The last week of job-shadowing in Hungary was full of new information and deep insight into early school leaving. We were able to talk about the problem with experts that have been involved in its prevention for a long time.

We could interview Oszy, a man that takes part in a non-profit organization giving support during the afternoons to youngsters who in the morning attend a vocational educational school. We also talked to the president of the local Roma Community (gypsies). We had the privilege to see The Tower of Hell, a ten-story tower block in the outskirts of Veszprem where inhabitants live in deep poverty. Also, we had a long interview with Rita Kandikó, president of our hosting organization.

So, we could clearly understand that early school leaving is not a simple problem and therefore the possibility of solving is not easy either. It starts when the child is really young, and growing up in poverty conditions, he/she has less space to play, less stimulus, worse and less food and less sleep. Many times, specially in the Roma community, parents aren’t used to go working themselves, so kids don’t see they get up early in the morning to carry out some activities or anything like that. Also, many parents themselves just send their kids to school because it’s mandatory, but don’t think it’s important or don’t know that their support and encouragement is extremely necessary.

When they start going to school, it’s immediately evident that the kid doesn’t learn at the pace of others. I imagine it’s not easy to be different at school and see other kids and adults starting putting labels on you… while lessons get more and more complex. Teachers won’t stop their program to help you get back on track, which would mean extra time, patience and going back to past lessons. If neither parents nor teachers support him/her, at one point the kid just loses motivation. Everyone already thinks I’m a good-for-nothing. Why should I try to change that? What if it’s true? Who really cares?

Of course, we cannot generalize. There are teachers who try to find the time to help children who struggle. Also, many teachers find some talent in children by the age of 8. That’s where they can be guided towards developing that talent. Unfortunately, this happens in very few cases. After repeating each grade twice or thrice, most disadvantaged children don’t really know what they want when they finish primary school.

A decision is made for them. The bright kids will go on to high school. The difficult ones will go to vocational educational school. This decision is based on grades. Most teachers don’t see children, complex human beings with thoughts, emotions and family background, but grades. Their job is reduced to an academic program to follow, activities that children must follow regardless of their preferences or ways of learning, tests and grades that will divide the students group into three categories: smart, average and troubled kids.

So, vocational school starts. Kids will choose a school based on where their friends go. Then, they will just choose one of the careers available in that school. With no real motivation from the students, no real motivation from the teachers to teach in a way that would capture the students’ attention, and no support from family and society, what’s left? A very, very high percentage of kids leaving school.

Having seen the problem as a whole, it’s clear that solutions are not easy, or most importantly for the state, not cheap. Investing large amounts of money to pay the people who can support single kids and families who live in poverty is not in any government’s plan. Besides, most teachers aren’t really interested in changing the way they work, the way they’ve always worked.

In our visit to Tower of Hell, all this was present, plus crime, illegal drug use and traffic, early pregnancies and violent environment. Even though social workers are deeply involved in trying to help children who live there, they have to be happy with just very little results, since children are so difficult to “save”.

This week once again has helped me appreciate the work being done by social workers, youth workers and teachers who are really heart-open and available for these children and youngsters, who don’t say it but are hungry and thirsty for love, attention and guidance.

 

Maria Elena