In April 2021, eduRoma association conducted a survey in schools in the Slovak Republic with the aim of mapping the needs of teachers to improve the education of Roma students upon their return to school. The 24 teachers who participated in the survey were selected among seven Slovak schools participating in INSCHOOL, the joint project of the European Union and the Council of Europe focusing on inclusive education for all children, including Roma children.
According to the teachers interviewed, the return to school after the closure imposed by the measures during the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly challenging.
The first reported challenge was the need to catch up with the time lost in the previous months. In several schools, increasing the teaching hours did not seem to be a feasible solution, because of the scarce financial resources. Furthermore, some teachers reported that increasing the number of hours at school would not be beneficial for some of the children and their ability to stay focused. Some of the teachers would rather offer an extra support to the children in their free time and occasionally deal with students who are having lower performance at school.
A previous survey from 2020 had found that many children from marginalised communities reported experiencing hunger at home. Fortunately, this has changed, and schools now provide warm meals. However, several teachers observed that some Roma students do not feel comfortable in the canteens as it is a new social experience for most of them.
The teachers pointed out that the school clubs should primarily serve the function of relaxation, sports, games and rest after formal classes. However, these types of clubs are not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education but under the municipal authorities of the cities. Therefore, their financing and methodological guidance can be different everywhere. Often, they are places where students receive tutoring or do their homework, which can lead to exhaustion, loss of motivation or interest in studying. Another obstacle for poor pupils from excluded communities is that school clubs are often overcrowded. Therefore, setting a maximum number of participants would help.
According to the State Pedagogical Institute, teachers should enable favorable atmosphere for the inclusion of all children in the school environment and for their mental health. The results of the survey highlight that the Slovak state did not offer any targeted assistance to educators during the first waves of the pandemic crises in order to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. In fact, although teachers are under enormous pressure and demands, no one has prepared a comprehensive support programme for them to help and support the socialisation and the mental health of the children most in need.
On the basis of the consultation with teachers as part of the survey the following overall recommendations were developed for the improvement of educational processes and overall support for teachers after the return of children to school:
- The education of the teachers should take into account the possibility of distance learning and provide the teachers with methodical and technical know-how;
- Teachers should work in teams with other professionals and learn whom to address for all the problems which might arise. Such teams should be regularly funded from the domestic budget;
- Teachers could undergo socio-psychological trainings in which they acquire broader skills to support the socialization of children and for the development of their mental health;
- Teachers should learn methods for the development of soft skills, strengthen their communication skills, including the development of skills for conflict resolution. It is also necessary to provide basic therapeutic trainings for school staff.
 Report on distance education of pupils from Roma communities during the pandemic of COVID-19. Authors: Vlado Rafael, Katarína Krejčíková, eduRoma, 2020.