely the absence of the feeling of belonging to the school.

Barriers to the inclusion of Roma children

In the very beginning, I believed that work on action research would be like some kind of a difficult, but nice, story – with its beginning, middle and end. I thought we would be following the history of children who, at first, did not go to school; then they would be enrolled into the first grade and receive educational support to become as good students as possible; and finally, we would have a happy ending, and everyone involved would be satisfied because some children, somewhere, were learning and realising their rights to education.

This naive assumption neglected the fact that reality is made of many circumstances that change what we have meticulously planned, and cannot be controlled or foreseen. The problem was not only complex, but severe as well, and its resolution became never-ending story. We carried out action research until June 2003. But it could have lasted a lifetime, because it consists of continuously overcoming new barriers to learning and social participation on the part of Roma children – their inclusion.

What barriers did we have to overcome in order to achieve the physical and educational aspects of inclusion? Why was the social aspect not accomplished? In the next section of this article, I will present part of the action research conclusions that summarises the key barriers to the inclusion of Roma children from the Deponija settlement.

Barriers that I came across through follow-up of the inclusion process can be classified in two broad categories. One category includes barriers that have roots in the Roma community. Poverty resulted in lack of means for textbooks, school material, footwear, clothing and lunches and the need for children to participate occasionally in family working activities, but in addition there are some features of the Roma cultural identity that lead to exclusion and high absenteeism rates as well:

  • the pattern of forming families early (13 – 15 years of age);
  • the conviction of few Roma families that education has no importance for the future of their children,
  • children’s participation in maintaining traditional customs and festivities.

The second category contains barriers that emerge from rejection of the Roma children and parents in the school environment and within the non-Roma community, and in the mismatch between education laws and policies and concrete practice. I will pay special attention to elements of this category, by giving examples and interpreting them.

Rejection and ethnic pressure on Roma children had many forms. Some of them were open and explicit, such as the educational professionals’ advocacy of segregated education for Roma children, the racism of non-Roma parents, discrimination by school teachers and institutional discrimination. Others were hidden and implicit, such as inadequate demands by school teachers, due not only to their negative attitudes towards Roma children but their lack of basic professional competence as well.

The following example of a school psychologist’s attitudes in the local school shows why she thinks that segregation is the best solution for Roma children, “The special class in our school is the best solution for Roma students. The curriculum is less difficult, and Roma children are segregated with their own mates, so there is no danger of them developing a bad self-image” (school psychologist, interview). In this example, we cannot see why Roma children would not develop a positive self-image in a regular school.

The example given indicates that the most difficult problem is the failure of school professionals to understand the fact that labeling children through the process categorisation (the official procedure before enrolment to special school) defines their negative identity. As F. Armstrong says, “Labels frequently entail a kind of literal removal or separation and are thus part of spatialising processes of exclusion. At the same time they also name certain individuals and groups as “other”, while conferring on the labelers (“professionals” like doctors, psychologists, therapists) the power to name…Thus, the “humanitarian” explanation of special education as being concerned with doing good is intricately bound up with the creation of deviants and their social exclusion through labeling mechanisms” (Armstrong, 2003, pp. 72-73).

The racism of non-Roma parents was openly demonstrated at public and official meetings in the Ministry of Education after the enrolment of 40 children from Deponija into first-grade at the local school. The non-Roma parents’ racist outburst took the form of a protest against such a large number of Roma being in the same class as their children. Some of the parents boycotted classes and one enrolled her child in another school. The whole case came to Ministry of Education, where numerous meeting were held with the representatives of all parties, trying to resolve the situation.

Illustration of racism, and once again the advocacy of segregation, could be seen in one of these meetings, “If there are more then 4-5 Roma children in classes, other kids will become spoiled…Five little Roma represent an interest group who will cause harm to everyone, because they are handicapped. Other schools are the best solution for Roma children from Deponija…” (non-Roma mother, parents’ representative on the local school authority, minute from the meeting in Ministry of Education).

The example given illustrates Deutsch’s concept of limiting the scope of justice, namely the exclusion of certain individuals or groups from the moral community (Deutch, 2000). The target of moral exclusion can be represented by all those persons or groups who are perceived as a threat to the personal values of the one that is in power to exclude others. Psychological mechanisms that are used to justify immoral behaviour towards others comprise relying on higher moral standards (‘If they go to another school, it is good for them and for everyone!’), blaming the victim (‘They are guilty because they are dirty; otherwise they wouldn’t be expelled!’) and emotional insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others.

A classic example of discrimination in school is shown in following words of a first grade teacher in the local school, after the enrolment of Roma children from Deponija in her class, “I do not want to teach Roma children!” She explains her unprofessional attitude like this, “I want (to teach) psycho/physically healthy children. Roma children are not educated; they can’t even sit properly; they do not know how to raise their hands; they do not speak Serbian, but the Roma language!”. What is most worrying in this case is the fact that those words were heard also in a public meeting with the representatives of the local municipality and school authorities, who did not react.

Tolerating racist and discriminatory attitudes towards Roma children despite legal regulations on the issue is opening doors to new forms of racism in the school. This has numerous effects in diminishing Roma children’s self-esteem, and in fostering Roma parents’ distrust towards the school and the teachers, and finally, in the children giving up education. The example given is pointing out how intolerance leads to difference and the abuse of power creates and perpetuates inequalities (Booth, Ainscow, 2002).

Following the racist protests and pressures on the education authorities by non-Roma parents, twenty Roma students from Deponija, who were aged 9-13 years and had been enrolled in first grade, were expelled from primary school. They were segregated in the adult school first grade as “too old” for primary school, although the designation of this kind of school is education for persons over fifteen years old.

Actually, all 40 children from Deponija went to the same school building, but those aged 9-13 years, who were enrolled in first grade, went to a separate classroom. There, they had only two subjects – mathematics and Serbian language (the curriculum in schools for adults is adapted to the needs of grown up people who do not need lessons in art, music or physical training), and their lessons lasted for 90 minutes every day. This example clearly speaks of institutional discrimination – the ways institutions may disadvantage people because of their gender, disability, class, ethnicity… (Booth, Ainscow, 2002).

One illustration of the teachers’ lack of professional competence for teaching Roma children, which leads students to repeating grades and poor results, was showed in the assignments and home-work given, which were inappropriate for the Roma children’s prior life experiences, knowledge, language and culture.

In the next example, we can see not only inadequacy, but tremendous cynicism and rudeness on the part of a teacher as well, “For homework, write an essay on one of these topics: A view from my room, or My holidays, or My pet…” Needless to say, shacks do not have windows, Roma children from Deponija rarely go outside their settlement, and they do not have pets… It is not difficult to imagine that a child would not write an essay on these topics, not only because of the lack of language skills, but also because he would feel hurt and different from the others in so many ways.

We come not only to the ethics of this particular teacher, but to the question and importance of pre-service teacher training at the universities. One of the most relevant problems lies in inadequate teacher training. “Historically, European schools were designed to educate a homogeneous student body through an education system built on Western White culture. Today, European students are increasingly diverse… Teacher education programs do not provide the knowledge and special training to manage and teach in an increasingly diverse classroom” (Claveria, Alonso, 2003).

Teaching in a diverse classroom is extremely demanding. That is the reason why less professional teachers choose methods of “neutralisation”, instead of individualisation. Instead of giving children knowledge and supporting and developing their abilities by continuous and focused teaching during classes, they let some Roma children repeat first grade three times, until they gave up schooling. Some send their Roma students home after the third lesson, with the explanation that they are too tired to follow the rest. Some try to make deal with Roma parents: children shouldn’t attend classes, but will be marked as present in school documentations books. Some send Roma children home because they have dirty shoes, and so on.

The result is that ethnic groups that differ from the mainstream society are often forced to adapt or fail. Furthermore, the ideology of schools promotes the myth about the homogeneity of students, or fictive equality, usually mixed up with equal rights.

The vicious circle of Roma children’s school failure

The present difficult situation concerning the education of Roma children can be explained through the vicious circle of their school failure, a key process that impedes, or completely hinders, the inclusion of Roma children. Meanings that main actors – school teachers, Roma parents and Roma students, attribute to the process of inclusion, help deeper understanding of their behaviour and relationship.

For school teachers, inclusion means an unjust burden and meaningless effort. Their behaviour towards Roma students is filled with lack of sensitivity, prejudice, and discrimination, as we have seen in the given examples.

The poverty of the Roma people, that results in the parent’s inability to obtain the basic preconditions for schooling, educative support and protection of their children from discrimination, together with the children’s low achievements, makes inclusion for Roma parents an expensive and humiliating process. Parents’ behaviour towards school teachers is thus characterised by distrust, so-called ‘cooperation between teachers and parents’ (school and the family) is very weak and is almost non-existent. In return, school teachers interpret lack of cooperation as the parents’ lack of motivation for schooling and their neglect of their children, and so teachers develop negative attitudes and prejudice towards Roma families. These negative attitudes of teachers, in addition, reinforce the meaning of inclusion as humiliating for Roma parents. Their relationship is filled with mutual distrust.

For Roma parents, social mobility through education seems impossible, so they they consider family and working obligations to be of higher priority compared to school obligations for their children. The consequences are irregular class attendances and low school achievements on the part of Roma students. Interaction between children and parents in relation to education is marked by a mutual abandonment of effort in class attendance and learning.

Children’s behaviour towards their school teachers is marked by an absolute lack of emotional attachment. For Roma students, inclusion means failure, rejection and discouragement.

Students’ absenteeism and infrequent contacts with their parents reinforce the meaning of inclusion for teachers as meaningless effort and unjust burden, which reflects on their total sociopedagogical approach towards children. The teachers’ demotivation in establishing partner relationship with children becomes a barrier to the better results that the children could achieve, and low school achievements come true like self-fullfilling prophecies for all parties.

What can we do to overcome the vicious circle?

I believe that, if we want to get nearer to the ideal of inclusion, certain values must have – and must maintain – their proper place and significance in the school context and the education system. Equality, solidarity and empathy are preconditions for developing communities where everyone feels welcomed and accepted. Respect for these values can be seen through showing care, love and acceptence of the other, no matter if we see him/her as different from or similar to ourselves.

What solutions are possible to foster the inclusion of Roma children in the future? One possible strategy is developing commitment to intercultural education within the pre-service teacher training system, by using intercultural experiential learning as the tool for developing teachers’ intercultural competencies[9].

This strategy consists of four steps. The first step is developing students’ sensitivity to the special educational needs of Roma children through acquiring theoretical knowledge, exercises in taking another’s point of view, and exercises in giving empathy. The second step is participation in an experiential learning situation: students are provided with the opportunity to teach Roma children directly[10]. During this process, students become aware that learning is a social process as well, related to the context in which partnership is of crucial importance. The third step is reflection, through follow-up discussions, linking the experience of teaching with the curriculum and writing reports. The fourth step is peer education through presentations of the process and the results of their work[11].

Intercultural experiential learning can be seen as a useful tool for teachers to acquire important intercultural competencies. Those competencies consist of:

  • personal responsibility for all children’s learning,
  • awareness about personal expectations of children’s achievements,
  • positive expectations towards every child,
  • sensitivity for children’s psychological, educational and social needs,
  • adapting teaching to children’s individual differences,
  • knowledge about barriers to education and methods of overcoming barriers,
  • developing ethics of care,
  • respecting differences and the equal right for learning for every child,
  • respecting cultural differences,
  • developing children’s self esteem and
  • developing effective communication skills.

These competencies are necessary if we want inclusive schools, and it is the responsibility of the education system and the teacher training system to teach prospective teachers how to accept differences among children as a challenge, not a burden which is someone else’s responsibility. Only then, shall we have Roma children who are happy and successful in school – and with the feeling that they belong in school the same as other children do.


Armstrong, F. (2003): Spaced out: Policy, Difference and the Challenge of Inclusive Education. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Baucal, A. (2006): Development of Mathematical and Language Literacy among Roma Students, Psihologija, Vol39 No2, 2006, pp.207-227

Booth, T., Ainscow, M. (2002): Index for Inclusion: developng learning and participaiton in schools. Bristol: Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education

Claveria, J.V., Alonso, J.G. (2003): Why Roma do not like Mainstream Schools: Voices of a People without Territory. Harvard Educational Review, Vol.73 No.4, pp. 559-590

Denied a Future? The Right to Education of Roma/Gypsy and Traveller Children in Europe. (2001): Roma/Gypsy and Traveller education in Europe: an overview of the issues, Volume 1. London: Save the Children, pp. 17-30 and pp. 300-350

Deutsch, M. (2000): Justice and Conflict. v: Deutsch.M., Coleman, P. (ured.): The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp. 41-65

Havelka, N. (1997): U?eni?ki doživljaj škole – Pogled s kraja osnovnog školovanja. v: Škola i porodica kao agensi socijalizacije li?nosti. Valjevo: Aktiv stru?nih saradnika u obrazovanju, pp. 15-28

Macura, V., Vuksanovi?, Z. (2003): Deponija ka boljoj budu?nosti. Beograd: Društvo za unapre?ivanje romskih naselja

Needs Assessment Study for the Roma Education Fund Background Paper, Serbia (2004) Roma Education Fund

Dr Sucica Macura-Milovanovi? works at the Faculty of Education in Jagodina, University of Kragujevac, Serbia

[1] This article is based on the part of the PhD thesis entitled “Pedagogical aspects of including Roma children from Deponija settlement into the education system”, that I defended at the Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, in front of the commission Professor Mojca Pe?ek-?uk (mentor), Professor Razdevšek-Pu?ko (co-mentor), Professor Bojan Dekleva and Professor Ružica Rosandi? in 2005.[2] Garbage, dump settlement.

[3] According to the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, education must be accessible to all citizens under equal conditions. Elementary education is compulsory, and national minorities have the right to education in their maternal language on every level of education guaranteed by the law.

[4] Slum is a ghetto settlement which physically, mentally and psychologically negatively impacts health, behavior and feelings of its inhabitants (Vujovic, 1985.).

[5] The Project Slum Upgrading in Deponija Roma Enclave: Legislation, Education, Economy, Housing, Environment, Women Program, Local Community, was implemented by the NGO Society for the Improvement of Local Roma Communities, Belgrade, Serbia. This 3 year Project was supported by European Commission, UNICEF, and NOVIB.

[6] Out of 170 households, 66 households belonged to the families displaced from Kosovo in the late 1990s, especially during the NATO bombing in 1999, so their maternal language was Albanian and/or Roma.

[7] An explanation about the enrolment of 8-13-years-old children into the adult school can be seen further on.

[8] Student’s experience of the school is defined as a whole of the knowledge, beliefs, expectations, feelings and evaluations about everything that is logically or functionally connected to school (Havelka, 1997, pp. 28).

[9] I developed and implemented this strategy within the Educational Psychology course for second year students at the Teacher Training Faculty at the University of Belgrade, in school year 2004/05.

[10] A group of five second-year students from the Teacher Training Faculty met a group of nine Roma children (aged 9 to 16) by chance in the court yard behind the building of the Faculty. These were street children, working nearby: they washed the windshields of cars under the street lights. Soon enough they became friends with the students and agreed about what each would want and like: the children wanted to learn to read, write and do mathematics, and the future teachers accepted that they would help them. They had ‘classes’ in the courtyard of the Faculty, and ‘free’ activities. They went to cinema together, the students made a visit to the settlement where the children lived, and invited them to a birthday party.

[11] The students’ presentations of teaching Roma children at the Teacher Training Faculty were very successful, so the initial group of five students expanded and got new members. They founded a students’ voluntary centre ‘Open classroom’ and continued working. They are still teaching Roma children and other children with special needs in a few Belgrade primary schools (Macura-Milovanovic, 2006).

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