In September, Isabel from Spain, the coordinator of adult education programmes, visited our institution. She was interested in what programmes we offer and where our participants come from. An English teacher and a native speaker of Spanish, she wanted to attend language courses. They are intended for the socially disadvantaged and retired residents and are financed by the City Municipality of Ljubljana. Unfortunately, she could not participate in the course that is carried out as part of the project Step – Career development competencies for people over the age of 45 – due to the current situation, language courses are carried out digitally.
Isabel participated in primary school for adults, namely the Literacy programme for first to fourth grade. Before entering the class, she told us that in her native Andalusia, the programme is attended by illiterate Spaniard women over the age of 60 and foreigners, illiterate in Latin, who mostly come from Morocco and Algeria. It’s a bit different in Slovenia.
Already in the hallway, N. came to and greeted us warmly; J. was next to her, she smiled shyly, and sisters A. and Z. just walked through the door. All the ladies are attending the literacy programme. Since February, they have been classmates and are from 25 to 50 years old. Some have never attended schools, and some are illiterate in Latin. One is energetic and social by nature, while others have opened up and become more confident since attending primary school. A few months ago, two of them came to school by themselves for the first time: finally, they know how to read, are familiar with the numbers and know their way around the city. M. joined them in September. M. and N. both speak French, so N. became her ‘personal intercultural mediator’. M. is sometimes absent because, as a single mother with two children, she does not always have someone to take care of them. She lives in an asylum home, and her roommate babysits her toddlers. The participants mentioned above are from Morocco, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cameroon and began to learn the Slovenian language when they enrolled in primary school for adults.
Isabel and I go to another class, where she meets new participants. Three ladies come from Syria, two of them have never attended school. K. came to Slovenia four years ago with her family. We met at the asylum home, where she began to learn the Slovenian language as part of the project Literacy programme and teaching aid for applicants for international protection. In spring, she has passed the Breakthrough Level Exam of the Slovenian Language. Prior to that, she visited our Self-directed Learning Centre. She implemented the advice of our counsellors in the Guidance Centre of the Osrednjeslovenska region and is helping two colleagues prepare for the Breakthrough Level Exam of the Slovenian Language. She presented their handicrafts at the workshop that was carried out in June.
F. from Kosovo is also part of this class. She has made remarkable progress, not only in the knowledge she gained but also on a personal level. She became confident and is smiling a lot. No one would say that this is the same lady who came to our premises for the first time more than a year ago, sat quietly in the corner of the classroom and stared at the floor. Back then, she was scared because she was a little over fifty years old and could neither read nor write. But this is no longer the case.
F. from Afghanistan is very hardworking. She gave birth to her fifth son in March. A week later, she attended primary school via Zoom with a newborn in her arms. She comes from the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and is aware that education is not self-evident. She has the support of her husband, who takes care of the children when she is in school. R. from Eritrea is the youngest participant in the literacy programme. She is 16 years old. Together with her two sisters and brother, she joined her father, who was granted asylum in Slovenia. She came to Slovenia in the spring, and in September, she enrolled in primary school, as she would like to become a hairdresser.
The only two men in the group are K. from Afghanistan and K. from Myanmar. The first one attends school after work as he works the night shift. He is often tired and sleepy but always in a good mood. He likes to come to school, although his progress is slow. For the second male participant, learning Slovenian is a big challenge. After one year, he still speaks with us in English, even though we communicate with him in Slovenian, and he already understands a lot. A member of the Rohingya minority will need some more time to open up and allow himself to make mistakes, as from making these, we learn and progress.
These are just two of the classes in which Isabel participated. She was surprised by the diversity of individual groups, the desire for knowledge and the solidarity among the participants. They are aware that education is not self-evident. Some in their home country did not have the right to a primary education like we do. They are also aware of the importance of lifelong learning. Upon arrival in Slovenia, some, for the first time, were given the opportunity to acquire knowledge. Finally, the time has come for them to let their desires run free!
Katja Potočnik Nussdorfer (Katja.email@example.com), Public Education Centre Cene Štupar – CILJ