Paris Equality Summit

The French Presidency of the Council of the European Union is holding a second summit on equality on 29 and 30 September 2008 in Paris.Lívia Járóka (EPP-ED) in her address, pointed out the prevalent segregation and constant discrimination faced by Roma children which negatively impacts their future ability to find gainful employment in later life.

Address  by Lívia Járóka, Member of the European Parliament
Equality Summit

Dear Distinguished Guests and Colleagues:

First and foremost please allow me to offer my sincerest thanks to the French Presidency for organising this 2nd Summit on Equality in the EU today.  This summit is expected to accomplished great steps in the continual drive for equality in all areas, such as employment, fighting discrimination in all its forms, and of course education. 

Within Europe there are great disparities in accessing different levels of quality education across various groups in society. People with disabilities, linguistic minorities, religious, racial and ethnic groups, undocumented people, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and the extremely poor are particularly marginalised, segregated and many times excluded from mainstream education. Among these, the Roma in the EU especially, stand out in needing our attention most in every area, and particularly that of Education.

What distinguishes Roma from other disadvantaged groups can be characterised in one respect by their limited access to quality education due to the extent of poverty and deprivation they suffer. The negative stereotypes of the majority society concerning Roma have had a significant  effect on the desire of authorities to exclude them from the educational system.  Three such effects which have limited Roma equal access to Education are segregation in schools, lack of student attendance or integration based on claims of the “travelling” Roma lifestyle, and the belief that Roma children are mentally disabled.

First, Roma children experience educational segregation in several European countries due to the fact that in many countries educational segregation  is a direct result of residential segregation.  Since most Roma live in a community, often in settlements or on the peripheries of urban areas, they naturally attend school with one another as well.  Seventy per cent of Roma in Bulgaria, for example, go to these so-called “ghetto schools,” or Roma-dominated schools in Roma communities. “Ghetto schools” are caused by either the residential segregation of the Roma community or the withdrawal of non-minority students from a Roma-dominated school.

Secondly, some governments and school officials also claim they are unable to effectively integrate Roma students into their educational systems because of the itinerant nature of Roma communities.  However, the perception of Roma as constant wanderers is largely false.  In fact, more than 95 per cent of Roma are estimated to live a sedentary lifestyle.  Thusly, the argument from officials stating the inability to educate Roma students because they simply “move around too much” is not a viable one.

Thirdly, throughout Europe Roma have been falsely portrayed as mentally disabled by school officials.  Often students are placed in remedial classes after placement tests are administered by the school with the student and mother.  Should the child only speak Romani, the mother is responsible for translating the test questions to accurately place the student which in many cases is impossible due to the mother’s education level being extremely poor.  As a result, the school labels the child as mentally disabled and places her or her in remedial classes where they receive work which fails to challenge them.     

To fully explain myself, permit me to introduce some numbers in Europe which speak directly on the topic of little to no education or segregated education which Roma encounter:

• only 20% of Romani children benefit from preschool education

• 20% of Roma are not enrolled in school

• 30% of Roma abandon school before completing the compulsory education

• about 50% of Roma are illiterate or semi-illiterate

• 80% of all Romani children following special remedial programmes

were educated in schools where Roma were more than 25% of the student body

Allow me to continue with a very demonstrative example from Romania:

According to the data presented in the Barometer of Roma Inclusion (Open Society Foundation Romania, 2007), 23% of Roma have no schooling (as compared to only 2% of non-Roma), 27% of Roma have completed only four years of education (as compared to 11% of non-Roma), and 33% have completed only eight years of education (as compared to 24% of non-Roma). While 95% of Roma have not completed secondary education, 60% of non-Roma share the same situation. Data from the 2002 Census indicates 25.6% of Roma cannot read and write, as compared to only 2.6% of the total population over 10 years of age.

Excluding Roma children from school, as well as segregating them from mainstream ones, deprives them of their fundamental right to education and directly hinders their ability to move onto higher education or have access to higher-paying jobs that could have otherwise been made available to them, propagates the social and economic exclusion that characterizes so many Roma communities today. Unemployment is stagnant at 90 per cent in some Roma communities, which causes some Roma children to leave school at an early age to work to contribute to their family’s income.

The continued marginalisation of Roma youth will cause society to lose a significant source of creativity and social contributions. It is obvious that the deficit in Roma education is associated with lower employment earnings and consequently a lower contribution to the national social contribution and VAT.  For this reason, investing in Roma education is not only morally right, but also helps to strengthen the European Economy as a whole.

A good example a study conducted by the Roma Educational Fund using Hungarian data concludes the investment required for a singular young Roma to complete secondary school could easily be repaid through future contributions to the national budget.

The study contends public investment in early childhood education would yield long-term benefits of HUF 19M (EUR 70,000 ).  For example, if a young Roma was to successfully complete secondary school (as compared to a student who lacked investment) their contribution to the national budget would be EUR 15,000 higher than the student who had only completed primary school.  Without early childhood investment, benefits decrease to HUF 15M (EUR 55,000 ) even if a young Roma completes vocational training school. The REF’s most conservative estimates set the benefits at HUF 7M-9M(EUR  29 -37,000) taking into account wage differentials, uneven wage growth, and unknown college completion levels. Although investment is not a guarantee of the future success of Roma children, just one in five children would be sufficient for the government to have a 20 per cent success rate. In other words, a program which invested HUF 3.8M(EUR15,000) per child would yield more than breaking even.

It is my sincere hope this conference will open lines of communication, to create synergies within the field of education in addition to establishing concrete results. I call to share in a viable future for the Roma youth today, Roma needs to be provided with the guarantee of education and promise to change  the segregated school system existing in Europe. I call for a shared EU political commitment in need to drastically reform the education provided to Roma children with special attention  to those in state care.
Here I invite the European Commission and all  relevant stakeholders at and outside this summit to launch an action oriented campaign  for  fair and quality education for Roma children; EU directives has to serve this course up most. . The vicious circles of substandard education, ghetto housing and chronic unemployment, are self-evidently interlinked.  If they are to be broken, young Roma people must have, at minimum, equal access to schools and universities, and be given democratic space.

Thank you for this possibility to address this conference and I wish you all very progressive action-oriented and high quality workshops and debates today.

Járóka Lívia