Inequality in Education for Czech Roma Children

“Sabrina started school in 1998, when she was six years old. She was not treated the same as other children in her class. Her teacher never involved Sabrina in activities and never asked her any questions. She just used to sit in the corner while other children were busy with schoolwork.”

This story from an Amnesty International article on the treatment of Romani children in the Czech education system is just heartbreaking.  Sabrina, like many other Romani children in the Czech Republic, was eventually sent to a special school for children with “mild mental disabilities.”  Roma, previously referred to as Gypsies, have suffered centuries of discrimination in Europe and this discrimination is still widespread today.  25% of Czech Roma live on less than $11 a day and 40% are unemployed.  Many do not finish school.

Until recently, the Czech Republic used language-based IQ testing to identify children who need special education.  This automatically put Romani children at a disadvantage, as they often speak Romani as their first language and frequently have limited access to the Czech language before school.  Many of these special schools have been as much as 80% Roma, showing the overrepresentation of Roma.  In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled this was an unfair discriminatory practice.

Since this ruling, the Czech government has begun using picture IQ tests to place children in schools, but this has not resolved the problem.  The picture IQ tests are based on toys and items that Romani children, who are more likely to come from poverty, may not have access to.  Experts also say the picture tests use puns and language-based logic that Romani children would not understand.

Romani parents are statistically more likely to be poor and to have very low education levels, making it hard for them to give their children a solid pre-education base.  Combined with the language barrier, this means Romani children have a huge hurdle to overcome in the first grade just to stay on track with their education.  Instead of receiving the extra support to help them succeed, Romani children are often segregated from non-Roma or face discrimination in the classroom before being diagnosed as mentally disabled and sent to schools with fewer resources and lower education standards.  This treatment is putting Romani children at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives, making it even harder for them to break the cycle of poverty.

The Czech government needs to end the unfair education practices Romani children are subjected to.  Roma need more support in school and in the home, with social workers making home visits and forming a relationship with parents to identify children who truly have developmental disorders so they can receive the specialized care they need while helping all Romani children to succeed in their education.

Amnesty International: End segregation of Romani children in Czech schools

Prague Daily Monitor: Roma children to be labeled disabled even with new IQ tests

Statistics on Roma in Czech Republic


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Filed under Bailey Cook, News Articles

Khan Academy

Salman Khan (not the Bollywood actor) used to be a hedge fund analyst in Boston. Five years ago his cousins in New Orleans needed help with calculus. Khan made videos explaining derivatives and integrals, and posted them on YouTube. Before he knew it more and more people stumbled upon his videos and the feedback was amazing.

Khan quit his job, and started a non-profit called the Khan Academy. There are over 2,000 videos, and anyone can access them for free. Subjects ranging from basic Arithmetic, Linear Algebra, Multivariable Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Economics, an explanation of Geithner’s banking plan… are all found on the website.

I’ll admit, I’ve had to use Khan Academy to get through four semesters of math. I was skeptical at first, but the videos are genius. I highly recommend looking through the site and seeing if it can help you, your friends, or family.

To learn more about him, and Khan Academy I highly recommend this excellent TED talk by him:

Schools across the country are using Khan’s videos to help students in math. Many teachers assign a video from the website for homework, and students have the benefit of watching the video and pausing and repeating any concepts they need more time understanding. The next day students come to school and spend their classroom time working through examples and getting help from their teacher and classmates.

How is this relevant to education in the developing world?

Getting a good education doesn’t just rely on good teachers and textbooks. We are in the 21st century and a student regardless of where they live should have access to the same resources my 11 year old sister growing up in a New Jersey suburb does. Getting a good education now also relies on excellent infrastructure – which includes “amenities” such as internet access.

Khan ends his TED talk by saying, “Now imagine with peers teaching each other inside of a classroom, but this is all one system there’s no reason why you can’t have that peer to peer tutoring beyond that one classroom. Imagine what happens if that student in Calcutta all of a sudden can tutor your son or your son can tutor that kid in Calcutta. And I think what you’ll see emerging is this notion of a global one world classroom and thats essentially what we’re trying to build.”

Visionaries like Khan can revolutionize the way we learn “impossible” subjects like math and physics, we just need to ensure that the right infrastructure is put in place first.


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Filed under Pragya Nandini, TED Talks

What is a difference?

A question that plagues a lot of us is how can we make a difference. There are tons of follow up questions to this main question that we might ask such as how do you measure or define what a difference is, how do I make a difference, do I need to change the world in order to make a positive difference, what if I’m not successful, how do I begin, etc. The New York Times article, “D.Y.I. Foreign-Aid Revolution” tackles many of these questions and sheds light on many great entrepreneurs. A major strength of this article is that it does not only focus on the positive aspects of trying to make a difference in the world. It talks about how hard it is for many entrepreneurs to get started, continue to find funding for their projects, maintain a lifestyle, and not become disenchanted. Many young entrepreneurs become disenchanted and disillusioned when they realize how hard it is to make a difference and that realistically they are not going to change the world by themselves or even with the help of many others. While this may sound depressing, the article as a whole is very uplifting. Every person featured in the article whether they were successful in their endeavors or not learned very valuable lessons. I will not spoil the contents of the article but I think the take away lesson is that whether you donate an hour of your time, some or a lot of money, or form an organization it’s not a matter of how successful your efforts are but the motivation behind your efforts. Whether you help one person or a million people you are still making an impact and are changing the lives of individuals for the better. This is an amazing article that I highly suggest you read. It’s very inspiring, but realistic and down to earth at the same time. I think we can all be inspiring by the people and their efforts mentioned in the article.

I think this article really speaks to Givology. Givology isn’t going to solve the education problem worldwide or even within one country but that doesn’t mean that Givology cannot make a big difference. Each child that receives funding through Givology would not have been able to go to school otherwise is one more child who will be able to get an education and fulfill his or her dreams. Hopefully this education will allow for the child to develop a career that will allow him or her to give back to the community and provide an education for his or her own children, thus helping to end the cycle of poverty and education. We should be extremely proud that at G.W. we helped one child receive their education funding because it is a great accomplishment!

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Filed under Inspirational Stories, Jeanne Louise Heiser, News Articles, NYT Articles

Fall 2010 Awareness Campaign!

In the midst of a hectic fall semester in college, I have felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork and extracurricular activities that I have joined.  My awesome friends have continued to give me the steady flow of encouragement, assuring me that I will succeed in my goals because of all the work I have done.  Let’s face it – this is something we all need to hear sometimes!  Thanks to them, the semester has been slightly better knowing that I have people who support me and believe that I can accomplish all of my goals.

The thing is, there are many students out there who do not have this type of encouragement from their peers.  Students in developing countries could have supporting teachers, but there’s always something special about receiving support from someone who is going through the same thing as you.

This semester, Givology at GW has decided to hold a letter writing campaign to help encourage students to continue on their educational path.  We’ve all been in a situation where we feel completely overwhelmed and don’t know if we will succeed in achieving our goals.  We, the members of Givology at GW, want to make sure that these students have some encouragement from other students who know what it’s like to go through school and have hopes and dreams.

Please come out on Friday, November 12 in the Marvin Center in front of the elevators to show support for this cause!  The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  We will be writing short messages to students in developing countries encouraging them to stay in school and follow their dreams!

We hope to see many of you there!


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Filed under Nikita Kannekanti, Updates

The Competent Multicultural Child

This semester I’m studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.  My main class is a Child Diversity and Development class entitles Children in a Multicultural Context.  Now, you might be wondering just what kind of multicultural context there is in one of the most homogenous societies in the world and that would be a valid question.  The truth is that, between the herds of tall, thin, blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful Danes, there are some new faces from the growing immigrant population.  Not all Danes are happy about this new multiculturalism and the national discourse on immigration here would shock many Americans with its politically incorrectness.  One of the biggest struggles for Denmark has been how to include these new “non-ethnic Danes” in the Danish schools without giving up some of the fundamental Danish values of childhood and education.

Perhaps the most important and dearly held of these vales is en god barndom, the good childhood.  Danes believe all children have the right to the good childhood, which includes democracy, solidarity, independence, and play.  This is all underscored by the Nordic idea of the competent child, that children can and should do everything they are physically and mentally able to at their developmental stage.  Children should practice a lived democracy, where they get to decide in cooperation with their parents or daycare workers what they will do that day.  They should experience working together with other children to develop their social skills and forms the bonds of solidarity that create this close knit society that one British ambassador called more of a tribe than a nation.  Children have the right to independence, so caretakers should not hover or intervene.  Most importantly, they have the right to play, meaning academics are not formally introduced to children until kindergarten and even that is quite gradual.

Rock climbing during a field trip with my practicum

I have learned this first hand at my practicum site, a daycare where I work with the 5-year-olds, seeing the kids running around from room to room without direct adult supervision, splashing through muddy trenches on a field trip with no scolding at all, and dashing ahead towards a busy highway with only a verbal instruction to stop when they got to the road.  Danes encourage their children to climb trees and solve fights on their own because they want children to learn their own physical limits and to develop social skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.  When I watch Andreas show Liv, who is new to our class and still rather shy, the best way to climb the tree and see Liv’s delight at having made a new best friend, I think the Danes might be on to something that we Americans, with our Baby Ivies that push reading and math on toddlers, have not yet grasped.

The problem is that the good childhood has developed within this small, homogenous society and it has been difficult to include newcomers.  Too many Danish educators and administrators see the bilingualism of immigrant children as a problem to be solved rather than a tool or an advantage.  Children are tested from a very young age to gauge their proficiency in Danish and “bilinguals” are considered “social special needs” children, for which schools receive extra government funding so they can bring them up to speed.  Danish teachers also sometimes fail to understand why the teaching methods they were taught and have always used with ethnically Danish children are less effective with minority children.

Some Danish schools, however, are definitely on the right track.  The H.C. Anderson School in the city of Vollsmøse, a suburb of Odense with a population that is over 60% non-ethnically Danish and has a bad reputation in the national press for a being a dangerous, poverty-stricken slum, has developed a structure that balances Danish values with what works for their students to create an environment where all their children succeed.  They encourage Socratic debates and let the kids, who are predominantly Muslim, where headscarves and try fasting for Ramadan as long as it does not effect the child’s academic performance.  The younger children do not wear shoes indoors to keep the noise level down so students can concentrate.  Teachers realized some of their students were acting out at recess because they suffer from PTSD and the chaos of the traditional Danish free play was triggering flashbacks, so they now offer more structured play for children who need it.  They also noticed that the vast number of their students suffered from poor dental hygiene and the toothaches were distracting kids from their studies, so now dental hygiene is part of the daily schedule, with everyone brushing their teeth together.  They do not see their students as “special needs” or as lost causes, but as part of the future of a more multicultural Denmark.

As globalization encourages more migration, all nations will need to adapt to a more multicultural society, from the schools to the hospitals to the parliament.  The future of education globally lies in learning from the new cultures your society comes into contact with and taking the best of what each has to offer.  Maybe American schools should take a look at the Danish idea of the competent child and perhaps Danes can learn to be more inclusive from their new Turkish and Somali neighbors.  To teach the children of today how to be the leaders of tomorrow, we need to show them that differences are good and can help us learn from one another and that we trust them to climb the tallest trees they can find, as long as they help each other on the way up.

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Filed under Bailey Cook

Fashion and Free-trade

While here at Givology we focus on using microfinance for educational purposes, the other benefits from microfinance are important as well.  Micro-credit has aided many single mothers in places like India, Bangladesh, and African countries, allowing them to start their own businesses from such small beginnings as a single sewing machine.  With these mothers succeeding, it is more likely that their children will go to school and be inspired to further their education.

A new movement is growing in the United States and Europe to support these woman in their efforts.  Free-trade stores have been around for some time, but now these products are being incorporated into some of fashion’s main players.  Louis Vuitton shows its support by selling bags and jewelry made in Africa.  Proceeds then go back to the women. Tory Burch brought the idea of micro-loans to the U.S. shortly after the economy declined.  Even retailers like Anthropologie have incorporated fair-trade home decor products and a fall knitwear line into their popular collections.  This is a new and interesting way to get people to help while still encouraging those single mothers in developing countries to use their talents to succeed.  Using fashion to promote microfinance also covers a wide demographic.  If more designers start to support this cause, this idea could grow enough to truly have an impact on poverty and education in developing countries.


Check out an article by “Express,” a publication of The Washington Post.  Events in DC are promoting this idea!

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Filed under Clare Kelly, News Articles

Waiting for “Superman”

People who know me well know that I truly believe in the power of movies, television, and books to spread positive messages of hope for the future and standing up for one’s beliefs.  Therefore it is no surprise that this particular blog post is about a documentary that I believe will have a great impact on all the people who see it.

Waiting for “Superman” is a film about the state of public education in the United States.  The project is spearheaded by Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim.  The film follows him on a journey through the lives of five students in different areas of the U.S. who are all facing different family lives and different education systems.  One factor they do have in common is this – all of these students have huge hopes and dreams for their futures.

I have not seen the film myself, but the previews I have seen have left me with a feeling of wonder and amazement at the optimism that these students have for their futures.  The film also seems to inspire action – we need to help reform our public education system so that students everywhere will be able to fulfill their dreams, go to college, and have successful careers.

I hope everyone will take the time to watch this film – it looks really interesting!  Even though we are all worried about the state of education around the world, we must remember that there are kids in this country that do not have the same opportunities that we do, and we must do all we can to help.

If you want to learn more about Waiting for “Superman”, you can visit the website


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Filed under Inspirational Stories, Nikita Kannekanti