Bucharest (RO): Roma children affected by lockdown during Covid-19

Bucharest (RO): Roma children affected by lockdown during Covid-19

Bucharest (RO): Roma children affected by lockdown during Covid-19 960 466 Roma Partnership

Educational situation of the children from the disadvantaged families in Bucharest under the coronavirus lockdown and now

One of the greatest challenges during the lockdown was the education for children, especially for those from disadvantaged families. Many don’t have access to the internet, or their parents aren’t able to help them with their schoolwork. NGO eematico leads educational programs with the aim of developing life-skills for the disadvantaged families and help children with their education.

Interview with from eematico covers the education situation in Bucharest. NGO eematico has been a member of Roma Partnership since signing their first project in 2017. Eematico’s goals is to develop critical and analytical thinking and to cover all the important skills, so the children from disadvantaged families be more prepared to engage with society.

Ion Neculai is a co-founder and education architect at eematico.  He studied architecture and apart from working in eematico, he is architect/partner in two architecture businesses.

How the corona virus and the lock down affected the disadvantaged families and the education of their children? How the families without access to internet managed in this situation?

For disadvantaged families, it was much harder than for other people. For example, you were supposed to have a declaration if you wanted to leave your house, printed and signed but then they changed that and said that you could have it on your phone and that was okay. But in terms of school and communication, that was a bit problem and there are several factors. For example, they maybe wouldn’t have the technology and for that, there were several organizations which try to provide them with phones or tablets or something, but definitely not everybody got into these programs. Obviously, because there were really limited, three to five percent of them may have gotten tablets or something. Concerning the school, the state was supposed to buy tablets until this autumn so by any chance the lock down comes again, nobody is going to be left out. But I’m not sure it hey are going to manage it for everybody and in time. And there is a problem of network coverage, internet is missing in some areas and usually in disadvantaged communities. They have to get out of the house to get some signal and internet, so it is kind difficult.

For those children who had at least some way of accessing the internet, how did you connect with them and how did you continue your educational program?

We did educational YouTube videos that they could watch every now and then with their family, because maybe the parents would have a phone, where they can watch it or something like that. We tried to do some hands-on activities that they could do at home and they would need very cheap things that they may have easily in their houses. We provided them with tutorials on how to do the activities.

How did you manage to do the videos under the lockdown?

Everybody would do the video in their homes, we didn’t have to leave the house or anything like that, we tried at home with what we got because that was the idea, that they could also be able to do it with things they have. We also had some educational products and we delivered them packages of materials that they would use at home and that required us to go to work. But we tried as much as possible to do things from home so people can do it also at home.

What measures did you have to take to organize the educational camps for the children in the summer?

There were guidelines from the government on what we were supposed to do, and we did that. Wearing masks, disinfecting things, we didn’t have children sleeping in the same bed, unless they were family. We were taking their temperature twice a day. The parents had to give a declaration that the children have not been in contact with someone with the virus in last 21 days and that they didn’t have any symptoms before coming to the camps and their family doctor would give them paper for it. We have taken many measures.

How did the lockdown and the whole pandemic situation affect the children when you saw them at camps?

The children did not have social contact until then and then they had it in our camps and I’ve seen lot of children were really agitated, irritated, the situation definitely left some psychological impact on them. Some of them were really… scared would be the word. We did not necessarily require of them to wear masks outside, but we would, and they would without us telling them anything. They were obviously really aware of the situation. Compared to other times, I felt they were more agitated than usual, less focused and I think that in the long-term, it’s not going to be very good for them.

In what ways exactly?

Educational, the online school have been a big challenge for them, even for those with internet access at home. Because it’s very difficult to do the lessons. The teachers don’t have the experience, but even if they do, it’s very difficult to coordinate the group of 15 maybe 20 children online and it is very tiring for the children, much more than going to normal school. They have to focus in more than one direction and there are many distractions, for example the parents are home and so on.  In the online schooling, they don’t lose touch with the school, but the learning progress has not been very good.

How the parents, who were in many cases required to help their children with schoolwork, managed the new education situation?

It’s very difficult, they have to work, and in the disadvantaged communities, the education of the parents is very low so they are not really able to help their children with their homework. Some of them are really trying, but they were raised in the period when they’ve been left out from the education, they were no NGOs working back then. So, this is even more of a challenge for children in the disadvantaged communities. Maybe they don’t have the internet, maybe the parents need their phone and can’t let them use it. This generation is really going to miss out on learning for sure, on all levels of society. Even the children whose families have the means and are in good schools with good teachers, I think everyone is going to struggle. And there is also this problem with lack of social interaction, the arrested development of social skills is also going to be an issue. Because socializing on Zoom and internet is a different kind of socializing and it is not enough. And I’ve seen this in the way they interact with each other this summer.

What is the government doing to help the educational needs of the children?

I think they are trying, but I think the problem is that it’s been 30 years since education in our country has not been evolving very much and they already have some catching up to do and now it’s going to be even more of a challenge. Just buying tablets is not going to be enough, the teachers are not really there, the system is not really there, the way the curriculum is created is not really there.

Is the state preparing for another situation like this, in the education field?

They are already doing that, but I’m not sure at what level this is happening or how many teachers are involved in this program. They are NGOs and state is doing a program to increase their digital competences, but they can’t be ready just in two months. They weren’t able to improve school in 30 years, so I’m not sure they’re going to be able to do it in two months.