Rarely have the Roma had the chance to communicate their true story. If this is never told, how can we expect attitudes to be more enlightened? If the information provided comes from sightings of beggars in the metro and the show “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”, how can Romani children in schools feel safe about declaring their true identity?

On a recent visit to Budapest members of the British organization National Association of Teachers of Travellers tried to gain an insight into the relationship between education and the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Roma have been living in the UK for centuries including Irish Travellers and migrant Roma from all across Europe.

After the expansion of the European Union in 2004 and again in 2007, the population of Central and Eastern Europe has risen significantly after mass migration from a number of the accession states.

Without a proper voice in the media, many Roma settling in the UK have had to deal with prejudice based loosely on vague stereotypes. In Northern Ireland in 2009, Romanian Roma were hounded out of their homes by loyalist thugs while more recently last month in Scotland a Sunday newspaper exposed routine abuse against Roma at a Glasgow job centre.

Having moved to the UK for better opportunities, a better sense of equality some of the Roma in the UK have encountered similar problems to the racism and mistrust found in Central and Eastern European countries.

To quash the stereotypes and propaganda that fuels these incidents of hate, education will play a fundamental role. Children must know more about their new classmates.

During a vibrant meeting in the Romedia office, guests were shown films which can be used for their respective curricula. They gave their feedback in a video interview:

Among the NATT delegation was Manchester-based print journalist and photographer Ciara Leeming who had recently completed a book project which documented the story of a young Romani woman who had migrated to the UK from Romania.

“Ramona and Elvira” offers an intimate insight into the life-changing decisions of an immigrant. Moreover, it is told entirely from the seldom seen or heard perspective of a Romani woman and will be an asset for teaching integration in mixed community schools.

(There will be a full blog article on Ramona very soon, so make sure you don’t miss it.)

We were also presented with a beginner’s English-Romanes dictionary entitled “The Romani Book of Words: From Arna to Zaharo” coordinated and edited by Peter Norton.

Taken from “The Romani Book of Words: From Arna to Zaharo”

The book aims to recognize and celebrate diversity in school communities in the UK and uses the Vlah dialect which is most commonly spoken in South East Europe, including Romania.

At Corvinus University in Budapest on Friday 25th May, the “Working Together for Roma Inclusion in the School and Community” event was held.

Romedia’s Katalin Barsony gave a speech on the potential benefits of using new media to combat the negative stereotypes and prejudice which continue to haunt the Roma and other minorities.

Fighting to take down walls of incomprehension bit by bit, the role of video can be very effective. Not only is educational and course content being made available in video form, but based on the participatory practices occurring in online video culture the concept of “participatory pedagogy” is emerging in 21st century classrooms.

“We can help teaching colleagues to better understand the Romani communities they teach” – Tim Garland, Deputy Head Teacher of Northfield House, Leicester, UK

Just as the emancipatory dimension of the user-generated content environment (social media comments, posts, blogs, uploading, etc.) is crucial as a new platform for the expression of minority voices, it is important that pedagogy makes use of the potential of the environment their pupils are now communicating within to provide a range of information about Roma that can have an effect on the stereotypes of non-Roma children as well as on the identity crisis many Roma children of immigrants are going through.

Pupils in many schools can now access video sources constructively, using web-based digital video tools. Teachers can now enhance the impact they have on students by integrating their professional knowledge of teaching with new technology.

Web-based digital video tools enable learners to access video sources in constructive ways. To leverage these new possibilities, teachers need to integrate their knowledge of technology with their professional knowledge about teaching.

“I have been very impressed with the work we have seen” – Natalie Stables, Chair of NATT+

The use of content created by Roma from all over the world is now accessible to teachers all over the world. The next step is finding effective pedagogic tools by pooling our knowledge and capabilities. Children have to be engaged in the classroom in much the same way as they are engrossed in their latest computer game or favorite television series.

Using social media and through making virtual interaction with Roma of all backgrounds and nationalities enjoyable, participatory and meaningful, a more peaceful and prosperous future may be easier to build.