"If my friends are single-eyed, I look at them in profile."
(Kristó Nagy, 1998: 54)
Modern Languages Education of Roma Children
The lifelong learning should start in childhood
PhD-student, Pannon University of Veszprém
Romas form the largest minority group in Hungary, to which about 550 000 people belong. Therefore we should devote more attention to the education of Roma children. It is proved that Roma children do not perform well at school, they fail more than their non-Roma classmates and language learning also causes a great problem to them. But what are the reasons behind their poor performance? How can we solve this problem? What can we, teachers do in order to help these children, especially in language learning?
I intend to cast light upon the significance of the problems of Roma children and the social and pedagogical reasons responsible for their failure in the Hungarian education system.
"There are many talented among the children of the poor,
who are not recognised because of the lack of education."
(Bartók B., in Kristó Nagy, 1998: 53)
2. MAIN PROBLEMS OF ROMA CHILDREN AFFECTING THEIR PERFORMANCE IN THE HUNGARIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM
First we have to examine what are the main socio-cultural differences between Roma and non-Roma children, which affect their performance at school, and of course their language learning, too.
2.1. Different socialisation
Different socialisation is considered the root problem, because our contemporary education system can not handle cultural, ethnic, religious or individual differences.
The value system in Roma families is different from that of a non-Roma family. It causes a problem because the education system is built only on the Hungarian culture and value system, which means that Roma children are excluded from it from the very beginning.
Roma culture prefers oral, musical and kinetic culture, while Western-European culture prefers a high-level written, linguistic, and mathematical-logical culture. Practical knowledge is important for Romas, but the knowledge gained from books is worthless, unnecessary. The problem is that the education system is built upon mainly the theoretical knowledge not on the practical one. Roma children fall behind at the very first moment and their lagging behind is increasing during the education.
Roma people have different time concept, in family they do everything when they would like to do, but in school they are forced to do things even if they didn´t like them. Daily routine does not appear in Roma children´s lives, but this is totally opposing to the routine of nursery schools and primary schools. (Oláh, 2000)
The family socialisation of Roma children also differs from that of non-Roma children. They are regarded as adults from their childhood. Since many people live in one room or in a small house, children can experience everything: death of an elder relative, sexual life of parents, birth of younger brothers and sisters, quarrels between parents etc. These make them more mature in a way, than non-Roma children. In Roma families the role of girls is also very important. They are expected very early to feel responsibility for their families. In many cases the elder daughters bring up their younger brothers and sisters. This also means that family has priority over learning. Girls can find their safety in the community, only if they have a baby as soon as possible. (Oláh, 2000)
There is no endurance and tolerance in Roma people´s value system.
2.2. Lack of nursery school
Nursery school is the first place where children can meet the majority´s customs and expectations, they can learn how to co-operate with others. In the case of Roma children nursery school provides the first chance to learn the appropriate Hungarian language and the elements of verbal and non-verbal communication.
Kaltenbach and his colleagues carried out a research in 1998, which showed that those Roma children who attended nursery school are more successful in primary schools than their mates, who came to school directly from family. (Hága, 2001)
In other words for Roma children nursery education is essential.
In spite of this fact it is not popular among Romas because of the expenses of the nursery education. Besides Roma families have fears that their children´s segregation already begins there. (Diósi, 2000)
2.3. Poor living conditions
Most of Roma children have socio-economic disadvantages, which means that living conditions at home are so poor that they hinder both the physical and intellectual development of children.
2.4. Distrust: the relationship between parents and school
Roma parents have negative experience in connection with education, since even if they have a certificate they are unemployed or they have an under-paid job. They do not believe that education can provide a better opportunity for their children. Therefore they generally do not support even the talented children´s education.
2.5. Language problems: poor Hungarian vocabulary
The language used at home and the language of school are different. The school takes it as a starting-point, that every pupil is familiar with the standard Hungarian language.
In Roma families parents speak the Hungarian language at the level of everyday communication, and of course, their pronunciation falls behind the average, and they often mix Hungarian words with Roma ones in their speech.
In pedagogical sense bilingualism means an advantage comparing to monolingualism. But in the case of Romas it is not so unambiguous, since school can not tolerate the inadequate, faulty use of Hungarian language.
2.6. Uneducated parents
Parents´ qualifications have an impact upon their children´s performance. It is proved that most of the parents can not help at their children´s homework, mainly in the case of foreign languages. With the winding-up of day-care centres this problem has become more serious, because roma parents can not afford to pay private lessons.
Unfortunately, most of non-Roma children (and some teachers) are prejudiced against Romas. Their performance at school is poor, because they are prejudiced, excluded from the class, they are thought to be stupid, and under these circumstances they lose their motivation, which is low, anyway. Since they feel uncomfortable at school, they are often absent.
In the case of teachers getting acquainted with Roma culture and values can be the first step to accept their Roma pupils. In this way teachers could become mediators of Roma culture towards non-Roma pupils.
2.8. Lack of motivation
Finally, the source of all these problems is the lack of motivation. Families are not motivated in their children´s education.
But without the family´s support children are not motivated in learning, and finally they postpone or finish their studies. Without motivation, without positive attitude Roma children can not be successful at school.
"He whom we love is white even when unwashed."
(Russian proverb, in Vasvári, 1993: 78)
3. TEACHERS´ PROBLEMS WITH ROMA PUPILS
Most of the teachers have trouble with the education of Roma children. They do not know how to deal with them, because they are not trained enough, so in many schools these children are regarded as stupid pupils, and frequently teachers try to get rid of them.
3.1. Poor performance
Roma children perform poorly at school, they fail more often than their non-Roma mates. Many teachers do not endeavour to help weaker pupils to take part in the class and to arouse their interests in connection with that particular subject, since they think it is senseless.
3.2. Deviant behaviour
One of the teachers´ main problems with Roma children is their bad conduct. They do not pay attention to them, they always deal with something else during the classes. With their bad conduct they disturb their classmates, and it demands a huge effort on teachers to keep discipline in the classroom.
But the reason behind Romas´ bad conduct can be boredom. If a child — either Roma or non-Roma —, is boring during a class, s/he starts to deal with something else or play with his/her class-mates. But if children enjoy a task they take part in it actively. So kindling their interest can be the solution for the problem, therefore teachers should use many interesting tasks and games during the classes.
Roma children are very often absent from school, and sometimes they have to repeat the year, because they exceed the acceptable limit of absence. One of the reasons behind the absences is that children have no sense of success, they feel bad at school.
The other reason for absences derives from the nature of Roma culture. For a Roma family it is natural that every member takes part in casual work. But frequently, parents do not have jobs, so in the mornings they sleep as long as they want. Therefore, there is nobody to wake children up and send them to school.
If we think it over this whole process is a vicious circle: if a child´s first experience about school is negative, s/he feels that s/he is unsuccessful in it, loses his/her interest, does not pay attention to the class, lags behind the others, starts to hate school and it leads to bad conduct, finally, because of the continuous failure s/he tries to be absent from school more and more frequently, and consequently s/he lags more and more behind the others, and of course, his/her sense of failure is more and more increased.
Frequently, most of the schools try to get rid of these ‘difficult´ children. So we can draw the conclusion: teachers´ fundamental task is to make Roma children´s first experience about school positive.
"Whoever you are, I love you."
(Graffiti, in Moskowitz, 1978: 372)
4. WHAT ARE ACTUALLY ROMA CHILDREN LIKE?
In order to teach Roma children successfully, we have to know what these children are like. As it is well-known Roma people love and enjoy music and dance. Unfortunately, education emphasises mainly verbal communication, which they are not good at and not interested in.
Their verbal and written communication skills develop later than in the case of non-Roma children. Whereas their logical and problem-solving skills are better developed than their non-Roma mates´.
Romas can provide excellent performance in manual skill, motion and in logical tasks, but unfortunately, education does not appreciate these skills.
Roma children learn by imitation, experience and activity, and not in a verbal way. They imitate their parents, their songs and dance, their customs. But in school they can collect information and attain knowledge only from books. Roma children like to move, touch and feel everything, but in school they have to sit and write their tasks. It turned out from my interviews that these children can learn only if they can examine, touch or imitate something. By the way they lose their attention very fast, they are able to concentrate on something only if they are interested in it. Non-roma children are socialised to pay attention to the teacher even if s/he teaches boring things. Roma children express their feelings immediately, so they tell the teacher that his/her lesson is boring.
They are emotionally over-excited, passionate, open and frank, they are hungry for love, so they require more care, than their non-Roma mates. They like to perform themselves, which can be used effectively in drama-play, dance and in other techniques, which require acting talent.
"The main task of the writer is to show people
what they are, and in what age they are living,
hoping that they will change."
(Albee, E., in Kristó Nagy, 1998: 23)
5. BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PRESENT SITUATION IN SCHOOLS
As the result of my research I found that most of the schools do not take care of the cultural differences, and they teach Roma children similarly to non-Roma ones. They do not pay special attention to Roma pupils´ needs. Almost all of the aboved mentioned problems appeared in these schools: low performance (especially in the field of foreign languages), absence, deviant and aggressive behaviour.
From my interviews with Roma children it turned out that during the language classes instead of speaking they solve tasks or read and translate texts. They do not learn at home, although they write their homework at the day-care centre, but they devote less time to the learning of the foreign languages. I found that in those primary schools I have visited the problem is that language classes are mainly built on writing and reading skills, which Roma children are not good at. On the other hand the improvement of oral skill is almost neglected though they could be good at it, since they are very talkative, and they like to express their own opinion. But during classes children have to concentrate on tasks in which they are not interested, because they are not challenging and can not motivate pupils to find the right solution. Some of those Roma children with whom I made interviews lived some years in Canada. They speak English very well, they have excellent pronunciation. Though they can not write correctly. They attended school in Canada, so they can compare the two education systems. They liked to attend school abroad, but they do not really like their school in Hungary. In Canada during their language classes they learnt everything with the help of games, and they enjoyed these activities very much. The focus was on oral skills, and not on written ones like in Hungary. They could learn the language easily by the imitation of their classmates, teachers etc., they told me they had understood everything from the very beggining. After half a year, they could speak perfectly with their classmates. In Hungary it causes lots of problem that they mix the Hungarian words with the English ones. One of them was only 3 years old when they moved to Canada, therefore he doesn´t know some Hungarian words or expressions used at school. Unfortunately in the school they attend English language is not taught, only German one. Even more none of their teachers can speak English, which means that nobody can help them to explain the meaning of a Hungarian word in English. Singing and drawing, moving are very important for them, they like to perform themselves. They take part in every cultural event.
"The only true way to learn something is
to experience it yourself."
(Moskowitz, G., 1978:25)
Fortunately there are some schools which created a complete pedagogical programme to solve Roma children´s problem, to reduce their disadvantage and lagging behind in the Hungarian education system. These are ´Hétszínvirág´ primary school in Marcali, ´Kedves-Ház´ boarding school, ´Németh László´ primary school in Budapest, Gandhi Secondary Grammar school, in Pécs etc. Because of the lack of time I can not present these great pedagogical programmes, but I would like to offer some activities to those teachers who want to help Roma children. They are very creative, so they can be successful in these activities and have a sense of achievement at school, which will motivate them. Besides these activities require co-operation, and it is the best way to understand and accept each other, and appreciate each other´s values.
6.1. Speaking circle
In the morning pupils sit in a circle and they talk about what has happened to them recently, what they are interested in, or what they would like to deal with.
The advantages of this speaking circle are that pupils learn how to express their feelings, and how to listen to others patiently, and if it is necessary how to give some pieces of advice. During these speaking circles pupils get to know each other, which improves co-operation, helps to create a positive atmosphere, in which pupils can accept each other. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.2. "Imagine it"
Teacher can ask pupils to imagine something — in the class, with closed eyes —, e.g. how a Roma family can live in Canada etc. (Kereszty, 2000)
This can help them to understand and accept other people who have different lifestyles.
6.3. Drawing freely
Pupils can draw about a current topic. The visual expression is natural for children, and it is extremely important in the case of Roma children. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.4. Free composition:
The topic of the composition is not given. The aim is to let children write about their thoughts, experiences, opinions, emotions etc. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.5. Creating something with their hands
Pupils can create maps on which they can indicate various countries, or the minority groups living in Hungary. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.6. Creating something with the help of audio-visual devices
Pupils can take photos of their works, drawings, or they can take photos in a current theme, they can record interviews or songs and they can also make a videofilm about their drama play. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.7. Drama technique or ´simulation game´:
It has great role in developing the personality of pupils. Children have the opportunity to play the role of a person, who belongs to the opposite sex, to another social class, is elder or younger. This activity can be very important in reducing prejudice against others, since they can understand others' feelings, opinions, what they think of in a situation, the reasons why they behave differently etc. The experience children gain during the performance of different roles is deeper, than a well-illustrated verbal information. (Kereszty, 2000)
Children can make costumes and props, and arrange the scenery themselves.
6.8. Making interviews
Pupils can ask questions from a chosen person, then they can also act the interview out. It is better if they record these interviews. The chosen people can be children, adults belonging to different nations. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.9. Collecting newspaper articles, photos
Children can collect newspaper articles, photos, pictures in connection with ethnic groups living in Hungary, then they can examine them. This helps them to gain more information about the lives of these people, and to understand and accept them. (Kereszty, 2000)
6.10. Making a ‘book´
This "book" consists of interviews, texts, essays illustrated with photos and pictures, and it has a cover page, on which the author´s name and the title of the book are written. Children can make books about each minority group in Hungary: Arabians, Romas, Chinese, Slovakian, Serbian, Croatian people etc. (Kereszty, 2000)
This task can be carried out in an other way: Each member of the class deals with a different minority group. Everybody writes the information on one or two sheets, and finally these sheets are bound and the book is ready. So every pupil will be responsible for the book of the class. (Kereszty, 2000)
With the help of lectures and presentations children can share their experiences gained during the research of a given or chosen topic. They collect information about the topic, read books, articles about it and then present it in front of the class. (Kereszty, 2000)
The main aim of children to argue about a topic, and to persuade their partners. Then they can change roles and try to persuade the partner from the other point of view, too. (Kereszty, 2000)
A very effective version of group work is the so-called mosaic-method. The essence of this is that the class is divided into groups of four. The work has two phases: 1. Each group deals with a different topic. E.g.: one deals with the culture of the Romas, others with Chinese, Serbian, Croatian culture etc.
These groups work on the basis of the same principles, they examine their topic from similar points of view. E.g. how they speak; how they are dressed; what their typical buildings are; how they dance or sing etc. The results of their examinations are drawn on a poster, which is put on the wall.
Then comes the second phase: new groups are formed so that each group should contain an ‘expert´ of each topic. Then the new groups go from poster to poster and in front of each poster the expert of that topic explains what the poster depicts and tells the rest of the group what they could get to know about that culture.
So in the first phase everybody collects information, while in the second one everybody has a presentation about the topic. (Kereszty, 2000)
As I have already mentioned Roma children needs to touch, to feel everything and they like performing. Therefore puppetry is a very interesting task for them in language learning. Puppets can be used in various ways. We can teach grammar, new words or expressions with them, revise things or we can use them in role play.
The greatest advantage of this technique is that it requires co-operation of the whole class or even of the whole school. It motivates pupils to achieve the goal together, and co-operation provides a good opportunity for getting to know each other.
Parents, other teachers can also be involved, since the main aim is to reduce prejudice against others. After completing a project, teachers should ask students to evaluate the project on their own. This enables them to focus on their learning process and allows them to see their progress.
I have to confess that my main aim was the examination of Roma children´s language problems in connection with the English language, but when I started to deal with this topic I found that there are many socio-cultural reasons behind their failure in learning of foreign languages. First, we have to deal with these, since they have an effect on language learning, too. Fortunately, there are some schools which created a brilliant pedagogical program in order to help the education of Roma children but the implementation of these requires enormous effort from teachers. Therefore I recommended some activities which can be built easily even into the syllabus of an average school, while they can be considered great help for socio-culturally disadvantaged children.
Hága Antónia (2001): Az iskolás vagy az iskola sikertelensége? In: Új pedagógiai szemle, 2001/2. (pp.11-16)
Kereszty Zsuzsa (2001): Szempontok a kisiskolások multikulturális neveléséhez - különös tekintettel a romákra, Kézirat, OKI Kiadó
Kristó Nagy István (1988): Bölcsességek könyve, Szalai Könyvkiadó, Budapest.
Moskowitcz (1978): Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class, Newbury House Publishers, USA
Oláh Anna (2000): Családi nevelés, In: Fordulópont, Ki vagyok én?, PONT kiadó, Budapest, 10. szám, II évf/2000/4
Vasvári Lajos, dr. (1993): 20 000 English-Hungarian proverbs, sayings from all over the world, Kiadó: a szerző, Budapest.