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Training School Mediators and Principals to Keep Vulnerable Children in Education

© UNICEF Romania
School mediators have proved invaluable in helping keep children in class

by Luminiţa Costache& Raluca Zaharia, Education Officers – UNICEF Romania

Vulnerable children, especially Roma, have very limited access to education. One in five Roma families say they cannot afford to send their children to school – they do not have suitable clothing or enough money to buy school supplies. At the same time, schools often use Roma families’ lack of identity papers as an excuse to turn Roma children away. Forced by circumstances to work from an early age in order to contribute to the survival of their families, many Roma children will eventually abandon school.

As indicated elsewhere, the Roma Inclusion Barometer (OSF, 2007) indicates that: 23 % of Roma respondents have no education whatsoever, 27 % attended only primary school and 33 % went no further than graduating from secondary school – as opposed to 2 %, 11 % and 24 % respectively among all other ethnic groups; 95 % of Roma have no high school education, compared to 60 % of the other respondents.

In the 1990s, Romania created the position of school mediator to make access to education easier for children from vulnerable groups. This positive experience was developed and replicated and in 2001 the Ministry of Education designed the post of school mediator as an auxiliary teaching position which means that funds can now be allocated from the core budget. The school mediator has the important role of connecting and assisting in communication between the school and the family and facilitating school enrolment and attendance for disadvantaged children.

School principals have the fundamental role of facilitating the development of a shared vision and managing the process of achieving that vision. They can be agents of change and can lead the transformation of their schools into child-friendly units. It is, therefore, of great importance that they be prepared to tackle dropout from inside the school.

In order to increase the school participation of vulnerable children, including Roma, and to encourage their participation in preschool education as a prerequisite for the prevention of school abandonment, an important activity throughout the entire two-year campaign will be training by the Ministry of Education of 220 Roma school mediators and 200 school principals.

The school mediators will be trained to facilitate family-school-community communication while school principals will be trained to help transform schools into child-friendly facilities.
After the training, the school mediators will:
• Facilitate school-family-community dialogue;
• Monitor children of preschool age who are not enrolled in kindergarten and support families to enroll their children;
• Monitor children of school age who have never enrolled, provide solutions for their school integration or for their access to alternative education programmes;
• Collect relevant data to monitor children’s access to compulsory education and pass them on to the school in order to identify solutions;
• Take note of educational or other issues that could affect attendance in school;
• Inform families of the role of the school and the legal provisions on children’s attendance;.
• Inform the authorities of violations of children’s rights.

The training of school principals will equip them to:
• Facilitate the development of a shared vision, resolve problems and manage a process to achieve that vision;
• Act as community catalysts to ensure that the right to education of all children is properly observed;
• Ensure a safe and friendly school environment for all children, with a focus on the most vulnerable, including Roma;
• Secure the necessary resources for the school;
• Facilitate essential training for teachers and develop a school culture conducive to learning;
• Facilitate parent involvement and build constructive links with the community to achieve a high participation rate of children in education.

The training of Roma school mediators and school principals is part of the School Attendance campaign launched by UNICEF in 2010 to fight dropout. It is a multi-layer campaign, targeting families, schools and communities at the same time and aiming thus to increase its efficiency in getting back in school as many out-of-school children as possible. Training 220 school mediators and 200 school principals will increase the chances of reinsertion in the school environment of the vulnerable children from as many communities.



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