Framework for a program for equal integration of Roma in Bulgarian society Council of Ministers of the Bulgarian Government
In April 1999, the Council of Ministers of the Bulgarian government approved a "Framework for a Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society" delineating the tasks for Bulgarian government policy to address in the area of Romani issues. Advocacy groups now have important work ahead in ensuring that the Framework is implemented. The ERRC is reprinting herewith the section concerning education. The unofficial translation below was provided by the Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP). A full text of the Framework is available from the HRP at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A system of factual segregation of Romani children in the so-called "Gypsy schools" with an emphasis on vocational training was inherited from the previous regime and remains at the present. Today we witness a tendency to form separate segregated classes of Romani children at schools. The low quality of the education that Romani children receive in these conditions, general discrimination, poverty, lack of any current programs which should compensate for the insufficient knowledge of Bulgarian language and the differences in ethnic culture have all led to an avalanche growth of absenteeism and drop-out rate of Romani children from school before they have completed their secondary education.
The following steps must be taken to overcome the disadvantaged position of Romani children in the educational system:
A long-term strategy must be developed for the removal of segregated Romani schools in Romani areas and decisive measures taken to ensure free admission of Romani children to the "normal" schools, and to prevent segregation of Romani children into separate classes.
The reorganizing of the so-called "Gypsy schools" is a long process which will take time and effort. Meanwhile we must work on improving the quality of educational standards in these schools.
Some necessary steps to be taken in this direction are:
- Assistance and encouragement of the introduction of preparatory classes for Romani children who do not speak Bulgarian;
- Introduction of general integrated educational curricula at Romani schools and excluding early vocational training classes from the curricula;
- Stimulation of the employment of teachers with adequate qualification and experience and dismissal of teachers with no university degree or teaching qualifications;
- Introduction of the position "assistant teachers/instructor" for people from the Romani community who will assist Romani children at school, and provision of special training for these assistant teachers/instructors;
- Free access to information and consultations for low income families and families in poor living conditions. Such families should be entitled to free meals in the school canteens, to free school textbooks, books and other school materials.
2. Elimination of the practice of sending Romani children to be educated in "special" schools for children with disabilities
A high percent of Romani pupils are being sent to "special" schools or assigned to a "special" school curricula as they are assessed unable to cover the general school curriculum. This is a violation of their right to receive equal education. The mechanism that allows cultural differences of Romani children and their lower social status to be classified as mental retardation and educational disability is deeply discriminatory. It is necessary that in the short term these practices of social exclusion be terminated.
3. Counteraction to manifestations of racism in the classrooms
Romani children are exposed to various forms of bad treatment and humiliation in schools. Negative attitude of teachers and schoolmates towards Romani children is also a factor that leads to unwillingness of these children to attend classes. The Ministry of Science and Education must develop educational programs for ethnic tolerance for teachers. Everyone â€” teachers, parents and pupils should receive special training on counteracting racism in schools. Racist acts in the classroom must be sanctioned.
4. Providing the opportunity to study Romani language at school
The study of one's mother tongue is a basic human right. It is guaranteed in the Bulgarian Constitution. However, the right of Roma to study their mother tongue has been constantly violated. The study of one's mother tongue as a subject limits the practical implementation of the right to study one's mother tongue. Romani language must become an optional school subject on the general national curriculum.
One major obstacle in the study of the Romani language in school is the shortage of teachers who are capable to simultaneously teach and promote this process. For this reason "Romani language and culture" should be introduced as a second optional major at universities for teachers. It should be introduced especially at Sofia University where not only university students studying to become teachers but other students whose future occupations shall involve working in the Romani community can choose to study Romani as a second major.
5. University education for Roma
The long-term policy of segregation of Romani pupils in schools and their reduced opportunity to complete secondary education like the rest of Bulgarian citizens has led to a shortage of qualified specialists in various professional fields within the Romani community. The percentage of Roma with university or college education is very low. These negative results stemming from discrimination against Roma in the field of education can be overcome by providing conditions/possibilities for Roma to be admitted at universities by, for example, organizing preparatory courses for Romani candidate students, etc. The Romani community must be well informed about the procedures and requirements for receiving university scholarships.