School Discrimination Must End

Today, many Roma communities and non-Roma institutions across the world celebrate April 8 as International Roma Day. On this day we remind everyone about the principles of the Roma Education Fund’s mission and its connection with the emancipatory aspirations of Roma in the field of education: more than a decade ago REF was founded by the World Bank and Open Society Foundations, accompanied by several bilateral donors and number of countries that subscribed to the core mission of the organization: to close the gap in education between majority and Roma, including by means of desegregation.

“Discrimination of Roma children in education is morally and economically unacceptable! It must stop, as it is basic prerequisite for socio-economic, political and cultural progress of Roma in the 21st century,” says Nadir Redzepi, Executive Director of the Roma Education Fund on the occasion of International Roma Day.

By marking International Roma Day today, REF urges all education stakeholders to vest their institutional capacities and policy-execution powers to make decisive steps to close the chapter of segregation of Roma children in education and open a new one – of quality, inclusive education for every child. It is both the political and moral responsibility of respective state and education authorities in Europe to take full ownership and accountability for ending segregation.

The political framework in which REF was formed – the Decade of Roma Inclusion – has come to an end, but the relevance and the values of REF mission has not! Last year REF celebrated ten years of operations and has sustained its pledge to close the educational gap between Roma and non-Roma.

Many projects, programs and policy interventions have been realized in ten years, but much remains to be done: REF provided more than 15,000 university scholarships to over 7,000 Roma from 16 countries. It has supported around 500 educational projects in 13 countries across the spectrum of education, from assisting early childhood education to supporting high school students to successfully enroll and graduate in tertiary education.

During this time, REF has been very active in advocating for desegregation processes and some countries have been keen to follow. But experience gained during this process tells us: we must stop discrimination and institutional neglect in education in order to enable equal opportunities and chances for progress to future European Roma citizens. There is no other way to ensure that.

REF provides evidence-based and tailor-made models that education authorities may follow. It is in the interest of all: investment in quality and inclusive education pays off in the long-run.

REF stands firm on this principle and support efforts of the European Commission, EU member and candidate states, other international organizations and the civil society who call for end of this malpractice in European societies.

THE LEGACY OF INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY

45 years ago today, the First World Romani Congress (FWRC) assembled outside London on April 8, 1971. Five decisions were adopted at the Congress that in more than 4 decades manifest the evolution of Roma emancipation claims: (1) to use the term Roma and reject all other pejorative and stereotypical names for Roma identity; (2) the recognition of the blue and green Roma flag with a red wheel placed in its center, (3) the recognition of “Djelem, Djelem” as the Roma anthem, (4) the recognition of the Romani alphabet and an agreement to form a standardized grammar of the Romani language and (5) an order to quit the itinerant life, and to settle and integrate within mainstream societies, in particular ensuring regular education for Romani children.

The ambitions of Roma emancipation are framed by number of resolutions from which the following five are core values of the international Roma movement. The first topic was language, mentioned as a distinct feature of the Roma that should be restored to active use, while recognizing all spoken Roma dialects as equal in merit. The discussion over war crimes and persecution against Roma led to a decision to assist all Roma survivors to claim reparations from Germany. Roma culture and how it should be nourished through folk dance, publishing, songs and tales in Romanes was also highlighted. Social affairs were discussed in regards to the conditions of Roma with reference to housing, education, employment and discrimination, and subsequent reports to be prepared and disseminated to the respective Governments of their countries, but also to the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Last but not least, the topic of education was on the agenda. A great emphasis was placed on the presence of Roma teachers in schools and it was agreed that all Roma children should receive education in Romani culture and (where still spoken) in Romanes.

SCHOOL DISCRIMINATION MUST END

45 years later we are witness to a growing awareness among civil society actors and policymakers to address the persistent barriers that still impede Roma in their everyday lives.

Since its establishment the Roma Education Fund has focused on closing the gaps between Roma and non-Roma in the field of education, following the trajectory agreed upon by Roma delegates of European countries at the first World Romani Congress. For example, REF strives to help more Roma teachers and Roma teaching assistants work in schools. REF also provides financial and academic support to young Roma that enroll in pedagogical high schools, also assisting them in finding internships and employment in state preschools; REF also helps them with transition to teaching colleges.

REF implements a tertiary education Scholarship Program composed of four schemes that annually awards over 1,400 scholarships to Roma students in 16 European countries. The underlying principle of the REF scholarship program derives from the belief that the formation of a critical mass of highly educated Roma will help accelerate the process of Roma inclusion, since they are envisaged to be models for the Roma community, self-determined and equipped with skills and knowledge to advocate for protection of the rights of Roma. One more organic element of REF’s educational programs is Roma culture and identity which REF believes to be a great empowerment tool that can channel the ambitions of young Roma to further their inclusion and participation in society and public life on an equal footing, thus dismantling negative stereotypes about Roma.

REF’s interventions reach on average 100,000 direct and indirect beneficiaries yearly. Holding a unique position as donor, policy actor and think tank in regards to Roma education, REF will continue to work in this challenging environment by keeping our overarching principle that positive practices emerging from the grassroots shall gradually align with mainstream policies that would favor Roma.

Opré (Upré) Romà!

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