According to the Statistical Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2013 Census), there are about 12,000 Roma living in the country. However, the number seems significantly underestimated and civil society organizations (CSOs) as well as the Council of Europe, estimate the Roma population to be between 40,000 and 75,000. According to those estimations Roma would be between one and two percent of the population.
There is a general acknowledgement of the fact that Roma are the most vulnerable ethnic minority in the country. Most of them are concentrated in 30 of the 137 local administrative units. Some presence of Roma is recorded in 71 of the administrative units.
Similar to other countries, Roma are also over-represented among the people facing poverty. The Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees keeps records of people in social need and records approximately 17,500 Roma among them. Civil society assesses that number to be at least twice as high.
Socially excluded Roma are at the margins of society. They are unable to participate to the economic, social and cultural trends. This situation has resulted in poverty and lack of basic educational opportunities and employment. Furthermore, this reduces their ability to generate income, participation in social networks or other activities in the community.
Despite some positive developments, UNICEF (2014) describes the remaining challenges in early childhood education (ECE). In 2006, only six percent of all children were in ECE. The number increased up to 13 percent in 2012. The proportion of Romani children in ECE is however only 1.5 percent UNICEF says, and two percent among children in poverty.
In the same study, UNICEF reports that the participation in preschool education according to the official statistics is only 46 percent, despite this being compulsory. Only 5 percent of Romani children attends preschool.
Among the causes of low preschool attendance we can include: the high fees, insufficient preschool capacities and a lack of qualified staff. Furthermore, a patchy distribution of the network of preschools across the country leaves many small towns and rural areas without this service.
The number of Romani children attending primary school has been increasing in the last couple of years but still lags behind mainstream statistics. While the general participation is 98 percent in primary education and 92 percent in secondary education, the numbers of Roma are 69 percent and 23 percent respectively, with even worse numbers among Romani girls compared to boys (UNICEF 2014). The quoted Country Program Document 2015-2019 of UNICEF identifies a number of barriers in education of Roma and also indicates the early dropouts as one of the challenges. The quality of education of Romani children is lower compared to other children and the support they are provided is insufficient. This goes hand in hand with irregular attendance and discrimination in school and outside. As a result, Romani children suffer from low education outcomes and this undermines both their and their parents’ motivation to continue.
Many Roma organizations and other civil society organizations are actively engaged in improving the status of Romani children and supporting their education. The majority of support is provided for primary education. It is therefore crucial to pay attention to the early years. Early childhood programs are non-existent in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Comprehensive programs, which could provide integrated early childhood development services do not exist either. This care is mostly left in the hands of the family. The importance of parenthood is not completely addressed within the health protection system and the education system; therefore, parents are often unaware of the importance and unable to support the development of their children in the early years. In general, the emphasis at the national level has been put on the inclusion of vulnerable groups in all aspects of society, but again starting with an older age group, focusing on primary school and older children.
A significant number of the primary school teachers and other experts have been sensitized and they are also helping Romani children in schools. However, this support is far too little compared to what is needed, especially as it has not been systematized. Limitations and obstacles exist at all levels – from local to national.
The EU integration process has led to the adoption of numerous laws also addressing the issue of childhood development but many obstacles persist in implementation. There are issues with the adoption of the necessary by-laws, lack of coordination and cooperation between relevant ministries (health, social protection, education), lack of necessary financial means and in general the importance of development in early childhood is not acknowledged by decision makers. Presently, emphasis and efforts are put on formal educational system structures (kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, etc.).
REYN Bosnia and Herzegovina
REYN Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) wants to serve as an inclusive learning community that supports access and equity of care for every young child and promotes high quality and professionalism in services. Within the network Roma and non-Roma members work together to develop skills and good practice, establish effective partnerships and support professional development.
The ambition of REYN Bosnia and Herzegovina is to connect a large number of education professionals (kindergarten and primary school teachers, psychologists, pedagogues, education advisors), activists of Roma CSOs and other non-Roma CSOs involved in the early childhood development (EDC) of Romani children.
REYN BiH’s OBJECTIVES
- Strengthening the network: a national-level learning community of ECD professionals and paraprofessionals.
- Improving the capacities of professionals, paraprofessionals and other members of ECD through adequate trainings and access to exchange of knowledge.
- Increasing the awareness on ECD and its importance at all levels (citizens, institutions, decision makers).