Sunday, July 28, 2013

Article: A Unique School

A few weeks ago our friend Pavol Ičo, the English teacher at the Roma high school here in Kosice, had this article published in the Slovak National Newspaper, the oldest newspaper in the country (their website is here).  He writes about the importance of the work they are doing there, and why education among the Roma here in Slovakia is such a difficult but vital task.  With his permission, I posted a translation of that article on our blog, and am reposting that article here.  We are proud of Pavol (who is Slovak) for publicly tackling such a difficult racial issue among his countrymen!  

Please remain in prayer for this school - it has been almost completely defunded, and its future is uncertain.

(The footnotes are ours, provided for clarification.)
Pavol Ičo (center) teaches at the Roma Gymnazium in Kosice.
Pavol Ičo (center) teaches at the Roma Gymnazium in Kosice.
A Unique School

About 70 students study at the Roma private gymnazium (1) at #9 Galakticka Street in Kosice. That’s not many, compared to the average Slovak gymnazium; but on the other hand, keeping in mind the fact that more than 85 percent of Roma children study in “special schools,” (2) then each gymnazium-level Roma student – and especially graduates – are actually very rare.

Our efforts, as teachers in the above-mentioned gymnazium, are particularly aimed at giving the students as much direct knowledge as possible during the learning process at the school. The results of these efforts are demonstrated by the fact that, during its ten years of existence, the school has graduated nearly 70 students. Only a small number of Roma are able to handle all the requirements demanded of gymnazium graduates, which is understandable when you consider the type of environment these students come from. (3)

Study in the gymnazium is especially difficult for Roma girls.  They often become mothers at an early age, and therefore have little interest in education.

So how have we managed to bring such a relatively high number of Roma to graduation?

Certainly it is mainly a question of providing access. The Roma student indeed sees the teacher first as a person, and so it seems effective to approach the Roma pupils in view of the theory of humanistic education, that views education (and the entire learning process) as a coming-together of two personalities. And particularly these Roma pupils, who in everyday life struggle with a lack of attention from their parents, with poverty, with hunger and often also with physical punishment and sexual abuse – these students deserve respect and attention from the teachers, if only because they have interest in education and because, in place of criminal activities, they have chosen a more difficult path: the path of learning. But even considering this fact, in our gymnazium pupils are not graded more leniently than elsewhere. And our school’s educational program, as well as the thematic lesson plans, are based on the state’s educational curriculum.

However, we approach individual topics with our students using fun methods: knowledge competitions, for example, which do not require a word-for-word reproduction of knowledge and concepts, but focus instead on the overall comprehension and understanding of the given issue.

Despite the fact that most of our graduates have been accepted to universities at home and abroad, the state barely gives us any financial support.

They say there is no need for Roma gymnaziums. They say that talented Roma students can study in standard gymnaziums. But which “white” parent would sit their child beside a Roma classmate? And which Roma would be able to endure the bothersome teasing of his much wealthier classmates?

For now, therefore, Roma need their own schools. Schools in which they will not be seen as second-class citizens, schools in which they can see that that an interest in learning can produce more than just screaming from white teachers.

The path to improving the education level of Roma will undoubtedly be challenging, but the very existence of three Roma gymnaziums in Slovakia is proof that this path is not impossible.
(1) The Slovak word "gymnazium" doesn't really have an equivalent in English.  It's a form of secondary education that focuses students toward university study, rather than vocational or trade study.  Gymnazium study can last up to eight years, and would occur when U.S. students are going to middle- and high-schools.  Not all students study in gymnazium - some spend those years in a professional schools or vocational/trade schools.

(2) "Special schools" - Roma are often placed into schools for those considered mentally disabled.

(3) Most of the students at this school live in the infamous Lunik IX ghetto in Kosice.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The European Roma Rights Centre has published new country profiles which outline some of the major issues affecting Roma in 10 countries. The short reports indicate that, despite some efforts to improve the situation of Romani individuals and communities, they still have to face violence and hate speech and cannot enjoy the same opportunities and standards as the rest of the society.
The ERRC country profiles are produced to give a snapshot of the situation of Roma and the work of the ERRC in the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in 2011-2012, focusing on ERRC core themes such as education, housing, violence and the state response to violent incidents.
ERRC Executive Director Dezideriu Gergely said, “Our country profiles establish that there is a long way to go to reach a discrimination-free Europe. Roma matters are a litmus test for European values. Governments must put their commitments to fight discrimination into action.”
The ERRC country profiles provide provide information that should strengthen research and advocacy by and for Roma across Europe. The findings were gathered from specific ERRC research, ongoing work by ERRC country monitors, media scanning and research from other sources. The profiles also list the international legal human rights tools that each country is a signatory to.
Condensed from a news release by the European Roma Rights Centre. For more information:
Sinan Gökçen, Media and Communications Officer, ERRC,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Use of Ownership

Ownership by use--many Romany groups traditionally had/have this view. As the fifth child of six, I grew up with a similar idea. This bicycle is mine because I am currently using it. This bed is mine because I am currently sleeping in it. This toy is mine because I am and have been playing with it. I was sometimes (unpleasantly) surprised when an older sibling returned home and claimed the thing I had been using for ten years was their own personal property because this thing had originally--perhaps even before I was born--been specifically given to them.
That attitude describes ownership by deed or title. This doll belongs to me, personally, because I bought and paid for it (see, here's the receipt) or because it was given to me, and me alone, on my 8th birthday (see, here's the gift card).  Even if I no longer have any use for that doll, it is exclusively mine. It is my right to determine who has access to that doll and what becomes of it.
The same goes for, say, scissors. Jan Yoors* describes an incident where some of his Romany traveling companions need haircuts but have no scissors. They borrow a pair from a local farmer. When they are done using the scissors, Jan (who is not Romany) insists the scissors be returned. Even though the farmer had no current use for them, the scissors belonged to him.
Change the lens and view the farmer's property in the light of ownership by use. The farmer has dozens of chickens. He cannot use them all. Your children are hungry. They could use one chicken. Who should own that chicken?
Change the lens again. What if you believed the chicken and the scissors and the doll and the bed belonged to Someone else who was just letting you look after it all? Maybe then you would be like my grandmother who took the traveling Romany woman into her pantry and freely shared jars of peaches and vegetables. No one ever stole chickens from their farm.

*In the 1930's a very young Jan Yoors traveled off and on with a group of Lovari Romany. He wrote of his experiences and observations in The Gypsies.