In Western Balkans Roma children have been known as pupils that have low attendance and problems with motivation for learning. This has contributed to them lagging behind their peers in classes and dropping out of school. Unfortunately, they also lack family support and they perceive education as a burden, something mandatory prescribed by law but not necessary in real life. They very much feel excluded, as one teacher explained:
"In regular classes Roma children are separated, during breaks they stay with other Roma, but in the Coding Club they started interacting with other children, shared experiences, showed each other outcomes, so the communication was really good. When they realized that they could do some things faster than others, even faster than some teachers, their self-confidence increased."
Group of teachers from Elementary School „Tode Hadzi Tefov“ from Kavadarci was dedicated to changing attitude Roma children towards education. They decided to include Roma students in their Coding Club, created as part of 21st Century Schools programme. Teachers believed including them in the activities that are equally new to other children will help them percieve school as positively challenging, fun and interesting, and that they will not feel intimidated by not having the same starting ground as other kids. The Roma pupils involved in the Coding Club were two girls aged 15 and 13 (with a learning disability) and a boy aged 13.
Upon joining the Club, things started to shift quote fast. Activities of the coding club brought noticeable changes in the children mainly related to their interest and motivation for attending school and getting actively involved in the teaching and learning process which is something that positively surprised the school staff. One of the teachers involved in the project explains it: ‘I was pleasantly surprised by their interest and involvement in the project. They collaborated with the teachers and other pupils as much as possible. They showed interest… they asked questions… it was nice to see them show interest as this activity was new to all of us.’ Even the parents of the children noticed improvement in the children’s motivation to attend school and become more involved during classes, one of stating that one of the girls picked up very strong intrestest in learning English language.
Being part of Club also helped with instilling self-confidence in the Roma children as they often experience low self-confidence to the lack of inclusion in the regular school activities. Feeling that they are part of a group that accepts them and treats them equally and that they can do the same activities as the rest of their peers served as a way to boost their self-confidence as their class teacher explains:
"In regular classes Roma children are separated, during breaks they stay with other Roma, in excursion they share a room with other Roma, but in the coding club they interacted with other children, shared experiences, showed each other outcomes, so the communication was really good… so when they realized that they can do some things faster than others, even faster than some teachers their self-confidence increased…"
Smart waste bins project
Members of the Coding Club wanted to work on the coding project that can be used in real life and they agreed to create smart waste bins. Working together with other children on the ecology project has brought some very important changes to Roma student’s lives. Roma children had a chance to stand out by doing some of the tasks better than their peers, so their self-confidence rose. This was particularly valuable for the child with special needs who was disconnected from the school experience. Besides working with a special educator from time to time she was very isolated from the rest of the peers as she was very shy. Special educator that works with her said: "She felt important first and foremost her desire for attending school has increased. Even in the pandemic they were called to be physically present and she wanted to come and she continued to ask whether she could come again to code."
Upon completion of the project, Coding Club members had decided to present their project to the younger students in grades 1 to 3 to educate them on waste management and clean environment, where Roma children took part again with great confidence. Project has made children closer, they found different touching points that connect them, even dynamics and the relations between the teachers and pupils changed for the better. Students have even increased their learning capability in classes that are connected to coding such as mathematics for example. Giving these students a chance to shine and to be truly involved made all the difference.