REF Chair Andrzej Mirga Addresses Roma Teachers Working Conference in Bratislava

Opening the first-ever Roma Teachers Working Conference held in Bratislava, Slovakia on November 13-14, REF Chair Andrzej Mirga reminded the audience over 30 teachers from Albanian, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia of REF's commitment to Roma education. He referred to a recent Romea interview where he stated that "[...] REF should try to increase the number of Roma in formal education structures, especially at pre-school and primary school levels; major change can and should happen with engagement of an enlarged Roma professional teaching staff, dedicated to and familiar with Roma communities and families.”

On this unique occasion Mr. Mirga strengthened his remarks, stating, "I believe that this is our, Roma, responsibility to be there where we can take part in shaping and determining the change of our community and preparing our children for a better start. It is high time to say: it is not enough and it should not be our ambition to be just Roma school assistants. We should have more and more teachers, highly qualified, part of professional teaching staff, with a significant role to play."  

The full text of his speech follows:

Lacho Djives,
Misto Avilan,
Dear Teachers,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear REF Colleagues,

It is my honor to open and welcome you to the Roma Teachers Conference, which has a prominent place in the series of events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Roma Education Fund.

Since its establishment in 2005, the mission of REF has been to close the gap in educational outcomes of Roma and non-Roma. When we look around in this room filled with professionally trained Roma teachers from 9 countries, I strongly believe that we are on the right track to fulfill our mission.  

For 10 years, REF has developed and invested in programs that help to improve educational outcomes on all educational levels for Roma children and youth. 

We believe our programs are based on innovation, the ability to reach and educate Roma children and their parents, cooperation with local authorities and governments, and the potential to achieve impact, while serving as models for government action and investment in education.

After I was elected to be the Chair of REF Board I gave an interview to Romea in July 2015. I would like to recall one of my statements:

“I strongly believe that REF should try to increase the number of Roma in formal education structures, especially at pre-school and primary school levels; major change can and should happen with engagement of an enlarged Roma professional teaching staff, dedicated to and familiar with Roma communities and families.”

I can reiterate it here: building up qualified Roma teachers should be a priority for REF. I believe that this is our, Roma, responsibility to be there where we can take part in shaping and determining the change of our community and preparing our children for a better start. It is high time to say: it is not enough and it should not be our ambition to be just Roma school assistants. We should have more and more teachers, highly qualified, part of professional teaching staff, with a significant role to play.

That’s why I am pleased to see you all here. Most of you have benefitted of REF scholarship programs. Since 2005, 150 Roma students, with the support of REF’s scholarship program, have graduated from teaching and pedagogy faculties. Around 40 of you working as teachers are with us here today. While this is a positive outcome, it is not sufficient; we should all aim to increase this number, I would say, dramatically. Much of what will happen to our children, where they will go, what they will achieve, depend also on your work, inspiration and encouragement.

I have looked through the Velux founded project targeting Roma pedagogical students and I get a sense of the issues in recruiting and keeping students in the program. This conference provides a good opportunity to reflect on what is needed to make this program for pedagogical students, i.e. future Roma teachers, a success.

We all need to look to the earlier stages of education, starting from the family environment, early childhood education and pre-school, and moving up through primary and secondary school education, especially the last grades that determine the outcomes and future choices of parents and children. Better and quality education ensures better choices and prospects. You are crucial for many of those children’s futures and we have to make the prospect of being a teacher attractive to Roma children and parents. I hope that you as Roma and teachers will find a good response to these issues and that you come up with a strong message to parents and children in this regard.

We are all aware how much a systemic solution is needed in the education of Roma children. REF is committed to offer here its expertise and models. Let me underline the central role of national governments to go ahead with reforms that would ensure equality and equity in education for all, including Roma, children. I hope central authorities, local self-governments, education authorities and school principals will recognize the potential of Roma teaching staff who need to be increased and employed as the best tool for ensuring positive change in the Roma community.

We all need inspiration here. I am especially pleased to have with us Mr. Charles Payne, a Professor from the US. He will deliver a keynote presentation on ‘Racial Equality and School reform: the US Case’. In the present context of EU infringement efforts against some EU Member states because of persistent discrimination of Roma children in education, Professor’s presentation can be a good starting point for a lively debate. 

I wish you fruitful discussion
But zor thaj but baht sarenge

Andrzej Mirga, Chair of REF Board