On June 1 - The International Children's Day, the Ombudsman of the Republic launched a campaign for no fees in kindergartens. Maya Manolova announced her decision to launch such a campaign at the end of last year at the annual meeting of students and teachers participating in the "Every student will be a winner" project initiated Amalipe Center and reaffirmed it during the National Conference "State of Roma Education Integration "held on May 14th.
The main arguments for the initiative are the financial barriers that hinder the attendance of children from the poorest families in the kindergarten: the money that parents pay for food and the various "hidden" costs - repairs, household bills, additional activities, consumables. Only in 12 municipalities across the country the kindergarten is free of charge. According to data from non-governmental organizations, the average monthly amount for a child attending kindergarten is 27,50 BGN. Around 30 million levs will cost to the state if all kindergarten fees across the country drop. Gancho Iliev from "World Without Borders" and Evgenia Volen from the Trust for Social Alchievement Foundation presented research, held by a coalition of organizations showing the overall picture of attendance in kindergartens, coverage of all children, tax collection, social status and the economic benefits to the state after dropping fees.
"We are starting a campaign against charges in kindergartens. Although there is a legal text stating that pre-school education is compulsory, especially for 5 and 6-year-olds and therefore free of charge, there are many municipal councils in Bulgaria that have introduced fees. Monthly fees are an obstacle for many Bulgarian children to attend kindergartens. The NO Fees Kindergartens Campaign has one main purpose - equal access to education for all children, because it is no secret that some of the kids do not attend kindergartens, because the parents cannot afford the fee. The goal is not to put pressure on Bulgarian government, but to find ways to solve the problem", said Manolova.
The official data show that currently 4,200 children are not covered in nurseries and kindergartens, and according to Maya Manolova, their parents have to be supported somehow.
The Ombudsman presented the legislative proposal to remove the requirement for parents to pay for food when their children are in groups under compulsory pre-school education and this should be a commitment of the state budget.
AMALIPE Center strongly supports the Ombudsman's initiative to remove the kindergarten fees for chiildren at compulsory pre - school age! An analysis of the organization "How Free is Free Early Childhood Education?" since October 2017 highlighted the problem that most municipalities did not even reduce kindergarten fees for Group 3 and 4(for children aged 5 and 6), although their state budget is with 25 or 30 levs more per month than the money provided to younger children. This is mentioned as one of the important obstacles (but not the only one!) to the full coverage in pre-school age and in the Civic Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Integration. The dropping of fees was discussed at the National Conference State of Roma Educational Integration, organized by Center Amalipe on May 14th. At the conference the Ombudsman made a commitment to initiate a campaign, and swift compliance with this commitment should be welcomed!
Addressing the protest declaration of the colleagues from the National Network of Health Mediators against the paragraph of the Civic Report on the Implementation of NSRBRI (p.25), Amalipe Center makes the following clarifications:
1. The report has not yet been translated into Bulgarian due to its recent approval by the European Commission. The translation of the problematic paragraph is:
„3. България използва широко подхода на медиация спрямо ромите в здравеопазването, услугите по заетост, образованието и местното правоприлагане. Този модел е положителен, когато става дума за решаването на някои краткосрочни, дребномащабни проблеми. Въпреки това той е ниско ефикасен и ниско ефективен, и е неустойчив ако го разглеждаме като основен, дългосрочен модел за участие на ромите. Той засилва зависимостта и задълбочава сегрегацията на големи ромски общности. Например здравните медиатори са много полезни в ад-хок здравни кампании или в облекчаване на достъпа до спешна помощ (в някои случаи). Въпреки това здравните медиатори са de facto нискоквалифицирани и нископлатени работници с доста нисък статус в повечето местни общности. Вместо да се обучават здравни медиатори, е необходима инвестиция в тригодишно парамедицинско образование за тези хора, така че те поне ще могат да предоставят реални услуги на място. Обучението на роми като лекари би било още по-ефективно.”
2. This paragraph does not underestimate the efforts and role of Roma mediators (health, education, labor), even less - the need for mediation at present. It insists that mediation cannot be the main way of Roma involvement in the long run and that it is strategic to invest in the training of full-time medics, teachers and other professionals of Roma origin.
Amalipe Center is not the author of the "Management" chapter, which includes this paragraph, and this interpretation is made by the colleagues who worked out the chapter: we discussed the issue in details at a forum organized in Sofia on December 6th. The forum, which was organized to discuss the preliminary findings of the report, was attended by many organizations and mediators, and an invitation was also made to the NNHM. The forum discussed the above mentioned paragraph and was presented with the above mentioned interpretation;
3. The quoted paragraph is part of the chapter "Management". The "Health" chapter will be included in the 2018 report.
In order to avoid misinterpretations and after obtaining the consent of the authors, Amalipe Center (as an organization that coordinates the civil monitoring of the implementation of the NSRBRI) proposed to the Central European University and DG Justice of the European Commission the removal of this paragraph. The proposal was accepted and in the final version of the report, which will be published on paper, the contested text is not included.
We are committed to revisiting the text in the discussion on the Health chapter in the 2018 report, and the colleagues from the National Network of Health Mediators will also be invited.
The Citizens' Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Integration can be found here.