Revolution in Education

Feuerstein method of Instrumental Enrichment represents a revolution in education. Since the beginning of the previous school year, it has been pilot-tested by ETP Slovakia in ten community centres in marginalized Roma communities and two primary schools in Eastern Slovakia as part of the project Let´s Learn How to Learn.

The aim of today´s ETP workshop, which is taking place at the Hotel Mercure in Bratislava, is to present a model of educating children by means of this methodology to the professional public and to share our experience and results so far. Invited were the representatives of relevant ministries, UNICEF, educational, research, ethnic and other institutions as well as several non-governmental organizations.

We will be honored to hear the lecture of the director of the Feuerstein Institute in Israel, Dr. Rafael Feuerstein, the son of Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, author of the methodology aimed at accelerating the development of cognitive and emotional skills of people with learning disabilities. In more than 60 years of its existence, the Feuerstein Method of Instrumental Enrichment became successful in 50 countries of the world.

Below, you can read the opening address of ETP´s director Slávka Mačáková:

The majority of students in special education are Roma children from socially disadvantaged environment. These are mostly students diagnosed with mild intellectual disability.

According to the Atlas of Roma Communities, there are 215 000 people living in socially disadvantaged environment in Slovakia. Out of them, children must constitute around 100 000, which is approximately the number of inhabitants of Prešov or Petržalka.

Each year, there are over 60 000 children enrolling in the first grade. According to Vaňo (2012), there is supposed to be 59 725 first graders in 2015 in Slovakia.

Šprocha (2014) predicts that in the year 2015, the number of six-year old Roma children should reach nearly 10 500, with 5967 Roma boys and 5197 Roma girls. That means that one sixth of the first graders will be Roma children. How many of them will be from marginalized communities? My estimate is five to six thousand.

That is the number of inhabitants equal to that of Svätý Jur, Kremnica or Dobšiná. Imagine all the people living in Kremnica going out on the street and standing at the town´s main square. We get the same crowd of first graders from marginalized communities in Slovakia every school year.

In the next school year, one out of ten first graders in Slovakia will be from  socially disadvantaged environment. What is the future for these first graders?

These children were the first attendants of the pre-school club in our community centre in Rudňany in 2003. At the time, there was not a single high school graduate living in 5RPII housing development in Rudňany.

Since then, these children have grown up into young people with finished primary school and vocational high school education.

A brief look at a graph comparing the school results of first graders who attended the pre-school club before the school enrolment with the results of children of the same age from the same localities who did not visit the community centre assures us that educating children in pre-school clubs in community centres is of great importance.

In spite of all the effort made by the people working in our community centres, the graduates of our pre-school clubs significantly lag behind the children of their age belonging to the majority.

A great majority of our clients wants to live a quality life and raise educated children who will go to work. What troubles me most in our efforts is how to help our clients fulfill their ambitions. We ask again and again: “Is it necessary for such great percentage of children from socially disadvantaged environment to be placed in special schools and classrooms?”, “What do we need to do differently and better, so that the children from the settlements reach the level of their peers from the majority?”

I asked the same question two years ago when I first heard about the Feuerstein Method of Instrumental Enrichment. I learned about it from Simona Šimková, the director of the Private Centre of Special Pedagogical Counselling. She introduced me to Dr. Majka Heveriová, remedial pedagogue with 20 years of experience in educating children with specific needs.

Half a year later, the author of the method, world famous professor Reuven Feuerstein, father of Rabbi Rafael Feuerstein, who is here with us today, explained how to work with the instruments, how long should the mediator (pedagogue) work with a child until positive results in terms of improved social, emotional and cognitive skills can be observed.

Together with Maja and Simona we have prepared a project for the Children of Slovakia Foundation, Norwegian and Swiss Financial Mechanisms and Friedrich Ebert Foundation to verify whether the Feuerstein method will be effective also when applied to children from marginalized Roma communities in Slovakia.

The project started in august 2013 and today, fifteen months after, we would like to share the results and suggest future steps.

In cooperation with our partners, ETP Slovakia was the first non-governmental organization in Slovakia to perform this social experiment – the project Let´s Learn How to Learn, supported by psychological testing of students before and after intervention, thoroughly recording the pedagogical diagnostics of each and every student. All that was made possible thanks to the excellent cooperation with both schools.

The results of the school clubs so far:

  • Cognitive processes of students were developed
  • Students´ internal motivation to learn and to work increased
  • Students´ language competence has increased
  • Fine motor skills have improved
  • Students are better at controlling their emotions
  • They are able to work in groups
  • Among the children from school clubs and other students in the classroom, there is a noticeable difference in the quality and results of their work
  • Not one of the student attending the club has any unexcused absences
  • The interest of Roma parents in education of their children has increased

In the project Let´s Learn How to Learn, I found out what I had already discovered several times during our work; in the environment of marginalized Roma communities there is a solution, the question is only how to introduce and spread it in nation-wide practice.

As it has been the case with the microloans and the project of self-help construction of houses in Roma communities awarded by Brussels, in this case we have the solution as well.

Yes, “it” is possible. What does this solution require? Enthusiasm and willingness to work, to improve, the willingness to change our conviction about the “uncontrollable children and unemployable adults”.

It takes hard work that will not be rewarded with money corresponding to the time, effort, qualification and professional experience devoted. It will, however, be certainly rewarded by students´ smiles, curious questions and comments made by the children who a year ago would not even understand a word in Slovak and would not recognize colors, children who were raised in shacks in environment where it is impossible to find a straight line. The same children are asking today: Mrs. Teacher, what is a cosmos? Have you seen that chocolate (brown) horse? He jumped over the straight pole but did not fall at all.

Assuming our effort won´t remain just a small village experiment four hundred kilometers away from the capital city, “it” – in this case meaning the humanely and professionally mediated learning – can secure feder dživipen (a better life) for the children in all Roma settlements in Slovakia.

We believe that all one hundred students – or not to move too fast  – for a start all five thousand first graders from socially disadvantaged environment can be taught by teachers – qualified mediators, who have the professional experience, the capacity and the ability to adapt appropriately to students´ differences and who know how to help them effectively overcome the barriers and restrictions of the environment they were born into.

Our experiment, which took place in school environment, lasted a little less than 9 months. Our possibilities, both human and financial, were limited. The results of this innovative project, both the positive ones but also the “slips” will be discussed by our colleagues today. This project and the data we have collected are the first pilot data. We still need to continue with experimenting.

As you will hear, our short experience brings not only hope but definitely also certainty that it is possible to significantly influence the quality of life of the people living in marginalized Roma communities. We are sure that “it” can be done. Yes, it is possible.

It´s the state´s turn now. We are convinced that the most significant task awaits the state bodies, since the teachers, psychologists, special pedagogues and the non-governmental organizations have already shown the route and the steps to take it.

What is needed now is for the state bodies to take quick decisive steps.???????????????????????????????