From the Archive - 11.04.1952

20th April 2012 at 01:00

Gypsy scholars

Literacy is no longer the hallmark of scholarship among Gypsies, but a necessity of life that is almost as essential as a ration card.

The time has now come when the "travellers" themselves, conscious of the pressure of form-filling and bureaucracy, are beginning to demand that their families should at least be effectively taught to read and write.

At the east end of Stepney in London, between Limehouse Cut and the Regent's Canal, lies a bomb site of some dozen acres. There may be found a sort of mobile shanty town of caravans and converted buses, tents and lorries and the skeletons of a dismantled roundabout.

In one respect at least, however, the children of this unfortunate "waste land" are more fortunate than many of their kind for whom the winter is no better than a period of uncomfortable hibernation.

For behind their unfixed abodes rises the 80-year-old mass of the Sir William Burroughs Junior and Mixed School, where a class is run for their special benefit. There they have the undivided attention of one mistress interested in retarded children.

One must be a jack of all trades on a fairground and the children of such a community have little need for periods and equipment set aside for craftwork. What they do need - and what so few of their fathers and mothers can give them - is a working knowledge of the three Rs. All the illiterate or almost illiterate parents interviewed regretted their ignorance and felt it to be a far more serious handicap than in their own parents' time.

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