Inclusion4Schools’ first experiences: Teachers pick up children in Albania from camps to bring them to school every morning
Inclusion4Schools has launched the 1st of November 2020 under the wings of the Europen Union’s Horizon 2020 project, led by four countries: Albania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary. The initiative aims to combat segregation and inequalities in education by promoting pedagogical methodology, sharing knowledge, and organising community networks.
This summer, the first meetings with representatives of the partner schools took place in Albania. The outcome of these visits has revealed the alarming reality of children’s situation in education who come from poor households.
“For the majority of Roma and Egyptians*, the most difficult is bringing them to school. Keeping them in school is also another adventure,”– said Envina Xhemi – project coordinator of Inclusion4Schools in Albania. She explained that directors of schools had reported: “they find children sleeping in their camps whose parents have left to work. They wake them up and bring them to school”. These children usually are not fed at home, washed, and sometimes underdressed, which means the school’s staff have to deal with these essential demands of their pupils daily rather than focusing on the quality of education. For this reason, schools always have a wardrobe ready to use whenever the need arises.
“Their mission goes beyond teaching” – Ms Xhemi added. She also emphasized that the lack of measures from authorities to provide infrastructure and essential resources to fulfill these schools’ demands is of the most crucial challenges to them. Despite that directors highlighted they rather need infrastructure than methodological support, they are very collaborative and enthusiastic about being part of the Inclusion4Schools project.
In Albania, 23 schools were chosen to be partner institutes out of 256 schools that met the agreed selection criteria for the project. That includes the involvement of vulnerable students from poor, socially excluded Roma and Egyptian communities. On the other hand, these education facilities already established some good practices and have some experience in project implementation and partnerships with NGOs, parents, etc.
To achieve tangible results, Albanian coordinators tried to create clusters of schools, which means education facilities are located close to each other in the North, South, and central Albania. This method provides an opportunity to organize local communities, develop networking, and encouraging cooperation among them that establishes self-organized communities. Although not every school could be part of the project, coordinators feel the responsibility to follow up on those who were not selected and integrate them into these networks.
In our previous article we wrote that Albania has one of the highest levels of social segregation in schools out of the whole Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, according to a recentUNESCO report. By far, the most vulnerable and marginalised group in all countries surveyed was Roma. Around 60% of roman, Ashkali, and Egyptian youth in the Balkans do not attend secondary school, the report found.
Ms Xhemi highlighted the reputation of being a school for only Roma or Egyptians is one challenge for segregated schools because the majority tends to avoid these schools in the first place. Even though the Albanian legislation does not allow choosing one school over the other – children obliged to go to the school which is geographically the most approachable to them – parents find the way to enroll their children into other schools.
However, this topic is extremely sensitive for the central government. Thus labeling these schools segregated involves risking being shut down. Since the commissioner against discrimination works reporting on these cases, when they find a reason to consider a school being segregated, then probably measures would be taken to close down those schools. But if these schools are closing down, children will not attend school at all. Ms Xhemi told, “instead of shutting down schools, we should find the solution to desegregate them”.
Segregation is rather a complex social phenomenon but some factors contribute to it. For instance, general economic difficulties, lack of developing schemes from central government but, also cultural differences have their piece in this picture. Because of the general economic struggle, Roma parents tend to marry their kids before they finish their studies because they cannot feed them anymore or make their children leave school to make them earn money. The problem is that they do not see the school as an opportunity to get out of these poor conditions. Therefore, the involvement of parents could be a matter of the success of the project. On the other hand, actors have to intervene with the majority population “we have to appeal then as well we cannot act like this other community does not exist,” she added.
Some positive changes might be achieved soon as the Albanian government is going to introduce a new electronic enrollment system called e-Albania. Directors believe that a different distribution will lower the concentration of one particular group in one school. However, since the Roma community often changes their location, they do not live in the same area where they registered, which arises other difficulties in their education.
*Please note that Roma and Egyptians are two distinct ethnicities. Roma has their language and lifestyle, whereas Egyptians are more difficult to identify. Egyptians seem to be more integrated. However, they are treated in one national strategy: The National Strategy for Roma and Egyptian Integration.
In the rest of the summer Inclusion4school visits are going to take place in Bolgarian, Hungarian, and Slovakian partner schools. If you would like to know more about segregation, possible solutions, and stories of the project, follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/inclusion4schools/