THE PRIVATE gymnasium on Galaktická Street in Košice is not your average Slovak school. Its 70-plus students are all Roma. The number is rather low compared to the numbers of students at most of the other Slovak gymnasiums. But more than 85 percent of Roma children study in special schools where they receive vocational training, which makes Roma gymnasium-level students a rare sight.
Only a small group of Roma is able to handle all the requirements that are demanded of gymnasium graduates, which is understandable considering the environment these students come from. Studying at the gymnasium is especially difficult for Roma girls, who often become mothers at an early age, and their interest in education decreases.
Our efforts as teachers in the above-mentioned gymnasium are especially aimed at giving the students as much direct knowledge as possible during the learning process at school. As a result, the school has graduated nearly 70 students during its ten-year-long existence.
How have we managed to bring a relatively high number of Roma to graduation?
Certainly, it is mainly a question of approach. 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 interest from their parents, with poverty, with hunger and often also with physical and sexual abuse, deserve respect and attention from the teachers, if only because they have an interest in education and because, instead of criminal activities, they have chosen a more difficult path – the path of learning. This is however not to say that in our school pupils are graded more liberally than elsewhere. Our school’s educational programme, as well as the thematic lesson plans, is based on the state’s educational curriculum.
However, we approach individual topics with our students using interactive or playful methods, for example, knowledge competitions, 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, we receive barely any financial support from the state.
They say there is no need for Roma gymnasiums. They say that talented Roma students can study in standard gymnasiums. But how many non-Roma parents want to let their child sit next to a Roma? And how many Roma kids would be able to endure the bothersome teasing of their much wealthier non-Roma 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 their non-Roma teachers can appreciate their interest in learning better than by yelling at them.
The path to improving the educational level of Roma will undoubtedly be challenging, but the very existence of three Roma gymnasiums in Slovakia proves that this path’s end is not impossible to achieve.
Note: The Roma gymnasium in Košice was closed in the meantime. Now there are only two Roma gymnasiums left in Slovakia.