Swiss Embassy to Slovakia Hosts Roma Education Fund

The Roma Education Fund (REF) has advocated for quality, inclusive education for Roma children in Slovakia for over a decade. REF programs have developed good practices that show that relatively small investments made early in children’s school lives have an undeniable impact on their overall performance in school and later success in life. Such improvements in school completion can also be multiplied by bursaries for both secondary and tertiary level students from disadvantaged backgrounds. REF believes that the adoption of its good practices by the Slovak government would make a significant contribution to resolve the well-documented shortcomings in the Slovak education system regarding Roma students and allow Slovakia to fully honor its duties and obligations as a full European Union member state.

With such a step in mind, on Friday, September 22, 2017, the Swiss Ambassador to Slovakia, H.E. Alexander Wittwer hosted the Roma Education Fund at the Arcadia Hotel in Bratislava. This occasion, made possible by generous invitation of H.E. Witter, a REF Board Member from 2012 to 2015, was an opportunity for REF to present the impact of its programs and sketch out the priorities for Roma education in Slovakia, alerting over a dozen embassy missions in Bratislava about the work that remains to be done in Slovakia.

Moderated by REF Board Member William L. Bila, REF Executive Director Nadir Redzepi stressed the relevance of REF’s mission as captured by measurable results in transition and graduation rates of Roma students in formal education. For example, 96 percent of REF-supported primary school students transition to secondary education. Redzepi strongly emphasized that small investments per child are needed: REF grants average €116 annually per beneficiary, or just €0.6 per school day, and when this amount is added on top of the regular public expenditure. provided by the state education system, the impact can be startling; 87 percent of beneficiaries participating in early childhood education enrolled in integrated primary schools, effectively changing their future lives for good.

Advocacy Officer Roland Ferkovics presented the details hampering the development of a national policy to effect change and halt segregation practices to an audience of over 15 embassies during this informal meeting. While increased investment in education (EUR 2 billion until 2020), higher wages for teaching professionals and a near doubling in the attainment rate of tertiary education from 14 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2015 signal some positive changes, REF has identified several problematic areas for intervention. REF has works for over twelve years to address low preschool access by providing better access to preschool services at its project sites, campaigning with Roma parents on the dangers of enrolling their children in segregated education despite incentives to do so, and establishing a national secondary school scholarship program to encourage Roma to graduate from secondary education. 

Student speaker Michal Sivak painted a picture of how education was valued in his family. He said, “I have two brothers and our favorite game was to play ‘school.’ When I was five, I played the school principal. We kept our free textbooks over the summer vacation in order to use them in our games. My dream profession has been to become a teacher. And here I am now – in my first week of university studies in primary pedagogy.”

He was joined by Olga Bagarová, a tertiary education scholarship recipient studying organic chemistry at Comenius University in Bratislava. She made it patently clear that investing in Roma education works and spoke of the potent impact of a quality education on her life and stressed the rewards that come with education. Bagarová, said, “I’m the only tertiary education student from my town. My peers say that I’m the only university student they know and I feel like an ambassador sharing my knowledge – my peers learned from me that a Roma can be a university student and can be awarded a REF scholarship, both for secondary and tertiary studies. My peers didn’t know they could study further and be supported financially, and I’m their good example, their role model.”  

This informational meeting concluded with a question and answer session, during which several delegations expressed their categorical support for more action to be taken to secure quality, inclusive education for Roma in Slovakia, a European Union member state.

The Roma Education Fund would like to express its thanks to H.E. Alexander Wittwer and his team at the Swiss Embassy in Slovakia for their unconditional support and making this outreach event a success.

For excerpts of REF’s annual report on Slovakia, click here.

For REF’s Slovak country fact sheet, click here

For REF's general presentation on its investments and impact, click here.