The Northwest Centre for the Social and Legal Protection of the Romany People presents a new educational project.
In 2004, with the support of our long-time partners, the French organisation CCFD, our Centre will begin working in several schools in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad oblast’. This project is a continuation of the “Gypsy School” programme, which was successfully established at secondary school No. 462 in Aleksandrovskaya by specialists in Gypsy culture and teachers. (We wrote about the programme in the first edition of our bulletin.)
However, in the coming year Aleksandrovskaya school will not be the only site of our programme. Special lessons in Gypsy language and folklore, integrated events for schoolchildren, excursions and concerts will supplement the curriculum of at least five more schools with Gypsy pupils. Employees of the Centre have already carried out a series of preliminary meetings and have ascertained that the teachers at these schools are interested in our programme.
The first to show an interest in the “Gypsy School” programme were our colleagues from a secondary school in Osel’ki (Vsevolozhskii district, Leningradskaya oblast’). Not long ago this school celebrated its 60th anniversary, and we whole-heartedly congratulate everyone who works and studies there.
Our work at Osel’kovskaya school is particularly important: while most schools attended by Gypsy children have only 10-20 Gypsy pupils, there are 90 children from the Kalderash-Gypsy settlement in our school. Nearly all Gypsy pupils go to primary school where they learn to read, write and count. Their teachers take pride in the achievements of these talented, if somewhat unusual, pupils. After all, Gypsy children begin school not knowing how to read and sometimes barely able to speak Russian. Primary school teachers who work in Gypsy classes understand and respect their pupils’ culture. They realise that if children in their classes can master the secondary school curriculum to the same standard as Russian children, they are truly capable and diligent pupils. The Gypsies, after all, attend lessons conducted in a foreign language. Their knowledge of Gypsy language and folklore in itself commands respect – not all children can speak and sing fluently in two languages!
We are pleased to report that Osel’kovskaya school has now begun promoting its oldest and most successful pupils into more advanced classes. After all, the primary grades alone are not enough to provide the level of education which is essential in today’s society. We hope that our efforts will help to de-segregate Gypsy pupils and put them on an equal footing with other pupils.
Often Gypsy classes are created out of necessity. In other cases the complicated issue of Gypsy education is ignored altogether. But the future is undoubtedly in integrated classes. The winners will be those who take advantage of all the opportunities that school has to offer. Extracurricular lessons in national cultures only add to the range of opportunities for pupils who are interested in their origins and traditions.
Specialists from our Centre have travelled to Osel’ki many times, and we have met at Aleksandrovskaya school twice. Recently our director of pedagogical events, the psychologist I. S. Berdyshev, led an integrated excursion around St. Petersburg.
We were very glad to find that the teachers of School No. 2 in Vyritsa (Gatchinskii district) understood the goals of our project. More than one generation of Gypsy children have been educated in their school: there are a few pupils from local Russian Gypsy (Russian Roma) families in almost every class.
We are always pleased to find schools where Gypsy pupils attend fully integrated classes, where their differences in background do not cause them to be ostracised or isolated.
We are also preparing to begin work in several other schools – in Pushkin, Gatchina, Krasnoe Selo and Volodarka. Several “remote” schools have also taken an interest in our project. We would like to start a similar project in Pskov, and also to continue our cooperation with teachers from Petrozavodsk. Our project aims not only to encourage Gypsy children to attend school (though this does remain our priority – after all, lack of education and illiteracy are increasing among Gypsies!), but also to help other students and teachers realise the value of Gypsy culture and to promote the study of Gypsy history, language and literature. The project’s organisers’ plans include the publication of standardised methodological textbooks for teachers who work with Gypsy pupils, the publication of a book titled “A Teacher’s Aid”, the distribution of other informational materials and the organisation of methodological lessons and seminars for teachers. In 2004 the Centre will also hold a number of round table discussions devoted to the issue of Gypsy education. These discussions will give teachers an opportunity to discuss this issue with Gypsy cultural workers and activists from Gypsy organisations, to find out about conditions in other schools, and to address questions to representatives from various administrative levels. We invite all instructors and pupils who are interested in this new programme to contact the manager of our Centre, S. B. Kulaeva, our methodologist and Gypsy language specialist, O A. Abramenko, or our child psychologist, I. S. Berdyshev. Our doors are open to anyone who would like to find out more about our programme or take part in our seminars, round table discussions and methodological lessons. For anyone who is unable to visit the Centre in person, we would be happy to send information by post. Any young person from the Gypsy community who does not attend school but would like to join a group which studies Gypsy language, music, dance, history and traditions should call or visit our Centre. We would be happy to help.
2 Photos should be placed here:
Children by the Rostral Columns
“Students from Osel’kovskaya school on an excursion in St. Petersburg”
“Members of the Gypsy ensemble ‘Red Rose’ perform at a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of Osel’kovskaya secondary school”