In 2009 the project “Advocacy of the Roma children’s rights in schools of the Russian Federation” (supported by Save the Children Sweden) was carried out. The teachers and directors of schools with large numbers of Roma students could visit various regions of Russia and share their experience with the colleagues.
Roundtables on teaching of Roma children were organised in the Tula region, Lipetsk, Volgograd and Ryazan. In addition, on the 7th of April, 2009 the Anti-discrimination centre Memorial together with the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation held a conference on this issue in Moscow. The project’s last event was held in school No. 9 in Penza in the end of January, 2010. The school, which is located near a large Roma settlement, hosted participants from St. Petersburg, the Novgorod region, Tula, Lipetsk, Astrakhan. The participants of the project were aware of the school’s successful experience of integration of Roma children into common classes not only at primary, but also at secondary level , and they wanted to see the results of this work.
After the director of the school, A. Mironov, made a presentation “Improvement of the quality of Roma children’s education in terms of overcoming of cultural, linguistic, social and psychological maladjustment in a comprehensive school”, it was clear that integration of the Roma children is not just words, but a conscious policy of the school collective. The seminar presented by A. Mironov and E. Parshina Adaptational-Developmental syllabus for first formers in corrective-developmental education”, ” also showed that methodological work is being carried out at a high level in the school.
Although there are still some all-Roma classes at the school, the teachers work hard to overcome isolation of the Roma children and involve them in the school environment. It is very inspiring to see Roma children successfully progress from primary to secondary school. Open lessons conducted by the teachers of the school demonstrated that significant success had been achieved in teaching Roma children. A certain number of Roma students have progressed into secondary school (among them even some eighth formers), and they keep up with their Russian school mates. The visitors were most impressed by the Russian language lesson in class 2A where the children, led by the distinguished teacher of the Russian Federation, A. Rokunova, read and analysed the fables of Leo Tolstoy. The values the thinker wrote about are important also for the Romani tradition. The girl named Saikha explained Tolstoy’s thought “Who respects their parents never fails”: “If we love and respect our parents, our children will love us, and then our family would live forever.”
Work on intercultural dialogue is organised very well at this school. One school leaver’s excellent study of Roma culture entitled “Free as wind”, , greatly impressed the participants. At school No. 9 almost all Roma children are receiving primary education. . The fact there are elder students at the same class only shows that the school tries to teach all students including the children who did not enter the school at the age of 6 and 7. This practice should be hailed: many children in our country are refused to study because their parents did not bring them to school on time!
Obviously, a lot of problems still remain: many children drop out of secondary school (especially Roma girls), and no Roma child has yet finished high school. The very important thing is that the teachers have set themselves a goal: to provide a full, high-quality, secondary education for all children, and they work hard on reaching this aim. In particular, the constructive attitude of the Education Department to the problems of this school should be mentioned. We were very glad to see that the teachers of the school are supported by the Penza City department of education. The head of the department, T. Likhanova, emphasized that the integrative teaching of children from ethnic minorities is a priority (this concerns not just Roma children: in the region there are also schools with considerable numbers of other minorities – Tatars and Mordva). Such cooperation and active response to the initiatives of teachers and human rights activists are very promising and will undoubtedly lead to significant success in the near future.