Jumping Hurdles in High School ; Serbian Program Uses Stipends and Counseling to Keep Students Engaged

By Schuetze, Christopher F | International Herald Tribune, July 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

Jumping Hurdles in High School ; Serbian Program Uses Stipends and Counseling to Keep Students Engaged


Schuetze, Christopher F, International Herald Tribune


A Serbian program uses counseling and stipends for basics, like books and clean clothes, to try to keep poor minorities from dropping out.

Kosta Kuzmanovic's wish is to be a radiologist in Australia. But the path is lined with hurdles for the 17-year-old Roma student from this dusty East European city, which still bears scars from wartime bombings in 1999.

As a member of one of Europe's more disenfranchised minority groups, he may face financial, linguistic, bureaucratic and social barriers. If he does make it to an Australian university, it will be because of both his hard work and the Secondary Scholarship Program, run by the Roma Education Fund, a regional organization.

The program makes it possible for him to attend the Novi Sad Medical High School here, which offers counseling and financing for Roma students. "I have an opportunity, why wouldn't I use it?" he said.

The Serbian government does not track how many Roma youth are in school. But the R.E.F. estimates that only one in three Roma students in Serbia even attempts to enroll in high school.

And while attendance is rising, it is still very low.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, found that only 15 percent to 20 percent of Roma students made it to high school in Serbia in 2009. But that is still better than in 2004, when attendance was 8.3 percent.

To better address some of these issues, the R.E.F.'s Secondary Scholarship Program, which has traditionally relied on outside funding, is set to undergo a change this autumn when it is implemented nationwide under the Ministry of Education and financed with pre-accession E.U. funds. (Serbia is in the process of applying to become an E.U. member.)

The program offers scholarships from the primary to university levels and falls under the umbrella of the Decade of Roma Inclusion project, started by a dozen European countries in 2005.

"Education is just one part of the problem," said Marius Taba, an officer with the R.E.F. in Budapest.

Also offered is a comprehensive program for high school students that includes counseling, tutoring and a monthly stipend of about EUR 35, or $45, to help offset the cost of books, transportation and clean clothes, which are needed even at free public high schools.

"That's pretty big money for this country," said Mr. Kuzmanovic, the aspiring medical student.

While parents tend to rely on the stipend, students say that mentoring is the most important factor to their academic success.

Mentors are generally high school teachers who provide tutoring and personal support in less-than-welcoming environments. But because there are few Roma teachers in the Serbian school system, most come from non-Roma backgrounds. …

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