07 SES 05 B, Professional Perspectives on Roma Education
The Roma Pedagogical Assistant (RPA) Program was established in the framework of a 13 country policy “The Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005 – 2015” as a way to promote social inclusion of the most marginalized and most numerous minority in Europe. The program expanded in a variety of ways through diverse social contexts – as Roma Mediators tied to LSGs in Romania, as Roma Assistants employed by NGOs in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Pedagogical Assistants, not exclusively Roma, working in schools and preschools in Slovakia, as Teaching Assistants in Hungary with a prospect of becoming teachers, while in some countries, for example Bulgaria, the program was not successful. The RPA Program in Serbia has successfully scaled up from an initial 5 RPAs beginning 2000s, to 178 in 2010.
The RPAs have a unique role: they are multiply mediating between a variety of cultures - most importantly between the mainstream culture and the Roma culture, but also between the culture of the school and the culture of the community, formal institutional cultures and non-formal traditional culture, and adult culture and children/youth culture. The successful enactment of the role of the RPAs requires multiple interactions through diverse local settings – with teachers and other school staff, with Roma and non-Roma children, Roma parents, Roma NGOs, Roma community and leaders, municipal offices, school advisors, humanitarian organization, civil registration offices, etc. RPAs spend half of their work-time in the school supporting and overseeing Roma children, and the other half in field visits to the Roma families, ensuring timely flow of information, motivating for school enrolment, homework and home-learning, preventing absenteeism or dropping out, and assisting in solving current and emerging problems which could affect the education trajectory of each child.
While the RPAs have received several training packages, there has been no systematic effort so far to understand the uniqueness of their poly-directional transformative role, and to gain insight into their perspective on their role as intercultural mediators. The current paper seeks to overcome this gap by focusing on RPAs’ narratives through a practice-based research.
Dynamic Storytelling by Roma Pedagogical Assistants is practice-based research to mediate and support intercultural relations, building on theory and research about the human capacity to use narrative (and other media) to make sense of what is going on in the environment, how one fits, and how to improve life. Since the beginning of time, societies have used their own brands of storytelling to create culture, transmit culture, and innovate as necessary and desired. Understanding the discourse process as relational activity mediated in the features of diverse genres is based in over 20 years of action research putting socio-historical theory in action (Daiute, 2010; 2014; Daiute& Griffin, 1993; Daiute& Nelson, 1997; Daiute, Stern, &Leliutiu-Weinberger, 2003; Vygotsky, 1978). As cultures come into increasing face-to-face and virtual contact, the need for mutual inter-cultural understanding, interaction, and transformation is urgent, for individual and also for societal wellbeing. With the commitment “Nothing about us without us” (http://www.romadecade.org/about) Roma PAs are agents of mutual understanding and change. This role is a potentially powerful one, requiring research to understand just how it works and how it can be advanced. The following research questions guided the dynamic storytelling workshop design, analysis, and presentation of findings:
How do RPAs use narratives and other symbolic tools to mediate between Roma and Non-Roma spheres of activity in their role in education?
What obstacles, opportunities, and strategies emerge across important participants’ narratives and other genres?
What implications for ongoing policy and practice toward Roma inclusion in education emerge from their narratives?
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