Roma education: what the EU Commission report doesn’t say

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

In a recent survey, the European Commission asked for an assessment of the perceived changes in education, healthcare, employment, discrimination, housing and services. The results? In all the areas except education the “no change” was the dominant answer. On Human Rights Day we reflect on a public survey that may harm instead of help Roma education.

The results of the survey on Roma integration submitted to the European Parliament and to the EU Council were published last week. The survey was open to anyone living in the EU or enlargement country. Participants were asked to rate progress towards the achievement of the National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS). With a lot of space for criticism and a clear call for urgent improvements, the 240 respondents also perceived education as the area with the most progress, including early childhood education (here).

The danger of surveys

The European Commission had already published its own review of the implementation of NRIS in 2017. Back then, they saw “a clear improvement in early childhood education and care (ECEC).” Since ECEC is described as improving also in the above mentioned survey, we may be triggered to think that education is already on the right path.

Firstly, we must clarify that these are not official data on Roma education; the survey results reflect the opinions of a marginal number of respondents (only 240 people). Secondly, even when the data was used (as in the case of the 2017 European Commission review), the selection of information and the conclusions were still questionable. In fact, in their follow up to the EU-MIDIS II report on education and employment, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency contradicts the European Commission (page 10, here).

It is certainly positive to see the EU asking for people’s opinion. However, more talking about compulsory preschool attendance will not improve the situation of children. Neither will it a higher school access without quality. As long as Romani children will be sidetracked into non-mainstream schools and kindergartens, segregated ethnically or by disadvantage, we cannot speak about progress.

There is a way forward. Let them know about human rights!

There is already a list of promising practices, encompassing science and the state-of-art knowledge, not beliefs and ideologies. Many successful initiatives are backed by data and the only step we need to see is the adoption of systems that work for all, including children.

Human Rights Day, gives us a great opportunity to think about Roma inclusion and its validation. As experts often talk about the economic advantage of early childhood inclusion, some may stick only to economics and forget about the importance of rights in the first place.

Along with the specific measures targeting children, we cannot forget about human rights. All the countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must ensure the right to education and to a healthy and happy childhood for all children. Tell children that it is their right not to be discriminated and not to be sent to segregated schools. Then there will be progress.

Dance, music and rights: International Roma Day

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

On April 8, Roma around the world celebrate the International Roma Day. Commemorating the fight for recognition of Roma culture, history, and rights, millions of Roma around Europe and beyond celebrate the progress and remind about the long way ahead. At REYN, April 8 serves as a prompt to continue efforts to make future better for young Romani and Traveller children.

More than a flower in the hair

At many places, including kindergartens and schools with Romani children, the International Roma Day is celebrated with culture in mind. Roma music is played, Roma cuisine is served, and Roma folk costumes dressed. On this day, some warmhearted teachers put on their flowered skirts, red blouses and put a flower in their hair.

Such cultural (mis)appropriation presents a danger to healthy formation of ethnic identity of Romani children. At an early age, they learn that their culture is about flowers and music, dancing and a lot of meaty dishes. Contradicting the world of business attire and new technologies, modern arts and school achievements, children are forced to pick between being Roma or being successful.

365 Roma days a year

In extreme cases, recognition of Roma in European societies is limited to not combing your hair a day in a year. It is generally accepted to be “Roma” on April 8 but not on the other days of the year. On April 9, when children go back to school, the Roma flag from the corridor will disappear, the music will stop playing and the kitchen will continue to serve regular food.

One day of celebrating stereotyped Romipen (‘being a Roma’ in Romani language) does not change the situation.  Roma deserve a full year of Roma days after the years of oppression. And most importantly, Romani children should be celebrating diversity together with all other children and enjoying their different cultures.

The day is what we make it

Roma are rarely in full control of the events related to them. Some of the worst examples include discussions about Roma in inclusion policies that do not consult with Roma. There is a lot to do also with regards to Romani parents empowerment and their active involvement in early childhood education of their children. However, we can control much of our day right now.

The International Roma Day is in control of Roma in terms of what we decide to support with our presence. We can choose to become tokens. Or we can choose to be active citizens with our rights, wherever we are. We can still dance, eat traditional meals, even put flowers in our hair, while continuing the fight for quality life for Romani and Traveller children.

International days: are they just a pin on the calendar?

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel
Photo UNICEF/John McConnico

International days remind us of memorable events, however sometimes they don’t seem to bring real change. Last November we’ve celebrated two important dates for Romani children’s education and early childhood health but how much have we achieved so far?

Ten years since the end of Roma segregation

In many European countries, for decades Roma have been sidetracked into parallel systems of education. On 13 November 2007, a glimpse of hope crossed our hearts when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of 18 Romani applicants from Czech Republic and confirmed that Roma faced discrimination in schools. They had been segregated into special schools initially designed for children with disabilities.

The case had started some ten years earlier after researchers had found out that Romani children were 27 times more likely to be sent into special education, often labeled as Roma schools or Roma classes. Ten years later after the ruling the situation has not changed for many.

Right to be free from discrimination

Some recent studies confirmed the negative trends. Just last year the EU Fundamental Rights Agency confirmed in their European survey that:

  • 80% of Roma, including young children and their families, live at risk of poverty
  • 62% of Romani children go to schools where all or most of their classmates are Roma
  • In comparison to the mainstream population, less than half of the Romani children attend kindergartens: e.g. 28% Roma against 84% of the national average in Greece.

Romani children face a vast number of challenges on their road to academic and professional development. The conditions might be even harder for those suffering multiple discrimination, e.g. Roma immigrants in Italy who face a daily threat of eviction. Numerous reports, coming from civil society or intergovernmental organizations indicate that what is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is still not fully implemented for Romani and Traveller children. The anniversary of the UNCRC adoption on 20 November was another important date that just passed.

We need a wake-up call

As international dates seem to pass without delivering tangible impact what shall we do? The negative trends of Roma-only classes and schools continue, the lack of access to early childhood education and care persists and children’s rights remain violated. Also, in most cases early services focus on five-year-olds and formal kindergarten settings. Younger children, from birth to three, are often ignored in the policies as well as in practice.

Soon, another reminder will beep in our calendars. Let’s make sure that the Human Rights Day next 10 December does not pass without notice. Let’s work together not only to commemorate but to really celebrate children’s rights and urge policy makers to end segregation. If you have ideas for joint actions, get in touch here! And please do not forget to follow us to get our ideas.

Associazione 21 luglio and REYN Italy: “15 thousand Romani children in slums are deprived of their rights”

- News

In Italy, 15 thousand Romani children live in formal and informal slums, Associazione 21 luglio and REYN Italy say.

In Rome, an estimated 4,100 Romani children live in poverty: 1,350 are between zero and six years old, 2,750 are aged seven to 18. These children and young people suffer from social exclusion and stigma. A few have access to health services. For these children life expectancy is ten years below the average, one in five will not enter schooling paths and will have almost no possibilities to go to university.

The lack of proper housing is among the first challenges to school retention. The majority of slums are excluded from public service; they are often located in extreme peripheries and polluted areas. Lack of income, discrimination, cultural deprivation and inadequate housing are factors that can impact enormously on the physical and psychological well being of children. These factors can also cause the so-called “ghetto diseases”: malnutrition, scabies, tuberculosis, anxiety and depression.

Forced evictions of informal settlements frequently happen and constitute traumatic events for children that live in the slums. This has serious consequences on the children’s right to education. In Naples, in the neighborhood of Gianturco, a forced eviction that involved 1,300 Roma in housing emergency (half of them were minors), caused a real diaspora just at the eve of International Roma Day on 8 April 2017.

In Rome, since November 2016 there was an increased 133% in forced evictions.

Read the whole press release on the Associazione 21 luglio website here.

Read more facts and figures on REYN Italy‘s page.