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Hope for every pupil

Klaudija during her favourite class, the practical training.
©UNICEF Serbia/2017/Shubuckl

Debeljaca, 29 December 2017 - Seventeen-year-old Klaudija, from the village of Debeljača outside of Kovačica, is one term away from obtaining a hairdresser's diploma from the Pančevo Technical School. Her hands are nimble, her moves confident, as she practices hair cutting with her classmates during her favourite lesson – practical instruction.

“I am training as a men's hairdresser, but what I like most is doing blowouts”, she admits.

Klaudija will soon receive her diploma. Yet, her life could have gone in a different direction. A harder one, a wrong one.

She is one of five children in a family afflicted by the death of one parent and a severe disease of the other. Because the family has a small plot of land, but with no one to cultivate it and no interested buyers, they are not entitled to social assistance.

Klaudija has been doing seasonal work, for meagre wages, since she was ten. This meant that she kept missing classes and schooling was not a high priority.

Friends are the strongest support system.
©UNICEF Serbia/Shubuckl

Klaudija needed help. When asked how, despite her problems, she has managed to make daily 45-minute trips to Pančevo to attend classes, she responds with a sad look and one word – “barely”.

“I’ve had the most help from my classmates and teachers”, continues Klaudija, now with a smile on her face.

She proudly talks about the hair salon in her village where she is completing an important part of her practical instruction once per week. She also hopes to get her first job there, but admits that she will miss being with school friends. Milijana and Aurelija, her friends, are Klaudija’s strongest support system.

“The entire class likes being around Klaudija. Whenever she can stay, we hang out after school. We loan her our notebooks to copy notes from the classes she missed, we help her study for tests”, explains Milijana.

The peer team has been tasked not only with providing assistance in learning, but also with making Klaudija feel accepted. Marina Gutaši, the teacher, describes her as a pupil that any form teacher would want to have in class.

“My role is to provide a link between peers, teachers and Klaudija, as she needs a great deal of extra support and understanding and adapted content, condensed into smaller units.”

An individual approach tailored to every child and addressing his or her specific problems yield the best results.
©UNICEF Serbia/Shubuckl

Danijela Perić, a practical instruction teacher, says she noticed when Klaudija was falling behind, but also her determination to persevere.

Klaudija was able to achieve so much because the school provided her with a paid monthly transport pass, regular school meals, textbooks, and the costly practical instruction supplies, in addition to learning support.

Her needs were identified by the school through an individual plan designed under the “Combating Dropout and Early School Leaving in the Republic of Serbia” project, implemented by UNICEF in Serbia, the Centre for Education Policy and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, with financial support from UNIQLO.

“Thanks to UNICEF, we were first provided with clear instruments to recognise children at risk of dropping out. The criteria are absenteeism, their socio-economic situation, performance in school, family situation; however, when it comes to children at the highest risk of drop-out, most of these factors are intertwined. During the two-year project, we have identified a total of 50 pupils in our school, and there could have been twice as many. Only four eventually dropped out. The key lesson we have learned is that an individual approach, tailored to every child, and addressing his or her specific problems yield the best results,” explains Nataša Zečević, the school principal.

There are several steps that the school can take on its own. Cooperation with institutions, in particular centres for social work, is crucial. Psychologist Zorica Prpa, who is also a project coordinator, admits that communication did not flow smoothly at first.

“We spent a long time waiting for them to respond to our letters, and without the support of the centre for social work, it is hard to provide material assistance. We also need the centre in cases of dysfunctional families or those affected by violence, etc. However, this has changed in the course of the project; now we can count on overcoming some administrative hurdles, when urgent assistance is needed, which is often the case with children at risk of dropping out. “

The psychologist is proud of Klaudija, who, in the beginning, posed a considerable challenge to the school team. As her graduation approaches, Zorica adds, this is a girl who, despite her tough life, is not angry with the entire world, but a good-humoured pupil liked by all.

For UNICEF, Jelena Terzić



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