Serbian Language in the UK

Promoting learning of the Serbian language in Britain

One of the top priorities of the Serbian Council of Great Britain has been support for the provision and promotion of the Serbian language in Britain and across all Serbian diaspora communities because of the key role it plays in preserving our cultural heritage, maintaining links with Serbia and other diaspora communities, and enhancing the life skills and employment opportunities of our young people.

In pursuit of this objective our representatives to the Diaspora Assembly raised the importance of standardising the way in which Serbian is taught in diaspora communities at the Second Annual Session of the Diaspora Assembly in July 2011 and the Serbian Council placed the issue on the agenda of the Round Table meeting in Leicester in November 2011.

At the Round Table meeting, attended by Serbian community groups and organisations from across Britain, discussion focussed upon how to assess demand for Serbian in Britain, building on the on-line survey undertaken by Britić, which showed that many parents were eager for their children to learn Serbian. The meeting learnt more about the existing provision, delivered mainly by Serbian Orthodox church schools across the country and the London-based Serbian Society school and discussed how this provision could be expanded and collaboration between schools could encourage the development of a common curriculum, enhance quality and improve teaching methods. The meeting went on to explore the support required from the Serbian Ministry of Education and the Ministry for Religion and Diaspora and the role they could play in the development of a curriculum which could be followed by schools in Serbian diaspora communities across the world to help create a common Serbian identity. Finally, the meeting focussed upon the need for a qualification, either British or Serbian, which was regarded as critical in maintaining the commitment of children and their parents. The Round Table agreed to establish a Working Group of teachers, academics, the Serbian Embassy and relevant organisations, under the auspices of the Serbian Council, to take this matter forward.

A first meeting of the Working group on the Serbian Language was held on 11 February 2012, chaired by Olga Stanojlović , Serbian Council, and attended by 18 individuals who represented: four schools teaching Serbian ( the London Church School, the Serbian Society School, the Reading School and the Bedford School); academics from two universities teaching Serbian (the University of Nottingham and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies): the Serbian Embassy, the UK&I representatives to the Diaspora Assembly ( Mirjana Lazić and Milos Stefanović); four Serbian community organisations ( Serbian City Club, Serbian Council, Serbian Society and Mala Biblioteka); the British Library; and an ex-head of Modern Languages at a British comprehensive school. At the meeting participants learnt more about the current provision in Britain, the challenges schools faced and the areas in which they required assistance. The participants also agreed that a sub-committee of the Working Group be established to: develop a common curriculum for younger pupils and a model GCSE curriculum for older pupils; develop an approach to teaching Serbian to non-speakers of Serbian; identify the assistance required from the Serbian Ministry of Education and the Ministry for Religion and Diaspora, particularly with the provision of text books and teacher training seminars; and develop a website for sharing materials. Finally, it was agreed that it was critically important to reinstate a British GCSE and A level in Serbian. A Serbo-Croat O and A level had been available up until the early 1990’s but had been withdrawn by the Awarding Body for financial reasons. A qualification was felt to be an important means of motivating children and parents since it could count towards university entrance or employment opportunities. It was recognised that in the current climate that it would be extremely difficult to achieve this objective and that it was likely to require a campaign to be successful. It was felt that in the interim the Working Group should set up its own exam based on the Polish GCSE.

The sub-committee of the Working Group has met on a number of occasions and has made good progress in developing a common curriculum for younger pupils, an approach to teaching Serbian to non-speakers of Serbian and a Serbian GCSE based on the Polish model. It is hoped that it will prove possible to offer the model GCSE from February 2013.

Progress on obtaining assistance from ministries and universities in Serbia has also been very positive, largely because of the report on the Working Group sent by the Serbian Embassy in London to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Religion and Diaspora and the Ministry of Education, following the first meeting of the Working Group in February 2011. At the request of the Working Group Mirjana Lazić was asked to explore possibilities for assistance and collaboration with the appropriate ministries and institutions in Belgrade and Živana Čurčić with appropriate authorities and organisations in Novi Sad. Mijana Lazić, in a visit organised by the Ministry for Religion and Diaspora, was warmly welcomed by all individuals and organisations and received donations of books for schools in Britain, professional training for teachers and offers of collaborations. The then Deputy Minister for Education informed Mirjana Lazić that in view of the positive developments in Britain the Ministry felt it appropriate to establish a recognised school in London along the lines of similar schools for the Serbian diaspora already functioning in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We have yet to find out if the new government will honour this commitment. Živana Čurčić was equally well received in Novi Sad and received offers of support from the publishers of Azbukum and others with expertise in teaching Serbian to non-speakers of Serbian.

The Working Group is one of the best examples of Serbian organisations and individuals working together for a common purpose and the benefit of the Serbian community in Britain. Therefore, the Serbian Council regrets the decision of the Trustees of the Serbian Orthodox Church in London to withdraw participation of the London Church School from the Working Group and hopes that their participation will be resumed in the future. The school has played the pivotal role in the fostering of Serbian language and culture in Britain over the last 50 years and should continue to play a similar role in the next 50 years.