The Education of Romani Children Has Become a Subject for Discussion amongst Academics, Social activists and Officials
The International Festival of Roma Art took place recently in Moscow, as a part of which the conference on “The Socio-Cultural Specifics of Romani Education in the Russian Education System and the Preparation of Teaching Staff”was held on 23rd March 2004. The conference was organised by The Union of Romani Social Organisations “Romani Prala” with the support of the Moscow City Administration and took place in the Moscow House of Nationalities.
Deputy Minister of Nationalities, N. F. Bugai, noted that “Until now, organs of state power have not paid sufficient attention to the Romani ethnic minority. The history of the Romani is tragic. Besides their annihilation during the Second World War, they also endured deportations along with the peoples of Adzharia, the Crimea and the Kuban. It is the state’s duty to restore historical equilibrium in its attitude to nations. It has to be admitted that often the Romani themselves are inactive, but the callousness of some officials is surprising. It is pleasing to see that academics studying the Romani have raised such an important issue as education and culture. I hope that this voice will be heard and with our collective strength we will solve these complex problems. We cannot lag behind Europe, where national minorities are supported at a nationallevel.”
V.A. Mizherikov, an advisor to the Russian Ministry of Education’s Department of General and Pre-School Education, emphasised that the issues at hand have “political, cultural and educational importance” and noted that the conference had a “symbolic character”. He expressed his readiness to co-operate at a high level.
N. I. Kiyashchenko, Head of the Department of Axiology and Philosphical Anthropology at the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Science (Moscow), in his lecture “Tolerance and the Problem of Cultural Integration” stressed that Russian society must aim to preserve the culture of minority peoples, given that in today’s world, where globalisation is gaining momentum, there exists a genuine danger of losing cultural wealth and diversity. The preservation of Romani culture will be a tremendous victory for Russian culture as a whole.
N.G. Belugin, an expert on Romani language and culture (Moscow), in her lecture “Socio-Cultural Prerequisites of the Necessity for Education of Romani Children in Modern Conditions” laid out the key stages of the development of the Romani Intelligentsia. She also pointed out the unacceptability of the behaviour of some journalists who only write about the negative side of Romani life, creating a false impression of the whole Romani people. N.G. Belugin pointed to the need for the adoption of a government programme to support the education of Romani children and their integration into a non-Romani environment, and for sociologists, psychologists,educational specialists and philosophers to take part in its creation.
N.I. Samulevich, president of the social organisation “Romani Community of the North-West” (St. Petersburg), said that the organs of state power often fail to meet the demands of the Romani people’s representatives.
Ya.S. Vitalinskii, chairman of the organisation “Kumpaniya Society of Romani” (Kaluga) made a proposal to improve the situation in education, job-placements and the legal competence of Russian’s Romani population, pointing to the need for government assistance with this. In the list of measures to improve the situation in the area of education, he mentioned the creation of an all-year boarding school for Romani children.
L.N. Cherenkov, senior research assistant at the D.S. Likhachev Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage (Moscow), in his paper “Modern Tendencies in the Education of the Romani” told how the issues under discussion are solved in different countries and spoke in support of the integrationist approach to the education of Romani children with the inclusion of an ethno-cultural component in their studies.
Dzh. Dimitrescu (Bucharest) spoke on the state support of Gypsy education in Romania and about the significant results achieved in recent years in that country: there are now 18,000 teachers of the Romani language in Romania, and the institution of Romani assistants is similarly developed.
The co-ordinator of the North-Western Centre for the Social and Legal Defence of the Roma (Gypsies), O.A. Abramenko spoke about the Centre’s work to improve access to school education for Romani children and about those schools which participate in our educational projects.
Z.G. Tsareva, syllabus coordinator of the Oselka village school in the Vsevolozhsk district of Leningrad Oblast, shared the experience of the Oselka school, where more than 90 Romani children study, in her lecture “Pedagogical Approaches to the Teaching of Romani Children in Small Communities”. She depicted a circle of problems arising in such a situation, recounted the school’s achievements and also underlined the necessity of training educational staff with Romani backgrounds.
M.V. Seslavinskaya, an expert on culture and deputy chairman of the Board of the “Union of Romani Social Organisations”, suggested a plan to prepare teachers for middle and upper schools and spoke of the agreements which have been reached with the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Moscow State University.
The conference participants signed a letter to A.A. Fursenko, the Russian Minister of Education, which we publish below.
Over the last few years, the question of creating a programme for Romani education within the framework of the Russian education system has arisen critically. This is linked, on the one hand, with the development of the self-consciousness of national minorities, which is expressed through the creation of national social associations, the development of culture and literature, as well as the Romani language. On the other hand, the post-perestroika processes in Russia’s economy and society have led to a decline in educational standards of amongst the Romani population and, as a consequence, to the growth of the process of marginalisation of the largely culturally-orthodox layers of Russia’s Romani population.
The Russian Government and the Ministry of Nationalities, which oversees the programme for tolerance and the Law on National-Cultural Autonomy, posed the question of the creation of a programme of Romani education, in which our Union is an active participant, working with the Ministry of Nationalities of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation.
The matter concernts the formation of a group of humanities specialists, above all in the Romani language and literature, with knowledge of the history, culture, the principles of culturology and ethnopsychology. Precisely this type of educational programme, including the aforementioned disciplines, has been incorporated into the syllabus of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU). Among the Romani Studies experts are former graduates of MGU and they have been convinced time and again by the advantages of a university education system which gives a wider range of knowledge and methodological opportunities. The need to create a Romani programme of education at different levels must be taken into account: from the preparation of teachers for middle schools to university lecturers in the Romani language, culture and literature. Given that at present in Russia, there is a small number of specialists in the Romani language, culture, literature and history and that practically all of them live in Moscow, we consider it essential create such a specialisation precisely at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, a programme which most fully meets current requirements and moreover allows the leading Romani Studies experts to combine teaching and academic activity. In the last decade, Romani Studies has become an academic discipline in many countries, including those of Eastern Europe.
We have conducted preliminary negotiations about the creation of a Romani Studies specialisation with S.G. Ter-Minasova, Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at MGU, and received her agreement. Among those Russian Romani Studies experts, who along with the leadership of the Interregional Union of Gypsy Social Organisations have signed this letter, there are experts of an international level, who carry deserved authority amongst their colleagues. We strongly request that you take the appropriate decision about the possibility of opening a Department of Romani Studies at the aforementioned faculty and about its proper financing.
Participants of the Conference “The Socio-Cultural Specifics of Romani Education in the Russian Education System and the Preparation of Teaching Staff”