Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science Issues Landmark
In September 2002, the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science issued an "Instruction for the Integration of Minority Children and Pupils." The Instruction outlined the major strategic goals regarding the integration of minority children through education, including but not limited to:
- Integration and preservation of the ethnic specificity's of the minority children and pupils;
- Overcoming of specific problems which violate the principle of equal access to quality education; and
- Fostering the successful socialisation of the young people from different ethnic minority communities.
With respect to Roma, the Instruction identified the isolation of the Romani children in the schools based in the Romani settlements, the routing of normally developed children to schools for mentally disabled children, the manifestation of racism in the class room, the unavailability of mother tongue instruction at school, and high levels of illiteracy and few qualifications among the elderly Roma, as the most serious problems Romani children face.
The Instruction envisages the preparation of a process of removing the children from school facilities in the Romani settlements and creating possibilities for equal access to quality education, as well as eliminating the existing practice of routing Romani children to schools for mentally disabled children. The aim of the Instruction is to eliminate gradually the isolation of Romani children in education and to ensure their access to quality education in integrated schools. In a letter sent on September 12, 2002, the ERRC and local Romani and human rights organisations welcomed the Instruction of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science as the first official commitment of the Bulgarian government to provide an institutional framework for a nation wide desegregation of Romani education. Although desegregation activities have been underway in Bulgaria since the school year 2000/2001, they were initiated and carried out solely by Romani civic organisations supported by the Open Society Institute's Roma Participation Program, the ERRC and other international actors. As of the start of the school year 2002/2003, as a result of the Romani led desegregation projects, a total of about 1900 Romani children who formerly attended segregated Romani ghetto schools were integrated into mainstream schools in the towns of Vidin, Sliven, Montana, Stara Zagora, Haskovo and Sofia (for more information on NGO desegregation projects in Bulgaria, see pp. 44-50 in this issue of Roma Rights).
On September 30, 2002, in a written response to the ERRC's letter of September 12, 2002, Mr Vladimir Atanassov, the Minister of Education and Science of Bulgaria, assured the ERRC that the integration of Romani children in education and ensuring equal access to education for them are among the most important strategic tasks of the Ministry. Mr Atanassov stated that the Ministry "has clear awareness about the fact that Bulgarian education, in its part concerning Romani children, is seriously ill" and that "it is important to undertake urgent measures to lay sound foundations for the solution of these problems." In his letter, Mr Atanassov committed to the involvement of experts from non-governmental organisations, including Romani organisations, in the work of the consultative body on the education of children and minority pupils to be set up pursuant to the instruction and welcomed the ERRC's willingness to co-operate with the consultative body.