The children of Roma and their education problems

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Education-related problems facing Roma children are signifi cant and diverse. Th e challenges that Serbia is confronted with are shared by the majority of countries in Europe. Th e reports drawn up by the organization Save the Children show that as many as half of Roma children living in the EU member states never went to school. Th e causes of this situation lie, primarily, in the widespread racist attitude adopted by the majority population, the lack of fl exibility and institutionalized discrimination inherent in the education system, poverty and the fact that members of the Roma community are insuffi ciently informed about their rights, the possibilities at their disposal and administrative procedures, as well as in the social and physical isolation of Roma from social aff airs (for example, life in segregated, ghetto-like settlements, political underrepresentation, etc)2 Th e document titled A Comprehensive Analysis of the Primary Education System in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2001) states that among the factors contributing to generational poverty of Roma are unemployment, nomadic traditions, slow integration and discrimination. Low level of education of Roma aff ects their fi nancial situation and the quality of all aspects of life, such as maintaining a household, raising children and enjoying rights. According to the 2002 census fi gures, around 80% of Roma are completely or functionally illiterate. 63% have not fi nished primary school, 27% have completed primary and 8% secondary school, while less than 1% are two/three-year college or university graduates. Th e illiteracy rate among Roma is exceptionally high, reaching 26%, where young people aged 15 to 19 make up 15% of that group. Th e reasons for failure in the education of Roma children can be classifi ed into four basic categories: • Limited access to the education system • High percentage of individuals leaving school (early) and irregular attendance of classes • Segregation and discrimination in the wider sense • Lower level of average achievement at school and lesser usability of acquired knowledge Th e latest reports (Fund for an Open Society, 2010 and REF 2009) indicate the following problems that the children face in terms of access to education: administrative obstacles (absence of identity papers), the general condition of the majority of the Roma population (poverty due to which education is perceived as "luxury"), living in isolated settlements and rural areas situated far away from educational institutions, the fact that they are underprepared to fi t into the education system (not speaking the language, malnutrition, state of health), as well as the fact that the system is not well-prepared, limited 2 Barriers to the Education of Roma in Europe, 2002 CIP - engleski.indd 9 11/8/2010 12:28:30 PM | 10 | structural, professional and fi nancial capacity of the education system (pre-school institutions conducting the programme preparing children for starting school are packed, the funds are limited, etc.) Early leaving, namely, dropping out of school is of crucial signifi cance for solving the problem of Roma education. Previous experience has highlighted the importance of ensuring access to education and even more importantly higher school completion rates. Th e inclusion of Roma children in the education system is just the fi rst step, as the children face true challenges once they are put through their paces within the system. Th e 2007 report titled Equal Access to Quality Education for the Roma in Serbia shows that Roma children spend around fi ve and a half years at school, compared to 11 years spent by the children belonging to the majority population i.e. "On average, Roma children do not complete even primary school, which shows that the state fails to ensure that children acquire the level of education guaranteed by the Constitution.3 Th e period when children pass from the fourth to fi ft h form is particularly critical, as it marks the beginning of departmentalized instruction. Th is is the time when, very probably, only fi ve out of ten Roma children that start primary school will enrol in the fi ft h and just one in the seventh form. Between 70 and 90 percent of Roma children that start school get withdrawn at come point, compared to the national average of 4.4%. "Th is drastic gap points to the fact that in Serbia there are no eff ective mechanisms necessary to ensure completion of compulsory education by all."4 Th e 2010 study Indicators of Availability of Quality Education for Roma Children. A Monitoring Report reveals an improvement refl ected in lower absence and withdrawal rates among Roma children who go to school. Th e greatest credit for that improvement goes to pedagogic/Roma assistants. Th e problem of non-attendance is huge and it was not until the arrival of assistants that due attention was paid to its causes. Namely, non-attendance was regarded as truancy and lack of interest of Roma for receiving education, rather than a consequence of the conditions they live in (poverty, helping the family out...) and/or the treatment they receive at school (discrimination, segregation…). Hiding ethnic identity on the part of the members of the Roma community is yet another outcome of discrimination. Th e fi ndings of the above-mentioned study indicate that the presence of a pedagogic/Roma assistant encourages children and parents to declare themselves as Roma, which can be viewed as one of the major benefi ts for the Roma community. Th e issues of segregation and discrimination of Roma children from within the education system are discussed more and more oft en. Th e types and methods of discrimination manifest themselves in the following ways5: 1. Assimilation of Roma into other nations (loss of ethnic and cultural identity): Children do not learn their mother tongue, they are not taught about their history, culture and religion. No textbooks are published in their language (if a textbook is published at all, it is printed in Cyrillic, although Latin is used to write the language of the Roma people), they have no books or magazines in their language either. 2. Economic and cultural marginalization of Roma at school and in the society in general: Roma children are discriminated by teaching staff and fellow pupils alike because they are poor and have no money to buy school books or stationery. Th ey have no quality clothes or shoes which turns teaching staff and other pupils off . Unlike other children, they do not go on school trips, to cinema, 3 Equal Access to Quality Education for the Roma in Serbia, Fund for an Open Society, Belgrade, 2007, p. 34 4 Ibid, p. 36 5 According to the report of the Ministry of Education offi cial Vesna Acković (unpublished manuscript). CIP - engleski.indd 10 11/8/2010 12:28:30 PM | 11 | Roma Pedagogic Assistants as Agents of Change theatre, etc. Th ey lack the room necessary to study at home, which results in the inability to fulfi l their school-related tasks.

3. Negative attitude of parents from the majority population and teaching staff towards Roma:

Children from other ethnic groups are taught from early childhood to adopt a hostile attitude towards Roma. ("A gypsy woman will come and snatch you", "Th is is gypsy business", "We can't behave like gypsies", etc.) Non-Roma parents are afraid that their children's "image" would worsen if they made friends with Roma, therefore they deliberately discourage them to be friends with their Roma peers ("Don't play with them, can't you see what they are like!", "Stay away from them, they have lice." etc). 4. Evading admission of Roma children in pre-school institutions: Pre-school institutions refuse to admit Roma children, the excuse being that that they are fi lled to capacity, that the children's parents are unemployed and therefore can take care of them themselves. Th ere is also the requirement that Roma must pay full kindergarten prices, although their fi nancial situation is bad.

5. Categorizing Roma children as requiring special education, despite the fact that they have

no developmental disabilities: When testing children just before they start primary school, psychologists and school counsellors oft en categorize Roma children as mentally retarded, although these children have no mental health issues, referring them to special schools.6 Also, when children do not show the progress expected from pupils at their age, they are transferred to special schools because they are deemed educationally sub-normal. 6. Indiff erence of local authorities towards the children who are not enrolled in schools: Local authorities do not take the measures stipulated by law or other steps including stimulating and punitive measures aimed at the parents whose children are not enrolled in schools. 7. Discrimination by teaching staff against Roma pupils: Teachers mostly put Roma pupils at the back of the class, use abusive language towards them, let them skip classes without making an offi cial record of their absence on account of their being a "nuisance" while working with other children. Teachers have low expectations of Roma children and envisage low success rates. Th ey do not want to acknowledge reality and get the full picture of the entire set of living and working conditions of Roma pupils and be more tolerant towards them. Th e phenomena existing in the education system refl ect the popular image of Roma in the society, the image based on stereotypes that tend to be taken at face value, for example, all Roma are talented musicians, they are thieves, have lice, dislike school, transmit contagious diseases, they are not interested in improving their position and are believed to be uncivilized... Negative propaganda in the media is also very powerful. School-age children are mostly mentioned in the media only if they have done something bad (in such contexts, the nationality of the young off enders is emphasized and their full names quoted, which is in breech of the Convention on the Rights of the Child). Th e number of media reports focusing on the problems faced by the Roma community, including education-related issues has increased during the Decade of Roma Inclusion. However, the successes of Roma children and young people are rarely written or talked about. 6 Schools for children with developmental disabilities. CIP - engleski.indd 11 11/8/2010 12:28:30 PM | 12 | Th e achievement levels of Roma children are considerably lower than those of their non-Roma peers. Th e research conducted by A. Baucal, Ph.D. 7 about the achievement levels of Roma pupils and those of the pupils belonging to the majority population in maths and Serbian shows that at the end of the school year, the majority of Roma pupils had the lowest pass mark (2), while only 5-10% had the best mark (5), compared to 40% of other pupils who have excellent marks in these two subjects in the fi rst three forms. It also includes the fi nding that 7-11% of Roma pupils get a negative mark (1) in Serbian, while 10-14% get failing marks in maths. At the same time, less than 1% of other pupils are awarded failing marks at the end of the school year. Th e results Roma pupils achieved in standardized tests administered as part of the national testing of children aft er three years of schooling are even more worrying. Namely, as many as 50% of Roma children failed to acquire even the basic skills and the most elementary notions in maths. Th ey are equally unable to apply knowledge of mathematics in the simplest situations (while the percentage of other children demonstrating the same level of knowledge is 11%). 56% of them did not acquire the basic knowledge and skills required in the curriculum of the Serbian language. Th e percentage of underachievers among other children is 14%. Th is could mean that Roma pupils lag behind others as many as 2.2 school years in maths and 2.6 school years in Serbian. Th is research put the quality of teaching available to Roma children into focus, because the achievement of Roma pupils is lower compared to that of children of other nationalities coming from similar economic and social backgrounds. Consequently, the diff erences in the level of achievement stem not only from socio-econonic factors, but also from the lower quality of education made available to Roma children in primary schools. Namely, teachers have lower expectations from them, encourage them less and pay less attention to them, while giving them the same marks they give to other children who perform at a more substandard level. Another issue faced by Roma children is repeting a year at school (ibid., 2007). Th e repeat rate at the national level in the fi rst three forms in primary school is 1%, while it reaches 11% among Roma pupils. In addition to being one of the reasons for dropping out of school, repeating a year is frequently used as an excuse for transferring Roma children to special schools or adult education centres in spite of the fact that due to their age they cannot be admited to these schools, which ultimately leads to segregation. However, the results achieved by carrying out projects launched by civil society organizations (nongovernmental sector) in the fi eld of education, as well as the measures8 taken by the Ministry of Education related to the implementation of the Education Action Plan over the last two school years indicate that certain progress has been made. Progress indicators include: increased presence children/pupils/adults, members of the Roma minority in the education system, smaller number of Roma children referred to special schools and special education units (the total number of Roma children admitted to schools has not decreased)9. Moreover, absence and withdrawal rates among Roma pupils are lower, especially during the fi rst educational cycle (fi rst to fourth form). Another result is the development of the culture of antidiscrimination in institutions through joint activities of the people employed in the education sector, children and their parents. 7 Indicators of Availability of Quality Education for Roma Children. A monitoring Report. (2007 and 2010) Fund for an Open Society. 8 Some measures are meant to be implemented and activities carried out over a period lasting several years (engaging the services of assistants providing support for Roma pupils, affi rmative action in the course of admission of pupils in secondary schools and students at universities and functional primary school level education of adult Roma) while others are newly established (protection of Roma children against discrimination - the indicators of discrimination have been defi ned and the procedure of enrolment in educational institutions changed). 9 Roma Children in Special Schools in Serbia: Overrepresentation, Low Eff ects and Impact on Life, Fund for an Open Society, 2010.