PREGNANT teenage students and children lacking basic hygiene skills are just some of the problems teachers in elementary school in Dobšiná city have to face. Since government has shown little interest in such complications, teachers Eleonóra Liptáková and Erika Polgáriová opened a parental centre in Dobšiná for young families from socially disadvantaged environment on December 6.

The centre is in the form of a family house and is meant to imitate an ordinary house environment with a fully furnished kitchen, living room and playroom, Liptáková and Polgáriová said in interview for The Slovak Spectator. There they want to teach – largely Roma – children and their young parents cleanliness habits, improve their Slovak language, logical thinking, as well as motor and cognitive skills, the teachers said. The project is funded by various contributions and grants.

The pair decided to create the parental centre, citing a gradual decline of living, social and developmental standards for children from socially disadvantaged environment. An equally strong motive was increasing number and continuously decreasing age of young students who become mothers. Many are younger than 15, they said.

“It is stunning to watch girls behaving to their own child like it is a doll,” Polgáriová said, as quoted by Sme daily. “We want to prepare them for a life, lead them to a responsible approach to sexuality and teach young mothers and their partners how to take care of their baby.”

Ministry denies responsibility

Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič received an emotional public letter about the situation in the Dobšiná elementary school from Liptáková and Polgáriová in June 2012, which drawn wide media attention. In the letter, teachers mentioned that some children were smelly, unable to speak in Slovak or Roma language and had various skin diseases.

Moreover, teachers at the school experience insults, threats, vulgarities, demeaning comments and sexual innuendo on a daily basis. Since then no legislative changes in education or social sector have addressed such realities, the teachers claim.

However, Education Ministry does not see opening of centre as a sign that it failed to help teachers.

“The Education Ministry does not see activity of private individuals as ministry’s failure because the fulfilling of obligatory school attendance begins when child reaches six years of age,” an Education Ministry official wrote in a statement for The Slovak Spectator. “Until then, it [ministry] does not have the competences to intervene in parental rights and the obligations of a child’s legal representatives.”

Children welcome the centre

So far 18 young families consisting of 59 people participate in the project, but exact number of people visiting centre regularly cannot be measured so far. The teachers created three groups, while each visits the centre several times per week in the afternoon for several hours.

“Parents and children are happy about the centre because it is some sort of escape from every-day stereotype and reality which is very often not positive,” Liptáková and Polgáriová said. “Children have the possibility to play with toys they do not have at home, experience new stimulative situations and develop their potential.”

While working with the children, teachers rely on their pedagogical experience. In addition to her job as a teacher, Polgáriová works as school psychologist and Liptáková is a special education teacher. They also cooperate with social workers, experts in psychology, sexology and health care.

“At the same time, our advantage is emotional relationship which we have with those families,” Polgáriová and Liptáková said. “They are our former students with whom we had close relationships at school therefore even current [education] at the centre is based on trust and respect.”

Donations fuel project

The project was started through donations by six anonymous investors and currently it is funded by one-off or regular voluntary contributions. The teachers also received a grant from the Ekopolis Foundation NGO and from O2 mobile operator project Think Big. Various donors brought furniture and appliances to the house, according to Liptáková and Polgáriová.

“I have respect and feel humble in front of the people who so vehemently initiated solving a serious social problem despite the ignorance of politicians and hatred of huge number of citizens,” said one of the donors, who owns a successful IT firm, as quoted by Sme.

On the other hand, Education Ministry cannot help the teachers because their civic association is focused on under aged and young mothers with their children who are not older than 5 years and law does not allow ministry to fund such projects, according to a ministry’s statement.

However, elementary school in Dobšiná received €100 contribution per student this year for improving education of children from socially disadvantaged environment and ministry supports school with three assistants, according to the ministry.