Roma and Equal Access to Education From Segregation to

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					Roma and Equal Access to Education: From Segregation to Integrated Schooling
Brussels, 28-29 April 2006

Proceedings from Works hop 1 on Inclusive Education
Facilitator: Ivan Ivanov – ERIO
Rapporteur: Iskra Stoykova, Romani Baht Foundation – Sofia, Bulgaria

First speaker Mairin Kenny made a presentation from the Irish Travellers experience perspective
focusing on the need for anti-biased curriculum that should be inclusive in a rich and
knowledgeable way of Roma through legitimate and dignified print and image environment. It
was argued that cases of ambivalence about identity of children should be addressed by the
teachers with the involvement of the parents through pointing that Travellers represent an
important element of society. The question about the inherent competitive nature of education
that selects the best ones for the economy running contrary to the concept of inclusive education
was raised. The presentation concluded with the assertion that we should pluralize our concepts
of normality, especially in the classroom that represents a microcosm of the society.

Ivan Ivanov commented that it is really essential to design the curriculum in an inclusive way so
that all groups of children can recognize themselves in the textbooks and also learn about each
other because desegregation process is not only about quantitative results but also about bringing
the cultures together in one place and making the educational environment friendlier.

Second speaker Beata Olahova from Slovakia described a successful project on inclusive
education called “The Integration of Romani Children from Special Classes to Mainstream
Classes” implemented in the city of Turnova, where Roma live in a segregated neighbo urhood
and about 120 Roma children go to two mainstream schoo ls. Of those, 90 children were enrolled
in special classes with a different curriculum within the mainstream schools and represented 99
percent of all children enrolled in the special classes. The justification for that was that they were
hyperactive or had some form of disability. They were not allowed to interact with the other
pupils in the schools. The project started in September 2005 with the provision of additional
tutoring, employment of six Roma assistants who secure the link between the parents, the
children and the school and the organization of extra-curricular activities to which non-Roma
pupils were invited; more opportunities for interaction between both groups were created through
having lunch together, etc. The immediate results from the project were that attendance improved
and reached 100 percent, and the Roma parents started to communicate with the school
authorities. The speaker pointed, however, that this is an isolated effort because of financial
constraints and that a policy change is needed that will remove the financial backing for special
schools/classes received by teachers that represents a block to desegregation.

Mairin Kenny intervened by pointing to the fact that “the enhanced capitation grant” should not
be removed but transferred from teachers to mainstream school authorities which should use it
for the purposes of inclusive education.
These presentations were followed by open discussion during which the following contributions
were made:

Inclusive education should encompass not only diverse ethnic groups but also a wider community
including children with disabilities. Not only Roma but also children with intellectual disabilities
do not belong to “special schools”. The cultural concept of tests /including those used to
designate children to special schools/ is problematic for inclusive education because it is a part of
middle class culture. Additional attention should be paid to sub-groups as in the case of Roma
disabled children and Roma girls. There are three main groups of Roma children that need to be
targeted with different policies: one is composed of those who will go to university, the second is
composed of those who are enrolled in segregated schools and the third one is composed of those
who go to the special schools.

More data is needed on good process of inclusive education instead of stressing quantitative
outcomes. Not the figures are essential but if the Roma children feel important, comfortable and
in a good environment in the schools. By rushing the process of desegregation of all- Roma
schools sometimes the process of integration of the Roma children in the host mixed schools is
overstepped. While the process of desegregation is taking place some transitional actions could
be implemented, such as familiarizing segregated with host schools through joint activities. One
key ingredient in inclusive education is the school curriculum that should provide enough classes
so the children from various ethnic backgrounds will have opportunities get to know each other’s
culture. In this respect the content of the textbooks covering the identities and cultural specifics is
very important and the danger of embedding the authors’ own prejudices in the textbooks should
be accounted for. Another important factor is the teachers and in terms of their qualification and
making them sensitive towards other cultures, MA programmes on intercultural education should
be implemented. The role of the assistant teacher was discussed as having relevance not only for
the Roma children but as a general support to inclusive education. Another mechanism for
achieving inclusive education is the Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs) that according to the
UK experience have involved parents more in the school life.

The development of inclusive education policies can benefit not only Roma but other
minority/immigrant groups following the future EU accession in the case of Bulgaria and

Legislators should take into account and challenge some existing legal norms that contribute to
exclusion such as that children with a low social status can be put in classes together with
mentally disabled children. Litigation provides a very powerful tool for producing quick results
that are needed in the urgent situation of damaging each year one more generation of Roma
children studying in segregated classes/schools. NGOs protecting Roma mainly work with
lawyers and take on an adversarial approach so it now represents a challenge to human rights
activists to develop other tools to promote inclusion in education. However, we should always
question how democratic is the process of the development of the educational system in a
particular country bearing in mind the democratic deficit existing in the EU implementing a top-
down policy.