Let’s move to the year 2036. It’s an interesting year for the community of Spišský Hrhov. The first generation of the Pre preschool programme is enrolling to the university this year. It all began with a vision. With a vision of every Roma child beginning their formal education in the best possible way, through new pathways that support the transition into early childhood education.
Nowadays, Spišský Hrhov is considered a small miracle. The integration of the Roma community has been relatively successful as a result of past local politics, aimed at resolving the problem of integration. But, there are still things to improve. Despite the school’s best attempts to include as many Roma children in the system as it is possible, there are still some kids left outside of the school system. Some are enrolled, but the difficulties of adapting to the system are too big. Some are participating only partly. Some get enrolled in special education schools too early. And some are even discovered too late.
The core topic of the project was improving the early childhood education in the community of Spissky Hrhov. Through our research, which was based on remote interviews with experts and local stakeholders, combined with desktop research, we’ve focused on progressing our work through 5 major topics. We recognized these as having the most potential to cause greater effect in the community:
After delving into the deeper mechanics behind the listed topics, we had started forming a more directed approach towards our final proposition. Then, we set out to form a couple of “How might we?” questions and selected the following two as our favorites:
In the next step, the ideation phase, we based our ideas on these two directions. After a brainstorming session, we’ve collected our ideas and ranked them according to the criteria of viability and potential impact.
The selected idea addresses the local problem by trying to close the gap between the kindergarten and reluctant parents in order to increase preschool enrollment. This is done by easing and supporting the transition into preschool with the introduction of the Pre pre school programme.
The Pre preschool programme approaches the complex problem by bringing closer the kindergarten and the local Roma community through 3 important steps.
It envisions a long term programme, consisting of 3-5 events, spanning over the course of 1 school year, which is focused on introducing the local school to the community, consisting of both Slovak and Roma parents.
The first step is organising a core team, consisting of the current headmaster, well known among Roma children and well aware of the problem, social workers, known among the Roma community, additional school personnel and volunteers, if necessary. This team is responsible for overseeing the whole programme.
The events, forming a Pre pre school programme, could be designed with certain themes in mind (such as holidays or local traditions), to ensure a more immersive experience. The inclusivity is supported by the bilingual communication to spread awareness of the event.
The core of each event should be designed around activities that facilitate cooperation between members of both communities, involving both kids and parents. Small creative challenges that promote collaboration are recognized as the most suitable.
To provide a better chance of attendees returning to the event, they could be awarded with a small takeaway, a souvenir with useful information or a creative task, that incites them to visit the following event, too. One example of such a takeaway is a small dictionary of Roma and Slovak language for children.
By focusing on young families, we want to address the needs of both kids and parents. The main motivations for Roma parents were recognized in their wishes to ensure a better life for their children and to recognize education as the necessary step towards that goal. Besides that, we wanted to approach the parents by offering a feeling of belonging to a wider group with something in common. This could bridge their reticence towards Slovak parents. By ensuring a tool for cultural exchange, the Roma parents could become more open towards sharing parts of their life with Slovak parents, and creating a strong bond, necessary for the better future of the community.
The motivation for kids to enjoy the programme, both of Roma and Slovak origin, lies mostly in fun and interactive workshops, where they can come across new toys, new games and new friendships. At that age, the common language of Roma and Slovak kids is the play, without any prejudices. This offers children from both sides of the community a valuable early contact with diversity and also brings a sense of innocence in the space, which could ease the interaction between parents as well.
The programme should be evaluated after each event. This should be done in participation with attending families. Only such an approach could lead towards a greater impact on kids and their parents regarding formal education. Over time, various forms of membership bonuses could be introduced, to make the bond within the community stronger.
The basic funding should be covered by EU funds. Funding from UN agencies is an alternative channel. Over time, the programme aims to develop different types of partnerships and sponsorships.
The sustainability of the project depends on the strength of the core team and it’s capability to build strong relationships with the community. The methods used in planning and evaluation should be participatory, involving the community as much as possible, as this leads to better understanding of the problem. Participatory approaches are especially important in a culturally diverse setting. At last, the project should be carried out consistently - regular meetups, communication and advertising to raise the awareness within the local community are necessary.
The Pre pre school in a nutshell
The Pre preschool is aimed at parents and kids up to 4 years old. It’s a program that eases and supports the transition from home to school education by bringing the kindergarten and formal education closer to the community with the aim to increase enrolment of Roma children and ensure a better preparation for the 1st year of school.
Sarah El Haddad