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BUSINESS FOCUS - EDUCATION - THE EXPERIMENTAL FIVE-YEAR COURSE AIMS TO CREATE MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN ROMA AND NON-ROMA

Bratislava bilingual school introduces Roma studies programme

THE SLOVAK-English bilingual high school in Bratislava, Gymnázium Jura Hronca, (GJH), is now offering Roma studies as part of its curriculum.
Although several schools in Slovakia teach the Roma language, GJH is the first secondary school in Slovakia to offer a five-year programme in Roma history and culture.
Zuzana Munková, director of GJH, believes that exposing non-Roma people to Roma culture and history is as important as securing the education of Roma students.


SLOVAK students can now learn the history and culture of their Roma neighbours.
photo: Courtesy of Romathan

THE SLOVAK-English bilingual high school in Bratislava, Gymnázium Jura Hronca, (GJH), is now offering Roma studies as part of its curriculum.

Although several schools in Slovakia teach the Roma language, GJH is the first secondary school in Slovakia to offer a five-year programme in Roma history and culture.

Zuzana Munková, director of GJH, believes that exposing non-Roma people to Roma culture and history is as important as securing the education of Roma students.

The Slovak Spectator asked Munková about a short history of the Roma studies programme at GJH.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How did the idea of establishing a Roma studies programme come about?

Zuzana Munková (ZM):The idea to establish a Roma studies programme in a bilingual secondary school first arose in 2000-2001, in the offices of Klára Orgovánová, who is the cabinet plenipotentiary for the Roma community.

The Slovak government later approved the intention, and suggested that bilingual secondary schools in Bratislava participate in the project. Bratislava was chosen because of its potential to attract an international student body, particularly those students of Roma origin from Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Since GJH was the only state-run, Slovak-English bilingual secondary school in Bratislava at the time, we were targeted.

After detailed discussions with the Slovak government we agreed to take on the project. This school year we are offering a five-year programme in Roma studies, certified by the Education Ministry.


TSS: How many students applied for the programme?

ZM: The interest was big. About 230 pupils in their final year of middle school applied for the Roma studies programme and took admission exams in March of this year.

No one expected such interest. So far, the programme is filled to capacity - 30 students.

The initial idea was to combine Roma and non-Roma students in one classroom. Unfortunately, Roma application for the Roma studies programme was poor, and the few who took the exam did not gain admission. Perhaps the project was not promoted well enough among middle-school Roma pupils.

In the future, we plan to cooperate with middle schools with a high percentage of Roma pupils. Cabinet Plenipotentiary Klára Orgovánová has promised to provide contacts. We intend to help elementary middle schools better prepare their Roma students for high-school admission exams, particularly in math and the Slovak language.


TSS: What will Roma studies consist of?

ZM: Roma studies is a five-year, bilingual Slovak-English programme. The Roma language is taught, of course, and in the second and third years of study students will learn Roma history, culture, and tradition. Apart from Roma studies, they will have subjects on state administration, elementary law, etc.

After completing Roma studies, students will not be professional translators but they will be able to communicate to Roma people in their language.


TSS: With whom did you cooperate in creating course material for the programme?

ZM: The State Institution of Pedagogy, the cabinet plenipotentiary for the Roma community, and the Department of Roma Culture at the Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, all helped form the programme for Roma studies.

GJH will select the textbooks for the classes taught in English, while the choice for Roma textbooks is up to the State Institution of Pedagogy.


TSS: Where will the students put their Roma knowledge to practice?

ZM: The bilingual Slovak-English Roma studies programme at GJH is equal to any high school education. All graduating seniors will be eligible to take up university studies.

Whether or not they choose to attend university, graduating seniors will be immediately qualified to work in state administration structures dedicated to Roma issues. And thanks to the bilingual education, they will be qualified to work in European Union structures as well.


TSS: Did you receive any state or EU funds to support the project?

ZM: So far we have not received any money, but we are in negotiations. Last year we asked for monetary support through the cabinet plenipotentiary.

According to Mrs Orgovánová, a classroom shortage at GJH is one of the reasons the state has declined to offer assistance so far. If we do not expand our premises we will not be able to afford to offer Roma studies to incoming students next year.

GJH is known for its specialisation in information technologies, and we simply cannot support additional programmes at the expense of our traditional ones.

The Roma studies programme is part of a national project that extends to Zvolen and Košice, where the Roma language is taught in the schools there. The State Institute of Pedagogy has submitted a grant proposal to the EU for the entire project. At this moment, I do not know the result.


TSS: Did you meet barriers or prejudices against offering Roma studies at your school?

ZM: As I said, GJH decided to open one experimental five-year programme after lengthy discussions. Cabinet Plenipotentiary Orgovánová was persuasive. We agree that it is important to address the educational needs of Roma students. It is also important to generate mutual understanding between Roma and non-Roma students. We felt the inclusion of Roma studies in our curriculum would be a good way to achieve that.

It was not an easy decision. With 50 teachers you can expect various opinions. Some voiced concern that Roma studies would bring an end to our long-term tradition in information technologies, math and physics. But in the end, in a secret vote, we agreed to establish the programme.

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