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Trust

Trust is a core aspect of relations between Roma parents and teachers.  This then begs the question, what are the components of trust in parent-teacher relationship, and what are some good examples of trust in schools of Northern Hungary and Budapest, where field research and interviews took place. Another important question is what role gender may play in the parent-teacher relationship.  

‘Bridge-builders’, also known as ‘cultural brokers’ or ‘cultural mediators’, who work in schools, are crucial to the relationship with Roma parents. A good example of this is the case of a second-chance school in a rural area, where students are almost exclusively limited to marginalised Roma youth. The school employs Roma female social workers, and several Roma women in the school kitchen or as cleaners, known as ‘matrons’. According to the headmaster, the hiring of Roma women is a conscious decision, made specifically to build bridges between the school and the children’s parents and to create an inclusive environment where Roma and non-Roma work together for the ultimate success of Roma children. Both social workers and matrons, not only because of their Roma background, but also due to similar past or present life circumstances, create a familiar and trusting environment for Roma youth and their parents.   

Another important consideration in building trusting relationships with parents is that they are all women (mothers) who manage interactions with the school on a day-to-day basis. Fathers are involved in their children’s academic life only rarely, on important occasions. Trust then rests on ethnic, gender and socio-cultural grounds.  

Social workers can also build a bridge between the school and parents. Often teachers ask the social workers to pass on information to parents, pass on their insights concerning their children or simply find out why they did not come to school. Most of the parents I interviewed only maintained contact with social workers or matrons or identified them as important in terms of exchanging information about their child’s school life. This clearly has a positive and tangible impact, as Roma youth who have been previously written off and abandoned by the education system are consistently graduating.  

The bridging and trust-building actors between Roma parents and school communities also existed in the Budapest school, except in that case through spontaneous, informal connections. In an interview with one Roma mother, she explained that the main reason she enrolled her children in the school was due to an encounter with a Roma teacher in the hall, whom she could ask in confidence about the school. They told her that they had attended a prom organised by the Parents’ Committee alone, and afterwards fellow Roma parents had asked them how it was and whether it was worth going to the next one. This individual is also often approached by Parents’ Committee members or class teachers when they need to engage or reach Roma parents whom they would find more difficult to reach. Based on the stories they tell, I suspect that they inspire confidence in teachers and in non-Roma middle-class parents, while their Roma status may inspire confidence in Roma parents, thus allowing them to spontaneously play the role of ‘cultural broker’ mentioned earlier. These spontaneously occurring processes and established roles, in turn, largely facilitate the integration of Roma parents into the school community, which presumably also slows down or prevents segregation processes.  

Both examples illustrate that trust is a core factor in the integration of Roma children’s education and their parents into school communities. And one of the most important elements in building such trust is to employ as many Roma people as possible in the education and learning institutions.