Teachers, researchers and Roma community representatives came together at Corvinus University last Friday with a common purpose. About 100 delegates, from countries such as Romania, Germany, the UK, the USA and India, met at the “Working together for Roma inclusion in the school and community” conference to discuss how schools can open their doors to Gypsies/Roma and Travellers and to share the progress so far.
For Arthur Ivatts OBE, British specialist on Roma education, it is a given fact that these communities “share a common fate in being highly excluded” across Europe. Moreover, a recent report by the Council of Europe, “Human Rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe” (see box on page 15), says “policies and practices that separate Roma children from others in education are found in several member states”, leaving many thousands with limited or no education.
For Ivatts, education is the key to inclusion, a “vital tool” in reversing segregation. It is also the subject of a long-term dedication that began for him, along with “a small number of educationalists”, over 40 years ago by pioneering support services for Gypsies/ Roma and Travellers in the UK.
His recent work includes projects in Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.
According to Ivatts, the conference was part of the process to “share best practice and help each other spreading ideas and resources” to “take Roma social and educational inclusion forward”.
Several workshops were held, ranging from the setting up of links between UK and Hungarian schools to presenting ground-breaking projects by Roma foundations against negative stereotypes.
Television and publishing, on which “Romedia”, one of the supporters of the conference, has been working since 1992, is one way to fight these stereotypes.
Roma integration still a mountain to climb
This Hungarian foundation’s goal is to disseminate “an insider’s viewpoint on Roman issues” through the production of films and videos, international multimedia campaigns and public events.
Among their projects is the film Uprooted, which gives voice to Romani youths on immigration in Europe and was named in the top three for the “Child and Family” award at this year’s Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Doha, Qatar.
Roma Education Fund
Another pioneering initiative represented at Corvinus was the Roma Education Fund, a Hungarian project created in the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion in 2005. It deals with a variety of issues, such as scholarships and career advice for Roma students and a framework for dialogue between government and society on education reform.
Eyes across EU
According to Natalie Stables, Roma Group executive for the National Association of Teachers of Travellers, these efforts must echo across Europe. Such “exciting activities” must continue to be shared because reversing exclusion must be achieved “also through member states working together”, Stables said.
For Andrew Ryder, professor at Bristol University and visiting professor at Corvinus, the changes achieved so far should be taken into account. He said that what was previously “a situation where these children were not being educated at school and indeed were not welcome”, is now “a situation where not only the school doors opened to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers but where many schools increasingly strove to be inclusive in terms of the school curriculum and support”.
The conference, also supported by the British Council, the British Embassy and the Roma Education Fund, was planned as another step towards this more inclusive society. But as Zoltán Szántó, Corvinus vice-rector, said, although attention has been drawn to the plight of the Roma by these and other professionals, “we are painfully aware that there is still a mountain to climb in achieving Roma inclusion”.
The spectre of segregation
Despite the progress found by the Council of Europe on Roma inclusion, its “Human Rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe” report says many thousands throughout Europe remain unschooled or “have left school with limited education results”. Policies and practices of segregation are still found in several Council of Europe member states and Hungary is no exception.
The European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, which sets up a series of goals to be reached by EU member states up to 2020, “constitutes a move long sought after by Roma rights activists throughout Europe”, the report states. Nevertheless, Roma students are still excluded from mainstream schooling and frequently assigned to schools for children with intellectual disabilities – a trend that was found common in Hungary.
Also common are “ghetto schools”, where both Roma and non-Roma deprived pupils go to “materially substandard and not adequately staffed” institutions instead of being given “equal quality schooling in a multicultural environment”. Specifically in Hungary, the Council of Europe says there are actually isolated “Roma mainstream schools” due to the segregation already happening in housing.
Moreover, when Roma share the same school with non-Roma, the former are often separated from the majority in classrooms “by being in specific areas” or even “in entirely separate classes”. Examples have been reported not only in Hungary but also in countries such as the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey.
According to the Council of Europe, exclusion is still taking place in Hungary even though the Equal Treatment Act and Public Education Act of 1993 “expressly prohibit unlawful segregation”.
Newly appointed Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog said last week that Roma culture will now be part of the national curriculum of primary and secondary schools. And while warning non-governmental organisations not to “take the liberty” of speaking in the name of Roma, he also announced vocational training for 20,000 young Roma and university scholarships for at least 5,000 Roma students.