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Bringing Roma Children into the Educational Fold

© UNICEF Romania
Do the maths: one of the project’s aims is to improve school attendance rates in Roma communities

by Iulian Stoian, LL.M. Consultant Roma Civic Alliance of Romania

Every year, at around this time, tens of thousands of parents and grandparents are caught up in the frenzy of enrolling their child or grandchild in the neighbourhood school. None of them would settle for less than the best school in the neighbourhood. The year’s savings are checked, planned and reallocated; a whole marketing operation is set into motion by the entire family to find the best school backpacks, pencil cases, notebooks and other school supplies indispensable to any first grader who will make the family proud at the start-of-school ceremony on the first day. Children’s clothing stores are closely inspected by the family members to pick the coolest garments for the family’s school girl or boy to start his or her “career”...
 
A seemingly common picture – but one far less commonly replicated in the lives of Roma families. Why is this? First of all, because of an unfair label applied to the Roma parent, resulting from the stereotypes and prejudices which are still persistent in our society. The Roma’s state of servitude during times of slavery, the forced assimilation policy alongside the cultivation of a mono-cultural spirit and suppression of all forms of assertion of ethnic identity during the communist regime, and, more recently, the lack of intercultural education and equal opportunities have made a deep mark on the mentality of our society as regards the Roma. And unfortunately on the Roma themselves, who have often internalised the stigma...

Sadly, parents are not the only ones who get the blame. Roma children, interacting with others, adults or children, who have not been exposed to a culture of diversity, also internalise the social stigma. Often deemed incapable of coping with school or less bright than their peers, Roma children are understandably reluctant to attend a dreary-looking, cold school that is nowhere near ready to understand them, to get them involved, to stimulate and capitalise on their full creative potential, to finally welcome them...

Still, the Roma have much in common with the majority population. All of us share the same human emotions and the same aspiration for a “better life” for our children, including the Roma. On the outskirts of society for decades, trying to survive, the Roma have internalised the stigma and neglected to appreciate the true potential of school. Of course, lack of successful role models in the community, of achievers through education, is yet another problem that we all have to face. For this reason, every Roma child’s school success contributes to the emancipation of this ethnic minority group.

The Learning for Life! campaign, run by the Roma Civic Alliance of Romania, in partnership with UNICEF Romania is hereby being launched to support 24 poor Roma communities, aiming to prevent and reduce school dropout.

Increased attention will be paid to supporting Roma children who have dropped out of elementary or middle school by helping with their enrolment in the Second Chance educational programme. We estimate that, as a result of the campaign, a higher number of Roma children from the project’s target communities will enjoy the fundamental right of a child to education. In addition, before children’s enrolment in school, we aim to offer support to the children’s families and hold community meetings, which we call the Roma Parents’ Forum, thus facilitating dialogue between Roma community members, the school and local authorities.

Roma parents will learn that they need to get involved and play an active part in school decision-making, and that they have the right to be informed and consulted about the school curriculum. Sensitive yet pertinent matters will be discussed, such as discrimination, ethnicity-based school segregation and the poor quality of rural education, and what the community and the school can do to avoid them. For this purpose, the Roma Parents’ Forum will also be attended by school managers and teachers who will talk about the school’s educational offer, as well as by the mayor, medical doctor, health mediator and school mediator. Through such community consultation at local level we advocate for a dynamic, inclusive school, which is present in and connected almost constantly to the life of the community, and for an active community of parents interested in Roma children’s school achievements.

Aware of the financial difficulties that parents may face, with this project we also want to support the parents of Roma children enrolled in school. Before the school year starts, all the children who are beneficiaries of this programme will receive a school backpack filled with school supplies and a jacket. This is our symbolic way of staying close to Roma first graders on their first day of school.

 

 
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