REF Hosts Roma Teachers Conference in Bratislava

To mark ten years since its establishment, the Roma Education Fund (REF) hosted a Roma Teachers Conference in Bratislava on November 13, 2015, to bring together Roma teaching professionals working as kindergarten pedagogues, primary or secondary school teachers in a wide range of classrooms and educational settings. This first-ever conference was a unique opportunity for over 40 Roma teachers from Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia to exchange experiences and assess needs and will explore the contribution of Roma teachers to their communities.

In his opening remarks, REF Board Chair Andrzej Mirga said, "[b]uilding 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.

Ambassador of Switzerland to Slovakia Alexander Wittwer opened the morning session on the second day and greeted the teachers, guests and REF staff, while also expressing condolences for the tragedy in Paris the previous night.

Participants reflected on their own institutional experiences, pedagogical developments and good practices when merging their Roma cultural background into their classrooms and mobilize successful teaching and learning methodologies and teachers’ tools that incorporate their own intercultural background. Participants explored the extent to which cultural differences, but also similarities, are taken into account when raising the mutual awareness of the values of diversity in the curricula and classrooms. The two main group sessions of the conference aimed to identify all challenges teachers face and identify possible solutions for overcoming them. Sharing the results in a roundtable discussion enabled the participants to get a deep insight into country-level situational analyses and provided a common tool-kit for overall solutions.

Professor Charles Payne, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, delivered a keynote speech on “Racial Equity and School Reform,” focusing on how does race matter in the United States education system and the impact of race in schools, and how to build racial resistance to ameliorate the effects of discrimination. Professor Payne, well-known for his analyses that pinpoint the beneficial effects of both majority and minority students in desegregated schools, was most recently the author of So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools

The Roma Teachers Conference mainly focused on the current teaching environment with references to the recently published Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions and Policies by the European Commission. This conference stressed that teaching is an ongoing process that requires frequent updating, critical perspectives and constructive advocacy to engage with new developments and educational strategies being implemented in their respective countries.

Ultimately, this conference hoped to spur the creation of an International Roma Teachers Association, where Roma teachers from the region of Central and South Eastern Europe can continuously share their classroom experiences and the methodologies that have made a significant contribution and value towards motivating and encouraging their students.

REF strongly believes that teachers are positive role models and important agents of social change, and seeks to promote and underline the contribution of Roma teachers to inclusive and diverse classrooms across Central and South Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

For the Roma Teachers International community page, click here.