Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Mai 2004

8.1. Intercultural Education
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Susanne Binder/Mikael Luciak (Vienna)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

A few notes on multicultural education

Vladislava Hermanova [BIO] and Jan Mattioli
(Department of Psychology, Faculty of Education, J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic)


This contribution is based on the results of a study carried out by Vladislava Hermanova, Jan Mattioli, Marie Kovarikova, Karel Kamis and Jan Melichar in North Bohemian schools in 1998-1999. The teachers from the Faculty of Education began intensive investigation of the school success of Romany children in 1996.

A long time has passed since the change in the political situation in 1989 and, as it can be seen now, we have not yet succeeded in removing all the damage of the previous periods. Also, in our contemporary school system we have to face a lot of difficulties. One of the most serious problems can be seen in creating a functioning system of multicultural education.

Definition of the term "multiculturalism" and related notions

In the following characterisation we have drawn from definitions by specialists in that field (Sokol et al. 1996, p.12):

Individual groups try to reach autonomy and legitimacy, in both the cultural and political spheres. The national group is then tied together by identity, both political and individual. In various states we can meet either accultural policy models or even assimilation, when the culture of a group merges with the dominant culture of that state. This is usually an asymmetric process - enrichment of the dominant culture with some elements, e.g. Roma music and songs.

The principles, which were established in the positive ideals of the French bourgeois revolution: equality, fraternity and liberty can even now be confirmed by a certain "vision of equality", such as e.g. the affirmative action, which appears in the Canadian constitution. Since the 1960s of last century this standard has facilitated the access of minorities to education, as well as their work in the public sector. It should become a compensation for their social handicap, mainly among different ethnic groups.

In the Czech Republic since 1989 there was a governmental effort to create a democratic system based on equality of all citizens, although one important factor was underestimated - that a large part of the Romany community is not prepared to adapt either to economic or to social conditions. If we turn back again, we find out that since November 1989, the social and political sphere of our country has taken the Romany population as a socially backward group. All measures taken by the state so far have mostly been limited to mere social supports, which on the one side have helped Romany people to survive, but on the other side have taught them to be fully dependent on he state. These numerous forms of state benefits, which in fact have given Romany people certain convenience and more advantages over the remaining population, resulted in their depreciation by the majority society.

A new principle of civil quality was accepted soon after November 1989. It meant, for instance, that in any equal form associated with social policy no such terms as "Romany", either as a noun or adjective, may be used and any efforts to make selective social analyses would be considered illegal. In addition to that, the registration of the Romany population, which used to be performed by national committees (local authorities), was abolished. Thus, at present, we can find support for our work in random demographic data from the census in 1991, when only less than 33.000 inhabitants reported that they belonged to the Romany population. According to the historian, Jana Horvathova the Romany nationality in our country is formed by 80% of Slovak Romany (Romungro), 10% of Walach Romany (Valachrom) and the remaining 10% Czech and Moravian Romany (also Romungro - which was the original name given to this group of population in the Czechoslovak Republic), Hungarian (Ungrikorom) and German (Sinti) Romany population.

As our schools have not significantly changed their attitudes and approaches to minorities, mainly to the Romany ethnic group, the teachers of the Department of Psychology of the Pedagogical Faculty College of Education) in Usti nad Labem also want to contribute to solving these problems. They are convinced that the sphere of Romany people education is extremely important for the improvement of the position of this minority in society, as well as for increasing self-confidence and strengthening identity of Romany people themselves. For that reason it will be necessary to professionally educate the teaching public, including the post-gradual preparation of teacher trainers.

Nowadays, also representatives of various initiative movements and Romany associations agree that the main problem of the Romany minority is lack of education. They even consider education as the main condition for successful socialisation of Romany citizens. Unfortunately, the ordinary population of this ethnic group has never given any importance, and still does not give any importance, to school education. On the ladder of social needs education is placed far below material values. And therefore being successful at school depends on an important condition: a Romany child must find a positive approach to education. To achieve this, it is necessary to create such conditions and incentives for Romany people in our majority society to be able to acquire education and start to realise its importance.

For that reason we at first decided to monitor the successfulness of Romany pupils by means of a research task: Pedagogical and Psychological Issues of School Success of Romany Pupils. This task was completed in 1997. First we asked a question whether there is a link between Romany children education and their successful results. If we do not take into account the existence of kindergartens, which are, according to statistical data of 1998, attended by a small number of these children (the reasons are mostly economic, i.e. fees paid in kindergartens; also the majority of their parents does not feel the necessity of sending their children to this school), the institution of first contact between Roma children and the majority population is Primary School. Here, the majority of Romany children is, from the start considered as unsuccessful and it is only a question of time when such a pupil is sent to a special institution (Primary Schools are attended roughly by 75 % of all Romany children in the Czech republic).

Thus, it is necessary to create conditions for Romany children, which suit their abilities, knowledge and interests. Their teachers should be equipped with special knowledge and skills important for education of Romany children. Some teachers are still using the same methods, i.e. those applied to mentally retarded children, and they often ignore bilingual and cultural interests.

In that sense, we would like to turn your attention to the alternative programme called "Starting Together", which can be visited also by children who have no chance of being successful in a traditional school. Romany children are often transferred to special schools on the basis of a standard procedure, i.e. after a special psychological examination, which is performed with consent of children's parents. In some cases the decision to transfer Romany children to special schools is not fully grounded. Special schools should accept only children with a light form of mental retardation (i.e. with IQ ranging approx. between 50-69). The placement of each student in a special school should be preceded by a very carefully performed diagnostic of the level of his/her mental/rational capabilities.

It is not exceptional that some parents of Romany children require that their child should be placed in a special school as they often consider this an easy way of undergoing the obligatory school attendance without realising that they even more reduce their child's possibilities in the future. Not always is this procedure adequate. Psychologists in our country, as well as those in ethnically heterogeneous states, such as the USA, are preoccupied with problems of psychological examination of children from diverse ethnic groups. Their studies showed that results of psychological performance, especially intelligence tests, validated and standardised on white, mainly English-speaking children, had been lower with Black English-speaking and/or with Spanish-speaking children. It is evident that while performing diagnostics of children from diverse ethnic groups, i.e. also Romany children, psychologists must observe, besides basic general principles, also numerous specific rules. This is a problem, which is not connected only with intellectual tests and those of children's performance.

In fact, all attempts to penetrate in the structure and characteristic features of these children's personalities deserve their attention. The first step to increasing the validity of examining ethically diverse children is to use their primary language, in particular in very early periods of their development. However, we are quite sure that neither the mastering of the child's primary language, nor the mere word by word translation of single words and sentences, will be sufficient. More important is translation into meanings ensuing from life and socio-cultural situations typical for the environment in which these children live (Ferjencik 1991).

Nevertheless, there are Romany children who have to be placed to a special school due to their mental retardation. Also, in these cases the process of their education should be adapted to the need of the Romany ethnic group. The team of the Research Institute of Pedagogy in Prague under the leadership of Iva Svarcova (1995) has elaborated the Alternative Educational Programme for Special Schools. Another contribution to these efforts is the mentioned alternative programme "Starting Together", which is now going through its experimental stage. This programme, supported by the Open Society Fund, has been carried out with consent of the Ministry of Education and Physical Training of the Czech Republic.

As stated above, at present the number of children that have no experience with preparation for school education in kindergartens has been increasing. This results in a reduced possibility of these children to adapt better to the environment of primary school. Now we know that special preparatory classes established at primary schools can help to solve this serious problem. These preparatory classes have existed in the Czech Republic in an experimental form since 1993. Although it is doubtless that these classes should, theoretically, become a supportive tool for the successful entering of Romany children in the process of education, the results of our experience show that this is not always the case. In these cases, reasons must be looked for among Romany children's parents, who do not often show proper interest in this form of preparation. The responsibility, however, is also with schools - as they do not succeed in finding suitable and convincible arguments that could change a traditionally distrustful and lax approach of these parents.

In spite of all reservations to the existence of preparatory classes, it is necessary to consider this experiment as very important in the system of Romany children education, although these classes are established for all children from socially less favoured families. In each school year, there are open preparatory classes with attendance by nearly 400 pupils. The greatest number of these classes was established in the areas with a more significant Romany representation (i.e. the North Bohemian Region or the North Moravian Region). From 1996-1997 a team of teachers from the Department of Psychology of the College of Education UJEP in Usti nad Labem made a survey of Romany children's preparation efficiency in preparatory classes of local schools. All children who participated in this research (mostly of Romany origin) were immature for being educated in traditional schools. The results of examination with some children did not provide any possibility to eliminate later intellect deficit caused by mental retardation, which is, in our opinion, a result of the bilingual environment and related interference. During the research many children were recommended to visit a speech therapist's care. They were offered, as adequate, attendance of classes oriented towards development of graphic and motor skills and language preparation. The results proved that after attending these preparatory classes the children's performance has considerably improved. Some of the children have even achieved better results than the children in the control group. It is necessary, however, to take into account the fact that Romany children have achieved better results, but their age was on an average 6 years and 8 months while the children in the control group were approximately by one year younger. The selected tested sample has not been too wide either. Thus the team could not generalise these conclusions. Furthermore, the survey was made only in one district.

Also, results of the programme funded by the Open Society Fund Praha (Starting Together) show that co-operation between school and a Romany family is a significant "catalyst" of children's successful results at school. A special position of "family co-ordinator" was established within the framework of this programme. He/she takes care of communication between school and families, and provides care for children in a wider community. His/her main task is to build up trust of these families to the school environment and make them be interested in the process of their children's education. In this case it is necessary to realise that a very positive contribution of the Romany family for the child's personality development is a firm family emotional background, which often represents, for Romany children, the only certainty in the surrounding social environment.

In our country this mentioned project serves educational purposes of children from their birth until 10 years of age, as well as their families, and is co-ordinated by OSF in Prague. The elaboration of this educational reform project and its introducing into life was funded by the Soros Foundation (The Open Society). Among foreign countries that participated in this project have been for example: Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, and Moldavia. The most significant idea of the project is a conviction that children can learn effectively during their play. In child-focused classes children learn by playing. It is important that children should experiment with the materials they can take in their hands - they can touch them, built structures from them, lay with them and disassemble them. In spite of the initial disbelief the teachers who work according to this alternative programme discovered that, as the children take part in the classroom game, they gradually develop all spheres of their personality irrespective of the age group. For that reason this programme also tends to be suitable for working with the Romany children placed in special schools.

The parents' participation at school activity according to such alternative programme as Starting Together is also very important. Family members often visit their children in class, take part in its activities and thus get a feeling of belonging to the programme. They learn to look at their own children and see them in their relations to other children. They learn to understand the development of their children much better and learn more about their teachers, which may also help them respect the teacher's work. It will help them support the process of their children's learning by engaging them in domestic activities. They will also learn about their children's friends and start long-time friendship relations with other parents. The parents' co-operation is also a great contribution for teachers themselves, as they can work with children individually more often. During that process they learn how parents motivate their children and how they help children solve their problems.

At present we have numerous training centres of this programme in our republic. There are in kindergartens, preparatory classes in Primary Schools and Special Schools. Jan Mattioli the last three years, from 1999 to these days, worked very intensive on the project on education of Romany pupils. The results of the Project, concentrated on the topic of psychological phenomena by intercultural learning.

The aim of our research project was to solve the following problems:

In the first stage, in some cases, pilot activities had already taken place. The major implication for research was, that the reference-system, self-efficacy expectations the self-concept-control of an individual must be found at the group of 260 Romany children at the age of 10 to 12 years. We used the following methods for searching for and clarifying the facts:

  1. Interviewing the children,
  2. Finishing sentences,
  3. The "Pie-method".

In the "Pie-method" the probants are expected to cut the "apple pie" into portions. Each of the portion represents one of the below mentioned activities. Children should designate the portions according to their preferences:

a) The children should express their wishes for adult age;
b) Their own wishes / what they would like to get;
c) The most favourite activity;
d) The activity which they could use to realise their wishes;
e) Hobbies;
f) Their ideals, models for behaviour;
g) Results of their work which are important for other people;
(Navratil and Mattioli 2001, p.13).

Based on results of the first stage, the second stage of the project focused on the development of the self-efficacy expectations strategy teaching material in various subjects and lessons. We analysed the significant factors and their influence upon the learning of Romany pupils and their approaches to problem solving. We concentrated on real learning possibilities, individual characteristics and abilities of pupils. We respected the social behavioural rituals, typical for interaction to Romany children. There is lack of students' preparation for lessons, leisure time spent on the streets, etc.

Our research allows us to make the following conclusions:

The results of the research including the theories represent the new educational dimension for developing systematic structure improvement of the educational process. The system will create the conditions for the support of Romany pupils through the design of highly effective learning activities. The self-efficacy expectations strategy should improve the intrinsic motivation within the learning process. This results from our educational experiment, which we carried out at Basic School at Rudolice - a small village near Most, North Bohemia. The educational experiment was realised in "Elementary Learning" at the 5th grade. The results show that the pupils made great progress and they had a positive attitude to the learning process. These pupils achieved higher level than the control group of the pupils.

The results can serve more purposes, above all, they can be used in teacher training as methodical guide textbooks for teachers, to improve their skills and strategies. The content of this project material and educational method can also be useful to specialists which solve similar projects and problems for effective acting at teacher - pupil interaction by intercultural learning.


Conclusions and Results

The survey of preparation efficiency of Romany children in preparatory classes of Basic Schools showed that all children (mostly of Romany origin) had been immature for being educated in traditional classes. The results of examination with some children did not provide any possibility to eliminate later intellect deficit caused by mental retardation, which is the result of the bilingual environment and the related interference.

The results proved that after attending preparatory classes the children's performance has considerably improved. Some of the Romany children have even achieved better results than the children in the control group. The Romany children were on average at the age of 6 years and 8 months while the children in the control group were approximately one year younger.

The experimental study of Jan Mattioli leads to the conclusion that teacher education programs must include intensive experience in order to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in helping Romany children at active construction of knowledge in school situations. (Thinking, understanding, reflection, and action are the basic skills that are made use of for characterising active Romany pupils by learning).

The results can serve above all as methodological textbooks for teachers: They will contribute to an improvement of their skills and strategies. The philosophy of multiculturalism should be an integral part of teacher training.

© Vladislava Hermanova and Jan Mattioli (Department of Psychology, Faculty of Education, J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic)


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8.1. Intercultural Education

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