The need of restarting of the process of desegregation in education, an investment in early childhood development (including removing fees for kindergartens) and an impressive consensus on the main conclusions and recommendations for chapter “Education” in the Civil society monitoring report, were the main topics of the conference “The state of the Roma educational integration: from innovative model in class to innovative school”. One of the main characteristics of the forum was the unprecedented attendance of diplomats and pedagogues, as well as political figures on high level positions. The ombudsman Mrs. Maya Manolova, Deputy minister of education Mrs. Denitsa Satcheva, deputy minister of social policy Mrs. Zornitsa Russinova, the mayor of the town of Gabrovo – Mrs. Tanya Hristova, H.E. Denis Knobel (Ambassador of Switzerland and co-chair of the Roma Inclusion Ambassadors Group), representatives of two General directorates of the European Commission and the chairman of Amalipe Center Mr. Deyan Kolev, discussed in front of 7 ambassadors, diplomats form 4 embassies, over 200 headmasters of schools and kindergartens, as well as representatives of NGOs from all around the country. The conference was held on 14th of May in Sofia and was organized by Amalipe Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance and the National Network of Children under the patronage of the Roma Inclusion Ambassadors Group (RIAG) with the financial support of “Friedrich Ebert” Foundation.
´Congratulations on the report – it shows that the society has a capacity for recognizing important topics and to debate on them”, greeted the participants the National Ombudsman Mrs. Maya Manolova. She pointed that the investment in integration is the most rentable investment and proposed 4 steps for its acceleration:
1.Mandatory and free preschool education starting from the age of 4; removing fees for kindergarten in this age range.
2.Additional support for desegregation of the so-called “Roma” neighborhood schools;
3.Additional work on reaching every child and student by ending the practice of closing kindergartens and schools in the villages;
4.Involving the parents as a real partner in these activities
The Bulgarian ombudsman took commitment to initiate a campaign for removing fees in kindergartens, as well as to continue being active on the topic of integration. Two weeks later she initiated the pomised campaign: see information here
The deputy minister of education Mrs. Denitsa Sacheva presented the policy of the Ministry of Education, in which the full enrollment in preschool and school age is a main priority. The mechanism for reaching it, that involves every stakeholder, will be permanent policy and soon there will be a Decree of the Council of Ministers on the topic. From this year the schools will get additional financing for their work with students from families with low educational status, and for this 35 million lev will be spent. Two big system projects will be endorsed in Operational Program “Science and education for smart growth”, that are connected to the educational integration. In a few months new textbooks in mother language will be produced, including textbooks in Roma.
Deputy Minister Sacheva pointed out the problems and challenges as well:
- Early child development and fees for kindergartens: although the municipalities were asked by an official letter from Minister Valchev to lower the taxes for the mandatory preschool age in regard to the higher budget funding, not every municipality did that. The Ministry of Education will suggest lowering the age of mandatory preschool education from 5 to 4 years, and removing the taxes for kindergarden.
-Migration of children with their parents in different countries in Western Europe, as in this case the main problem is how to continue their education in cooperation with the other countries. There is a positive answer for partnership in this direction from Germany, Spain, Portugal and others.
- Desegregation is still a challenge: Ordinance 10 was changed to give a chance to the Roma children in big cities to attend schools outside the Roma neighborhood, but this is obviously not enough;
-The need of Roma teachers to help with integration on the field in the communities.
Mr. Denis Crowly, head of unite in DG EAC of the European commission started his speech with compliments on the high quality of chapter “The effect of the main educational policies for Roma integration”. “I’m impressed by the great mobilization about the report – the full hall and the presence of all stakeholders, apparently Amalipe is a good example for mobilization.” Mr. Crowly expressed his satisfaction from the consensus around the conclusions and the recommendations too.
Three questions are key for the educational integration, according to the representative of the European commission: early education, full scope and desegregation. The participation of Roma children in early education is not high and has to be increased with all means. Children receive free meals in Romania, which has an immediate effect. There is progress in Bulgaria too, but there is more to be done. The migration and the continuation of education is important and we are ready to help with this problem. I’m glad that everyone here realizes how important desegregation is and is not afraid to use this term. We will continue to support your efforts with financing and exchange of good practices, said Mr. Crowly.
His Excellency Denis Knobel (Ambassador of Switzerland and co-chair of the Roma Inclusion Ambassadors Group) expressed his satisfaction from the “impressive presence of ambassadors and representatives of institutions”. One of the main tasks of the Ambassadors Group is advocacy and support so the voice of the Roma organizations can be heard. So we support this conference that is held under the patronage of the Ambassadors Group. The second reason is the report. Its quality is very good. It is excellent that the European commission is giving the chance to the civil organizations and wants their opinion alongside the governmental opinion. ´
Ambassador Knobel shared his opinion, that in Europe there are good Roma strategies, but the challenge is their implementation. He shared two things from the experience of programme “Health and education for all”, financed by the Swiss programme for partnership: free preschool education and good progress in implementing the position of the educational mediator.
With compliments for the report and his constructive and critical approach started her speech Mrs. Helene Kortlander, head of the Bulgarian office of the “Friedrich Ebert” Foundation. When racist movements grow stronger, the integration is even more important, said Mrs. Kortlander.
After the greetings Mr. Deyan Kolev presented the recommendations from Chapter “The Effect of the main educational policies in regard to Roma education” from the Civil monitoring report for the implementation of the National strategy of Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Integration. They are dedicated to the Ministry of Education, The Parliament and the municipalities and suggest specific measures for increasing the reach in preschool education, prevention of students leaving school, desegregation, a change in the financing system and implementing intercultural education. The Chairman of Amalipe expressed his gratitude to the Ministry of Education for the cooperation in creating the report and for the political dialogue with the Roma organizations; as a result some of the recommendations are already in process of implementation. The presentation and recommendations can be found here.
As answer deputy minister Sacheva emphasized that the actions of the Ministry of Education are in accordance with many of the recommendations. She accepted the recommendation the Ministry to check if art. 99, p. 4 and 6 from the Law of preschool and school education is executed, so all segregated classes in multiethnic schools are forbidden.
The Mayor of Gabrovo Municipality Mrs. Tanya Hristova emphasized on the recommendations to restart the process of desegregation. Although the Roma people in Garbovo are a small number, they don’t live in a settlement and they live in good conditions, the stereotypes, the lack of tolerrance and the wrong actions of some school headmasters ended in creating a “Roma” school. It is near by the central part of the town has good facilities but it is…. segregated, because the Roma children from the whole town are directed to it and the Bulgarian children from the region are attending different schools. So in partnership with Amalipe Center we started a fight for the school to be closed and its students to be integrated in all other schools in town so we can prevent segregation. The Municipality council made the decision of closing the school and from September 2018 in Gabrovo there’s not going to be a “Roma” school.
The most serious challenge is to win the majority and for this task we need to use culture, sport and every other mean that unite us, said Mrs. Hristova. Preschool education is imperative need and every action in this direction is investment, not a cost.
The educational integration goes alongside with social work, said Deputy Minister of labor and chair of Human Resources Development OP Zornitza Russinova. The poverty and segregation are the problems, that have to be solved and for us to succeed with integration we have to be working together as we are today – the government and local authorities, NGOs and municipalities.
Deputy Minister Russinova expressed her fear in seeing the protests against social housing in a lot of cities, as well as the social resistance against some of the integration measures. She emphasized on the importance of “digitalization with social inclusion: the digital isolation is scary and should be prevented.
I’m joining the congratulations for the authors of the report, said Dora Krumova, representative of DG “Employment” in the European commission. What we have found in Bulgarian is similar on European level: the only area that shows progress is education, in which the progress is with the reach, but we have a problem with segregation. Early child development is a serious challenge and the suggested measures are reasonable and could be supported by the European social fund.
Mrs. Krumova had two messages for the audience:
- not only the targeted measures, but system operations have an effect on the Roma integration. It is necessary the target and main measures to be combined.
- “how we do it” is more important than “how much”: at similar levels of costs, the results of some of the countries are different. It is important to use the European and national money effectively.
As a conclusion Mr. Deyan Kolev emphasized, that the conclusions in chapter “The Effect of main educational policies in regard to Roma education” of the Civil monitoring report are endorsed by the main stakeholders. And it is important to be followed by specific actions with the participation of main stakeholders.