REF Delegation Attends Roma Platform XI on Education and Employment in Brussels

During two days of workshops and discussions on the future of Roma education and employment at Roma Platform XI, the Roma Education Fund contributed its experience and knowledge to a rich debate on present and future policies that impact Roma outcomes at school and at the workplace. Despite an uptick in Roma participation in education reported in this year’s mid-term review, the fact remains that Roma are underrepresented in secondary and tertiary education and in the labor force.

The mid-term results of National Roma Integration Strategies are filtering in from the current programming period. Already the focus is shifting to a discussion about the next programming period, with inputs on what programs have achieved measurable results and what has been ineffective. During this reflective period, the EU executive is already gearing up to design and refine existing education and employment policies that affect all children and youth beyond 2020.

This critical forum, hosted by Commissioner for Justice and Consumers Vera Jourova, is an essential step for gathering feedback, measuring progress and outlining the further policies, tools and instruments that can have a positive effect on Roma inclusion.

REF Grant Manager Beata Olahova facilitated a workshop on education aspects of transition from education to employment, the conclusions of which were reported to the forum by RomaVersitas Hungary Director and REF scholarship alumna Henriett Dinok.

Ms. Dinok underlined in her findings that “existing strategies have not been implemented due to institutional racism and antigypsyism.” She pointed out that “attending segregated education makes further education and employment impossible.”

Her co-rapporteur, ERIO Director Ivan Ivanov stressed that “access to quality education will make Roma children more successful in the labor market,” but for Roma policies to succeed “Roma should make their input regardless if agencies are experienced with integration policies or not."

REF Chair Andrzej Mirga contributed to the first moderated discussion “Make the Wheel Roll” on day two. In reaction to many points by co-panelists connecting the need for strategic policies to increase Roma participation in the formal labor market, Mirga outlined the challenge. Currently, with only one percent of Roma attaining tertiary education, in comparison to some 31 percent of the majority, the question is how can Roma compete. He emphasized that, “[…] we have to dramatically increase the percentage of educated, skilled Roma to compete for jobs.”

Among his key messages to the Commission, Mirga argued that Roma inclusion in EU and beyond is unfinished business. He stated that states are willing to implement policies in line with the EU Roma Framework but these interventions must be prioritized. He also recommended a larger role to be played by civil society in monitoring the use of EU Structural Funds and shadow reporting on their implementation.

Reflecting on a dozen years of REF experience in education, Mirga identified investment, engagement and change at the heart of REF’s mission, and these principles underpin REF’s operations to bring about better educational outcomes for Roma children and youth, close the attainment gap with their majority peers, and eliminate school segregation and discrimination.

Without such gains in education, and investment in the human potential of Roma communities, as well stringent hiring practices to guarantee a diverse workforce, and effective cooperation with business, full and rewarding employment remains an exceedingly difficult goal for Roma to achieve. 

The full text of his speech is available here.