Since 2004 more than 15,000 Roma children in Serbia have benefitted from adapted educational measures. Outcome: their presence during the first year of primary school has increased by 25%. These promising results are thanks to the SDC’s efforts to improve the integration in schools of children from groups said to be “marginalised”.
The idea is simple: the sooner children can be integrated in school, and even preschool, the greater their chance of succeeding in life. The SDC ensures that this message is conveyed to local authorities and those responsible for schools in Serbia as the integration of children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with disabilities ultimately depends on the good will of these officials.
80,000 Roma children with no access to education
The situation of Roma in Serbia is of particular concern. Two thirds have had no primary education and 80% are illiterate. As parents they are unable to provide even basic knowledge to their children who, if deprived of the safety net of formal schooling, are relegated to the margins of society. Some 80,000 Roma children aged six or more still find themselves in this situation: they have never attended school.
Priority given to preschool education
To counter this de facto exclusion the SDC is involved in a variety of pilot integration schemes within the schools, in partnership with the Serbian Red Cross, UNICEF and the Serbian Ministry of Education. A total of 85 municipalities in Serbia (i.e. 50% on a national scale) are involved in the project.
Special emphasis is given to preschool activities, for children aged between 3 and 5 ½. Nationwide just 40% of children attend preschool, a rate which falls to 10% in the case of Roma boys and girls. In addition to the preschools and community centres directly involved in the project there are 2,636 primary schools testing the newly created educational programmes.
The teaching staff is made aware of the need to develop varied pedagogical activities that take into account the educational needs of children from different backgrounds. Whenever necessary additional teachers are hired, school infrastructure is adapted and the children’s parents are encouraged to get involved. The programmes teach tolerance of others. With pre-adolescent school children they discuss the implications of early marriages and other types of discrimination that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have to face.
New standard pedagogical model
Another added value of the project is that hundreds of psychologists, pedagogues and students interested in a teaching career find inspirational material in ideas and experiences obtained at the local level. Study tours are encouraged to increase the number of opportunities for exchanges.
It is in this way that the SDC hopes to maximise the development, dissemination and standardisation of the new methods of inclusive education before the project comes to an end in 2017. Various decision making bodies in the area of education are closely involved including the Ministry of Education, the National Education Council, the Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation and various university institutes.
The SDC helps equip these institutions with strategic planning and monitoring tools regarding school attendance (and dropout), quality of education and early years educational needs. This knowledge helps to guide the debates and reforms in Serbia at the legislative level. One tangible result was the adoption by the Serbian parliament in 2010 of a law on inclusive education which is considered particularly innovative in the context of Europe.