Poverty, insecurity and discrimination hindering Roma school kids in the education process


A sociological study, released by Gabal Analysis and Consulting, shows that a staggering 40 percent of Romany children drop out of elementary school and never go back, a figure that is eight times higher than the national average. The study, based on data collected from 14 elementary schools over the past five years, highlights one of the basic problems underlying an endless vicious circle of discrimination of the country’s Romany minority. Kumar Vishwanatan, a community worker who works with the Roma in one of the country’s poorest districts, says there are many factors contributing to this trend.

Kumar Vishwanatan
“A lot of Romany children drop out of school and I think that there are several reasons for this. One of the first things I would like to point out is the fact that the children feel very insecure. The home environment of these children tends to be very unstable. A lot of tension, a great many problems connected with the standard of living, the way of life in segregated regions, displacement because families keep moving from place to place unable to pay their rent, their electricity bills, so the environment is not secure. The child is very nervous growing up in such an environment and the environment is not really conducive to learning. The second problem is motivation. What do you get out of all the effort ? That’s a big problem. Roma children are brought up to feel a responsibility to their family – the boys quickly start earning some kind of living –illegally or something like that just to help out the family, the girls take on family responsibilities and that gets in the way of education.”

But not finishing elementary school means that job opportunities will be few and far between…

“Job opportunities are few and far between anyway, because most of these Roma children go through special schools for children with learning disabilities. Schools don’t seem to lead anywhere for them. The success stories of Romanies who have achieved something do not motivate them because it is like a dream world for them. They do not think it is accessible. What they need is encouragement. I have spoken to teachers and they tell me that when they encourage the children to remain at school, tell them what’s possible, speak to them kindly, give them encouragement, then some of these children hold on and complete basic school. A lot depends on the teachers.”

So are they doing this?

“I think that is the biggest problem. The special school system is definitely not doing it. Teachers there just cajole the children – you are doing well here, you are fine, you are OK, but actually the standard is not encouraging children to achieve. The “normal” schools are not open to the Roma sufficiently. The “normal” schools remain elusive to Roma children. These schools should be opened up to Roma children, the staff should be trained to embrace these children and see the positive things they are bringing, cultivate those positive things and support them – that is very important.”

In recent years we have heard a lot from the government about what needs to be done for the Roma and education is always cited as one of the top priorities. Has anything been done in this respect?

“Unfortunately nothing has changed in the past ten years, I am sorry to say. It is just that the school signs have been repainted –earlier they used to be special schools, now they are all basic schools, but nothing –effectively- has changed for Roma children. The curriculum is the same, the approach of the staff is the same, the financing of the school system is the same – nothing has really changed, except that repression has come into force now. There is increasing repression on Roma families and Roma children.”

What do you mean by repression?

“If you do not go to school for various reasons – after ten unexplained absences the social workers are informed, if it continues then the police is informed to put pressure on the parents – repression is seen as the way to go. Which is really wrong. I think we have capacities greater than resorting to repression to motivate children and that’s what we are not doing. The education system has not found the answers.”