REF Secondary School Scholarship Project Launches in Bulgaria with 700 Places for Roma High School Students

The Roma Education Fund, with the financial support of the Ministry of Education and Science of Bulgaria, is pleased to announce the opening of a two-year secondary school scholarship program for Roma students currently enrolled in academic and vocational high schools in Bulgaria. 

On the occasion of the launch of this important initiative to inspire and encourage Roma students to complete their studies and graduate from high school, Deputy Minister Dian Stamatov remarked, “This initiative is really important for us. It seems that it paid off in the countries where it was realized or still it is ongoing. If we have positive impact, visible and measurable educational achievements, The Ministry may change the ratio in funding, as we understood this already happened in some neighbor countries. We will follow the good models.”

According to REF’s latest country assessment from 2015, Roma “represent the vast majority (67 percent) of the poorest 20 percent of the entire Bulgarian population and are the group with the highest rates of illiteracy and early school leaving in the country.”

Designed to address chronic discrimination and inequality in the provision of educational services in Bulgaria, this scholarship scheme includes financial incentives as well as tutoring and mentoring components for academic support based on the Fund’s secondary school model. Six hundred scholarships will be allocated annually over the next two years, with 40 percent of the funding originating from the Ministry of Education of Bulgaria.

Implemented by the Centre for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities (CEICSEM) through the 2017-2018 academic year, this new secondary school scholarship program aims to improve the educational results of Roma students, trigger their successful completion of secondary education and encourage them to transition to higher education.

Clearly, incentives to spur Roma students’ completion of secondary school are  needed. Bulgaria’s Institute of National Statistics reported a graduation rate of just nine percent for Roma students from secondary education in 2011. This is an improvement of 3.5 percentage points since 2001. Compare this to 52.3 percent of Bulgarian majority students graduating from high school in 2011. In short, for each Roma graduate, there are nearly six Bulgarian majority students who have successfully completed their studies. Currently, only two other scholarship programs exist for high school students in Bulgaria, for which only the most exceptional students may qualify.

Among the findings of a 2014 World Bank analysis of PISA 2012, “[…] results suggest that the opportunities for obtaining a good education are highly unequal in Bulgaria, and mostly depend on students’ background characteristics. The analysis finds a direct correlation between poverty in rural and urban areas and the performance of Roma students who may be characterized as a linguistic minority due to the Romani language being the mother tongue in the majority of Romani households.   

REF Country Facilitator for Bulgaria Ognyan Isaev emphasized, “REF has its own educational models for each age – starting from early age, going through primary and secondary school, passing across the universities and ending at adults. Via our investments we aim to close the gap in educational outcomes between Roma and non-Roma – we work not only for access to education, but also on quality of education. We make sure our interventions lead to educational achievements which change Roma lives and communities for better - consequently contribute to countries where they live. We highly appreciate the commitment of Ministry of education and science to cooperate and pilot together with us this particular proven REF model for secondary education in Bulgaria. I would say this is natural continuation of REF models that currently are applied in Bulgaria. We have our achievements, lessons learnt and experience from different counties. Our specific project’s objectives are as follow: increasing the share of Roma students in secondary education; increasing the attendance and retention rates of Roma students at school, consequently reduce the number of school dropouts; improving the educational outcomes of Roma students; increasing the number of Roma students who successfully complete secondary education and to continue in universities. We really hope that the project main components – providing scholarships and mentorship-tutorship, will lead to positive impact on educational system generally and after two years the Ministry will take over the model.”

Already made available for applicants on October 10, the application pack is now available. Stay tuned to the project’s developments and follow its Facebook page.

This new program in Bulgaria joins current secondary school scholarship programs managed or implemented by the Roma Education in Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovakia. This program is expected to feed qualified candidates into REF’s Roma Memorial University Scholarship Program that funds some 220 Bulgarian Roma students annually to attend university across the country as well as three RomaVersitas programs that provide tutoring, mentoring and professional skills training in Blagoevgrad, Shumen and Sofia.