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The 1st Forum of Cross-cultural and Roma Assistants in Poland

The first Forum of Cross-cultural and Roma Assistants in Poland was held (online) by the Foundation for Social Diversity (FSD) on 30th of June. Cross-cultural Assistants and Roma Assistants in schools in Poland help to overcome the greatest challenges related to education and integration in a multicultural school environment.

They support children with migrant background, including forced migrant background, or Roma children respectively in learning, in adapting to the school environment. They also facilitate contacts between the school staff and their parents or legal guardians, help to understand cultural differences and resolve the resulting misunderstandings or conflicts, shape the attitude of respect for social diversity at schools. Thanks to the work of assistants, children with migrant or Roma background feel safer at school, learn Polish faster, achieve better learning results, are more open and build positive relationships with their peers. Assistants help teachers as well as parents - their work is used by the entire school community! 

According to the Polish educational law, schools can hire a person who speaks a language of a child’s country of origin as a cross-cultural assistant (called a teacher’shelp/teaching assistant in the law) to support children who are not Polish citizens and who do not know Polish language enough to benefit from education. Assistance is available for a period of 12 month per a child who needs such support. This entitlement has been in force for 10 years now, implemented in 2010, though in reality it has not been used by schools as often as needed. In case of Roma children, who can be Polish citizens, the law has enabled to hire Roma assistants even earlier – since 2004. 

Despite the options created by the law and despite the fact that most of schools hiring assistants claim that this is the most effective educational and integrational tool in education of children with migrant or Roma background, there are many challenges related to engaging cross-cultural assistants in schools – starting from level of awareness about such tool created by the law and its implementation among school staff and local government institutions (financing schools), financial mechanism behind hiring assistants (no specific funding), positioning assistant among school staff (they are treated as administrative not pedagogical staff) and basic work conditions offered to assistants (temporary contracts without remuneration during holidays, low remunerations etc.). The work of assistants is often underestimated and not appreciated enough byschools’ staffand other educational institutions

The idea of the Forum is to create a space for Cross-cultural and Roma Assistants to: exchange experiences related to performing the position of assistants in different schools and in different localities in Poland, self-empower assistants as a profession, initiate and plan joint activities aimed at building a positive image of assistants in schools, local communities and the education system. The first meeting was organized also in aim to integrate assistants from different schools in Poland, to sum up and appreciate assistants’ work duringthe last school year and to celebrate its end with the end of June. More than 35participants from the whole country joined and shared their experience. 

The meeting was organized as part of the Coalition for strengthening the role of Cross-cultural and Roma Assistants in schools in Poland, which was established on the initiative of the Foundation for Social Diversity (FSD) in October 2019. The coalition gathers organizations, public institutions and private persons from all over Poland. The Foundation for Social Diversity (FSD) is a social organization which mission is to develop an open, diverse society by supporting intercultural dialogue and social integration. Our NIEM expert and National Coalition Specialist Anna Górska is a cofounder and a co-coordinator of the Coalition work. 

The coalition works to strengthen the role of assistants in schools in Poland by:
•    Encouraging schools and local authorities to employ Teaching Assistants (TA’s) and disseminate information about the relevant formal procedures;
•    Sharing good practices and lessons learnt to highlight the benefits of assistants for the entire school community;
•    Supporting assistants through trainings and publications that increase their knowledge and skills;
•    Promoting the role of assistants as valuable in education.

The coalition meet regularly, organize events in different localities in Poland to promote the role of assistants among school staff and local governments or to empower assistants through trainings and supervisions. The coalition also plan advocacy activities in the nearest future. 

We believe the first Forum  was a great start for an important initiative! 

Anna Górska, 
Researcher on education in the NIEM project 
Institute of Public Affairs