The situation described above by this Roma parent in the REYN Early Childhood Research Study (REYN Study) is still very common for many Roma children in Europe. The pressing issue of segregation and discrimination faced by Roma children at all levels of education is still persistent.
One of the most common and complex barriers Roma children face is discrimination. As Aljosa Rudas, Program Manager, International Step by Step Association (ISSA), stated in a recent webinar (“Inclusion of Roma children in Early Childhood Education and Care”- watch the recording) organized by Eurocities and UNICEF: “Young Roma children face multiple inequalities in areas of their lives that impact their development and growth.”
Discrimination both at institutional and individual levels greatly affects access to education for Roma children and therefore, their equal learning opportunities from the start. The evidence is overwhelming: according to the REYN Study, 60% of Roma children under the age of three do not have access to early childhood education and care services nearby, and only 44% between the ages of three and seven (or the starting age of compulsory primary education) are enrolled in early childhood education, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service.1
A call to end Roma children segregation in education in the European Union
The recent European Parliament’s resolution on October 4, 2023 ‘Segregation and discrimination of Roma children in education’ is a leap forward to tackle the problem of continued segregation of Roma children. It stresses that all children, irrespective of their ethnic origin, must benefit from equal and free educational opportunities, which is not the case across the European Union (EU).
While listing the many issues still to be tackled, the resolution also highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and effective measures to eliminate systemic discrimination in the EU, such as the participation of Roma children in early childhood education.
Early childhood education and care play a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of discrimination and disadvantage faced by Roma children. The REYN Early Childhood Research Study has shown that the participation of Roma children in early childhood and preschool education has a profoundly positive impact. It not only enhances their overall development but also significantly contributes to their future educational attainment, access to quality employment, and improved living conditions, all while breaking the cycle of marginalization and discrimination.
REYN’s research findings indicate that early childhood education and care programs that are culturally sensitive and inclusive have the potential to bridge the educational gap that many Roma children face. By providing accessible and high-quality early childhood education and care infrastructure and services, Member States can create an enabling environment where young Roma children can thrive, develop their potential, and take part in the education system on equal footing with their peers.
Photo: Roma and non-Roma children in a kindergarten in Korca, Albania. Courtesy of Save the Children.
1 Breaking barriers to Roma children’s education and inclusion. https://eurocities.eu/latest/breaking-barriers-to-roma-childrens-education-and-inclusion/