Mr Palm's keynote on Roma Inclusion - Education on 15 December 2011
Social Exclusion starts at birth. A child that is not registered will find it more difficult to get access to crèches or kindergartens. Not having "socialized" with other children, Roma children find it difficult to adapt to school and learn and find a job and decent living.
Development opportunities missed by young children cannot be made good later in life. They will never be able to catch up later. This makes the investment in the education of Roma children during their early years so important.
It will be children who will break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next. Rich people know how to look after themselves. In contrast, a child born to a poor Roma parent has very limited opportunities. It is more likely to remain poor, because of fewer options and less support. The state can and must help. The state can make sure the child gets the medical treatment, eats nutritious food, and will learn something. We are told that government budgets for early childhood development and pre-school are limited. This is shortsighted, because it does not consider the return on investment. We rich people send our kids to preschool, because we know it pays off. The same logic applies to children of poor people. And where the state budget is limited it is especially important that it is applied to those who need it most.
UNICEF supported a mapping of Roma settlements - this is related to a recommendation of the workshop in March 2011. The study shows the size of the respective community, its location, and the number of children. It takes a new angle. It focuses also on the institutions that are close to the Roma. The institutions that are accountable to providing services to Roma.
We find the neighborhoods where the Roma live, and which school or kindergarten is to accommodate their children. We now can call the headmaster and ask what the school has done to get the Roma into school.
We found surprises. I'll mention three:
1. The magnitude and distribution of the problem is smaller than we are used to think. There are about 100 neighborhoods with Roma communities. This translates into 100 schools where special measures need to be implemented, in terms of smaller classes, more assistant teachers, school counselors, and better, more frequent and more relevant inspection, and 100 kindergartens. The researchers found less than 15000 Roma. There are probably less than 5000 Roma children of pre-school and school age. Many go to school, but not all. In many zones, we are talking about 2 or 5 children out of school. And so I ask: what other policy do we need, how much national debate do we need, how many more meetings, until the headmasters, teaching staff, social workers and municipal directors and staff of these zones are called to account, so they go out and talk to the families concerned and ensure the kids are in school and learn something? This is not a problem of big numbers. We also have to accept that it is more expensive to educate a poor child than a rich child. But that's ok. Because the overall number is manageable. And because the Roma as a group have not had their share of the education budget in the past. It's an issue of human interaction, between those in authority and those in need. It's about holding people accountable for their responsibilities and standards that result from international Human Rights Treaties to which Albania is a party.
2. Second, there are large discrepancies in the reports of the Roma communities and the education staff as to the number of Roma children in school. Some schools report more Roma children enrolled than there are Roma children in the area. Some Roma communities report more children attend school, than the school administration is aware of. It shows that the administration and Roma community don't talk to each other. Perhaps they don't care. This is not going to be resolved through more policies for all schools in Albania. It’s about human interaction in those hundred schools and communes; about case management through professional social work. It means some modest additional expenses for smaller classes, assistant teachers, textbooks, providing quality teaching and a safe and healthy environment - in not more than 100 locations. We know where the problem is, school by school.
3. Pre-schooling is extremely low among Roma children. We know that Roma children who went to pre-school will make it to compulsory school. Pre-schooling is the best start in life also for Roma children. Now we can zoom into the problem, neighborhood by neighborhood. Hundred kindergartens for the 3-6 year olds.
In my own experience, most Albanians do not discriminate against Roma on the grounds of ethnicity. There is a generally good record (with some very few exceptions) of living together in harmony. This is a fantastic asset. If Albania can mobilize this asset to ensure good education for all children of the Roma community, then Albania would set signals in this region on how to live with tolerance and practice democracy. And show the way for the rest of Europe on how to resolve its biggest Human Rights Issue.