"In order to reduce prejudice and discrimination, we must first take a look at ourselves”
“Living Diversity – Education for Social Justice” is a part of EU Child Guarantee
“Tell me more about this lemon, what is it like?”, a question is heard in a full classroom, while participants offer answers: “Yellow, rough, irregular, healthy, sour, full of vitamin C…”
Through various descriptions of this fruit, the educators of workshop “Living Diversity - Education for Social Justice” want to encourage participants, mostly professionals working with children and families, to think about diversity, multiculturalism and social justice, but also to become aware of ways in which they can contribute to achieving social justice. Psychologist and educator Marina Trbus from Open Academy “Step by Step”, UNICEF's implementing partner in the pilot-programme Phase III: Testing of the Child Guarantee, funded by the European Union, explains
“We do this by starting from understanding personal identity as well as group identity. We think critically about how stereotypes arise, how prejudices and discrimination occur and ultimately result in oppression in society. We deal with how labels are created and how labels can affect self-esteem and self-respect, especially when we are talking about children or adults who are members of minority groups. In addition, to some extent we cover the topic how we can change authority and contribute to changing domination and privileges so that the chances for all become equal. In that way we create opportunities for every child!”
Throughout the workshop, she continues, the participants learn what happens when the encounter between two groups, between two cultures takes place, how culture is formed and what culture is made of, and continuously reflect on various forms of oppression that occur in society. In working with participants, educators try to help them realize how to reduce the differences that exist in order to create equal opportunities for all.
“We all face prejudice or discrimination in our lives”, adds Trbus, “sometimes we are responsible for them and sometimes we are victims of it.”
“That is why the participants during education first start from their own perspective, in order to understand more easily the processes that take place in those who may not have similar opportunities in life. With the participants we discuss how to change this, especially with children. When you have a child who does not encounter his own culture in his class, when he does not hear his own language or hear stories from within his culture, in a way we send a message that this child is not visible, that it is in fact, invisible. This, on a psychological level, significantly affects self-confidence and possibilities in terms of what kind of a community member that child might be in the future. That is why it is extremely important to work on developing awareness of these challenges and problems”, continues Marina Trbus.
Eva Hohnjec, a preschool teacher at kindergarten „Cvrčak“ in Čakovec believes that we all, even unknowingly, have beliefs that are discriminatory towards someone, and that was the reason why she decided to apply for this education program. Eva wants to reduce her possible discriminatory beliefs.
“The very name of the education sounded very interesting, and my expectations were met by the fact that I attended and got acquainted with the differences that are, in fact, very visible in everyday life. We became aware of them during these workshops. It’s a good atmosphere, we laugh a lot, it’s fun and we learn new things together as well as from each other. I’ve learned a lot, mostly about myself. I learned how to be more competent in working with children and I learned how I should think about what I see and not draw any conclusions from first impression. Three of us from the kindergarten in which we all work together, we signed up for the workshop. Although we work in the same facility, we got a chance to connect even more. We also connected with colleagues from the Family Center and Centers for Social Welfare”, Eva Hohnjec commented after the workshop and added that intersectoral cooperation is important for providing the highest quality services to beneficiaries.
The title “Living Diversity - Education for Social Justice” motivated Mateja Krčar, a social worker from the Center for Social Welfare Čakovec, to apply for this education because she believes that education for social justice is really important.
“We know all knew many of this, both in practice and in theory, but it is very important to raise awareness again here and there. I think it really contributes to our work and improves our quality of work with our beneficiaries. When we become aware of these things, then we begin to actively think about them. We encounter some of the same things daily and discrimination is actually all around us. Both in our work and in the welfare system, it really is, but it is somehow becoming familiar for us and that is wrong and that is why we are trying to change something through workshops and these meetings. Of course, we will pass on some of that knowledge to our colleagues at work because we cannot all participate, but I think that this is a great and valuable workshop”, said Mateja Krčar. She believes that each of us individually must be aware of prejudice and the existence of discrimination and discriminatory behavior in order to change the whole system.
“One person cannot influence such a change, but we can all work together if we work on our own self-development firstly”, Krčar points out.
Sanja Brajković, educator and director of Open Academy “Step by Step” explains how this education was created at the international level and has been conducted in Croatia for about ten years.
“Open Academy Step by Step is a part of the international organization ‘International Step by Step Association‘, and we have a license to conduct this education since 2012. It is usually part of all our programs or projects we work on, and in fact we deal with children at risk and on improving the living conditions, upbringing and education of children at risk and their families also”, says Sanja Brajković and adds that due to the success of this program, it was immediately clear that it should be part of the pilot-programme EU Child Guarantee, funded by the European Union, which UNICEF conducts in Medjimurje County with 11 implementing partners, including Open Academy “Step by Step”.
“Our role in this great pilot-programme, namely its third phase ‘Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia‘, which is being conducted in Medjimurje County and which has a significant impact, is divided into several components. One component is work on the professional development of experts, together with the professional as well as personal development of those who are not experts but also participate in some way in the early childhood education. Within this component, ‘Step By Step‘ is implementing ‘Living Diversity‘ as well as some other programs. Other education programs will be conducted mainly with educational staff working in kindergartens or preschools in the area of Medjimurje County. Also, within this program, we continue to carry out activities in play hubs, created as meeting places for families, children and professionals which will be open at least twice a week. They will also be used by other professionals and other institutions and services located in that area. It is a place where parents and children come informally to play, socialize and borrow toys for free, since there is something called a ‘Toy Library‘ within the venue”, concluded Sanja Brajković.
With the main goal of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing the pilot-programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee” in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Croatia has been given the opportunity to test the EU Child Guarantee in cooperation with European Commission and UNICEF to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. To develop models of new services and best practices for children and their families, UNICEF will use its experience, partnerships and capacities by modelling integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded community and family-based services in Medjimurje County, the region with limited access to child protection and family support services. UNICEF's approach includes three components/areas: access to child protection and family support services, access to early childhood education and access to early childhood intervention services.
©UNICEF, 2021. “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
Open Academy "Step by Step" is the implementation partner of the UNICEF Office in Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.