School is a chance, school is the right way

Monika was at a turning point – whether to continue with her primary school education or not.

Ivana Miljkovic
Monika doesn’t not miss her classes any more.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl

16 April 2018

Vladicin Han, Serbia – When I was in seventh grade, I didn’t go to school for 6 months. We had financial problems and had to go to Germany. It didn’t work out for us there, so we returned. I wanted to go to school again, but I had a big problem to make up the classes I missed,” this is how seventeen-year-old Monika Mucic begins her story.

Upon her return from Germany, she was living with her parents, sister and grandparents in one room, with no running water. The family was living on welfare and gets its meals from the local food kitchen. At that moment, Monika was at a turning point – whether to continue with her primary school education or not.

She did continue, but it wasn’t easy. Marina Ivanovic, a pedagogical assistant, who helped her study for her final exams, is aware that it wasn’t easy. In fact, Monika had four non-passing grades at the end of first term in eighth grade in primary school.

In primary school, she had low self-esteem and no confidence in herself, probably because of her socio-economic status. She was a withdrawn and quiet girl, Marina says. 

That’s when all her teachers got involved. They made an individualised study plan with Monika, adapted their classes and homework to suit her, and they helped prepare her for her final exams. This approach, together with free textbooks, school supplies and school lunch, helped Monika to complete primary school. 

School is very important to me. When I finish school, I will be able to get a job, be independent, be my own person. No one will be able to degrade me, to tell me I’m uneducated.

Monika (17)

That year, everything else changed as well. Monika’s parents got a job and could rent an apartment. And Monika decided, with help from her teachers, the school pedagogist and pedagogical assistant, to enrol in the vocational Technical secondary school. She is now completing third grade.

School is very important to me. When I finish school, I will be able to get a job, be independent, be my own person. No one will be able to degrade me, to tell me I’m uneducated,” Monica boldly explains.

While Monika confidently talks about her plans, her father Milan is smiling. He is clearly very proud of his daughter.

If she hadn’t enrolled in secondary school, she would have married, I know it. Now, when I see that she wants to study, I am a proud father. I’m also encouraging her to take other classes, she can learn to drive a car, says Milan.

Monika’s story probably wouldn’t have a happy ending if she hadn’t been included, at a crucial moment, into the Prevention of Early School Leaving from the Education System in the Republic of Serbia project, implemented by UNICEF, the Centre for Education Policy and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, with financial support from UNIQLO.

rom left to right: Monika, Marina Ivanovic, pedagogical assistant, Milan Mucic, Monika’s father – Monika’s parents encouraged her to continue with her education.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl
From left to right: Monika, Marina Ivanovic, pedagogical assistant, Milan Mucic, Monika’s father – Monika’s parents encouraged her to continue with her education.

If she hadn’t enrolled in secondary school, she would have married, I know it. Now, when I see that she wants to study, I am a proud father. I’m also encouraging her to take other classes, she can learn to drive a car.

Milan Mucic, Monika’s father

10 primary and secondary schools in 7 municipalities participated in the project, with both of Monika's schools being among them – the “Branko Radicevic” primary school and the Technical secondary school.

Miljan Nikolic, Monika’s computer science teacher, recognises the importance of the project and what needs to be done for it to give real results. He works in both schools and is familiar with the issue of school drop-out.

First, parents must cooperate with the school and support their children. The system must provide them textbooks, school lunch and transport. And teachers must devote themselves to each child, because this gives results. Of course, this circle of cooperation also includes homeroom teachers and professional associates, pedagogists and psychologists, says Miljan.

Motivational workshops on the importance of education, as well as the cooperation with Roma organisations were useful to pupils, parents and teachers alike, explains Lovorka Dragojlovic Jovic, a pedagogist at the Technical school, and the coordinator of the Drop-out Prevention Team at the time. 

Miljan Nikolic, Monika’s computer science teacher, and Monika looking at the camera while sitting in front of a computer
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl
Miljan Nikolic, Monika’s computer science teacher, supported her to enroll in the Technical secondary school.

“Cooperation between primary and secondary schools is very important, because the transition period carries the biggest risk for school leaving. We were in touch with the “Branko Radicevic” primary school and that's how we had insight into Monika's situation. We immediately knew she was at risk of leaving school. That’s why during the first two years, teachers were using an individualised approach in their work with Monika, and we were especially trying to include her in peer activities”, says Lovorka.

Lovorka also tells us that ten years ago, there were only two Roma pupils in the Technical school. Today there are 40, and only three of them are at risk of leaving school.   

“In addition to empowering pupils to continue their education, this project also helped teachers understand that children at risk of leaving school are their concern as well, and that they are responsible if they don’t prevent school drop-out,” says Lovorka.

Tell everyone to go to school, so they can go through life with their heads held up high.

Monika (17)

The effects of this two-year project are clearly visible – the drop-out rate has been reduced by as much as 66% in pilot schools.

And Monika, who is now a friendly, cheerful and smiling teenager, is not at risk of leaving school any more.

“Tell everyone to go to school, so they can go through life with their heads held up high,” says Monika as we leave the school.