Barriers to the Education of Roma in Europe: A position paper by the European Roma Rights Center

05 May 2002

For Romani children living in today's Europe, equal educational opportunity is a mirage. In some countries, more than half of the Romani child population is sent to schools for mentally handicapped children. In such schools, Romani children do not earn a diploma preparing them for life in a democratic society and competitive labor market. Quite the contrary: they are denied the right to education and emerge stigmatized as "stupid" and "retarded". They will live out their adult lives under-educated, unemployed or condemned to low-paying, menial jobs. They will be unable to realize fundamental rights, and will be deprived of basic dignity.

Elsewhere, Romani children are segregated from non-Romani children in separate classes or schools because of patterns of ghettoized settlement, or because of raw racial discrimination. Isolated from their non-Romani peers and frequently taught by under-qualified instructors, they too emerge from schooling scarred by the experience and ill-equipped for life in a multicultural democracy.

In extreme cases, as a result of the ill will of schooling authorities in specific instances or the unremedied exclusion of whole Romani communities, many Romani children in Europe receive no formal education whatsoever.

Those Romani children who fight the odds, secure a place in - and manage to remain in - mainstream schooling, suffer racist humiliation or even physical abuse by their teachers or their peers, since at present in Europe "Gypsies" are loathed, feared and scorned. In addition, few Romani or non-Romani children will ever learn, in the course of their schooling, about Romani culture, history or language, or about the rich contributions Roma have made to the societies in which they live.

It is the position of the ERRC that the problem of the systematic denial to Roma of the right to education cannot be overcome without the implementation of comprehensive school desegregation programs. While the ERRC recognizes that desegregation is not a universal panacea able to remedy all problems Roma encounter in the school system, it is our contention that without school desegregation, real change will be elusive. School desegregation is therefore the framework within which the ERRC approaches the complex of problems faced by Roma in the field of education. However, school desegregation is a policy which cannot be pursued by civil society projects and donor interventions alone. Segregated schooling is a problem beyond the reach of small projects and one which can be resolved only via state action and with the sustained and engaged political will of government agencies. At present, however, real political will for school desegregation in Europe is lacking: Although in a few instances governments in Central and Eastern Europe have recently included the concept of desegregation in official programs, where such programs exist, they remain largely unelaborated and fully unimplemented. International involvement is crucial to ensure the real development and implementation in full of comprehensive school desegregation programs. ERRC recommendations to European governments, including recommendations in the area of desegregation follow:

  1. Cease immediately the practice of placing Romani children in "special schools" or "special classes" for the mentally handicapped;
  2. Take immediate measures to ensure that Romani children currently excluded from schooling are swiftly integrated into the mainstream school system;
  3. Develop and implement comprehensive national action plans for the transfer of Romani children presently in "special schools" or "special classes" for the mentally handicapped to mainstream schooling, with accompanying support programs to ease transition;
  4. Develop and implement similar comprehensive action plans for the desegregation of the mainstream school system;
  5. Ensure that adequate resources are allocated for school desegregation action plans and other programs aimed at the integration of Romani children in the school system;
  6. Design pre-school programs for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling in their country or area, such that they can participate effectively in schooling from the first day of school;
  7. Sanction effectively abuse by schooling authorities, including:
  • practices of excluding Romani children from schooling;
  • physical abuse, verbal abuse, or other humiliating treatment of Romani children at schools;
  • instances in which teachers or school administrators fail to protect Romani children from abuse by their peers, or fail to punish instances of abuse of Romani children by other children;
  1. Develop and implement adult education programs to remedy legacies of substandard education and non-schooling;
  2. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Europe by developing and implementing anti-racism curriculums for schools and anti-racism campaigns for the media. At all levels, European officials must speak out to condemn racism, racist acts and patterns and practices of discrimination and segregation;
  3. Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture and history in schools, and make them widely available to all schools; amend school curriculums such that all children learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to the societies in which they live.

Discussion: ERRC Concerns Pertaining to the Education of Romani Children in Europe

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states: "Everyone has the right to feducation." [1] The principle that education, as a fundamental right, shall be free of discrimination is also enshrined in international law: Article 5(e)(v) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), for example, states: "States Parties undertake to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right to everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of [...] [t]he right to education and training."

Notwithstanding the near-universal recognition of the crucial role of education in the development of the free and autonomous individual - and despite the numerous international instruments which set racial discrimination beyond the pale of permissible action in all spheres of life - discrimination against Roma in the field of education is pervasive in Europe, generating lasting and crippling effects. In particular, racial segregation is widespread in the educational systems of Europe today. [2] Harms suffered regularly by Romani children in European school systems include:

  • Segregation in schools or classes for the mentally handicapped;
  • Segregation in substandard schools or classes in the mainstream educational system;
  • School segregation resulting from residential segregation - "Gypsy ghetto schools";
  • Exclusion from the school system;
  • Abuse in schools, including racially-motivated physical abuse.

Segregation in "special schools" and/or "special classes" for the mentally handicapped

A particularly debilitating form of racial segregation is the practice, prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe, of placing Romani children in so-called "special schools" or "special classes" for the mentally handicapped.

During research in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, the ERRC found that Romani children in Ostrava outnumbered non-Roma in special schools by a proportion of more than twenty-seven to one. [3] Although Roma represented fewer than 5% of all primary school-age students in Ostrava, they constituted over 50% of the "special school" population. Nationwide, as the Czech Government itself conceded, approximately 75% of Romani children attend "special schools", and during the 1998/1999 school year, more than half of all special school students were Romani. [4] There is no indication that the situation has changed substantively in the intervening three years since the ERRC conducted intensive research into the situation of Roma in the educational system in the Czech Republic. [5] Despite repeated pronouncements by the Czech authorities that far-reaching changes to the school system are planned, to date the Czech school system remains segregated.

The Czech Republic is not the only place where Roma are disproportionately educated in schools or classes for the mentally handicapped. In Hungary, similar trends are evident: A 1998 survey in Borsod County, northeastern Hungary, commissioned by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Ethnic and Minority Rights ("Minority Ombudsman") revealed that 90% of children in special schools were Romani. [6]

Romani children are also reportedly segregated in special schools and special classes for the mentally handicapped in Romania. [7] National statistics on the numbers of Romani children in such schools and classes are not publicly available. However, where rough figures can be established, they are high enough to warrant serious concern. In Cluj-Napoca, for example, the school for the mentally handicapped serves about 200 children, and according to local sources over 70% of them are Romani. [8] Discretion on placement is the purview of local schooling authorities, and anti-Romani prejudice plays a significant part in determining whether a child is placed in a special school or a special class. The ERRC has also documented a number of cases in which school authorities have resorted to placing Romani children in special classes - despite the fact that the children did not show any handicap - on grounds that they had a "disadvantaged background" or "because the teachers do not know what to do with them."

In addition to the examples cited above, Roma are reportedly over-represented in special schools in Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia and Slovenia. In Slovakia, reportedly more than half of the Romani student population attends special schools for the mentally handicapped. [9] According to a report by the Open Society Institute, in Bulgaria, a majority of the 19,000 students in 130 Bulgarian schools for the mentally handicapped are Romani. [10]

Pressure on Romani parents to send their children to "special schools" can be intense. One Romani woman in the Czech Republic, Ms Z.L., told the ERRC that school officials had attempted to bluster her into signing forms consenting to the transfer of her daughter to a school for the mentally handicapped:

My daughter is thirteen. She is in the seventh class. Two years ago they called me up to say, "We've decided that she should go to remedial special school. Can you come and sign the papers?" I said, "No, I don't want her to change schools." They said, "Well she has to now "we've already sent all her papers to the special school." I had to go and make a big fuss to get the papers back. I still don't understand it. They never told me why they had suddenly decided that my daughter should change schools. [11]

Psychologists and other schooling authorities in the Czech Republic confimed that Romani parents are frequently put under pressure by schooling authorities, including by the psychologists charged with evaluating children, to consent to the transfer of their children to schools for the mentally handicapped. According to one Czech psychologist:

A psychologist or a teacher will say to the parent: "your child does not have good results in basic school: do you agree?" The parent will agree. The authority will then say "so your child would be better at remedial special school?" and the parent agrees, without realising that they have just given their "formal consent" to place their child in remedial special school. And this is the whole conversation. [12]

In some instances, "special schools" for the mentally handicapped attempt actively to recruit Romani children because of budgetary pressure to maintain high levels of enrolment. One former remedial special school teacher in the Czech Republic told the ERRC of efforts by a school administrator to recruit Romani children for the school:

The deputy director requested that I visit the various doctors in the area to find out how many Romani children were approaching the age of six for that year. The deputy director wanted me to obtain a list of such pupils so that they could all be enrolled into our remedial special school. In particular she explained to me that she wanted to fill up all the places available at the school for the forthcoming year. She also forced me to go to Romani families to request that the children be sent to our remedial special school. [13]

While the placement of Romani children in special educational programs can occur with relative ease, around the region, reintegration from special classes or special schools into regular schooling is frequently blocked by bureaucratic obstacles and often, in practice, not possible. Conflicts of interest, such as the desire of special school administrators to keep as many pupils as possible for budgetary reasons, frequently hinder authorities' ability to render a decision in the best interests of the child. Some school directors are simply opposed to the transfer of Romani children from special classes to normal classes. In practice, few Romani pupils are ever transferred from special schools or classes to normal classes, and there is virtually no independent monitoring to ensure that placements, once made, continue to be appropriate.

The massive over-representation of Romani children in schools for the mentally handicapped - embodying the triple harm of racial segregation, substandard education and the stigma of mental handicap - is fundamentally humiliating to all Roma. As the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has recently noted, "[p]erhaps no legally-sanctioned practice affecting Roma is more pernicious than the phenomenon of channeling Romani children to "special schools" "schools for the mentally disabled. [...] Aside from the obvious disadvantage this entails in terms of the sub-standard quality of education made available to Romani children – depriving them of the equal opportunity to learn and to develop as capable and self-reliant citizens - the effect is also automatically to disqualify Romani children from admission to certain secondary and tertiary educational and professional institutions. [14]

Even when Roma are taught in nominally mainstream schools, they are frequently segregated in Roma-only, remedial or "catch-up" classes and in some cases in separate, substandard buildings. Romani children in segregated classes are frequently taught according to an "adjusted curriculum" not designed to provide education on an equal footing with other students. These pupils experience the humiliation of being cordoned off from their non-Romani peers for what is frequently their entire schooling career. The effect of such schooling arrangements is to exclude Roma from equal education, and Roma suffer permanent harm as a result of their segregation on racial grounds.

In Croatia, the majority of Romani children in the primary schools are relegated to substandard, segregated classes. ERRC research in Croatia in May 2001 revealed that four out of five primary schools in Međimurje County had separate classes for Roma. According to information provided by the Međimurje County Department of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technical Education, out of the 865 Romani children enrolled in the twelve schools in Međimurje County, 511 were educated in separate classes during the 2000/2001 school year. [15] Patterns of school segregation also exist in other places in Croatia. For example, in 2000, the Croatian Ombudsman condemned the segregation of Romani children in schools in Varaždin County, calling the practice "apartheid". [16]

Authorities in Romania also segregate Romani children in separate classes in the regular school system solely on the basis of ethnicity. [17] The ERRC is also aware of cases in which protests by non-Romani parents and their refusal to let their own children be taught together with Romani children have prevailed with school authorities. Similar allegations have been made with respect to kindergartens in Romania. For example, in Mangalia, according to local activists, parents of non-Romani children reportedly exercised pressure on the authorities of a kindergarten and threatened to transfer their children if Romani children were accepted in the institution. These events reportedly prompted formation of separate facilities for Romani children. [18]

In Hungary, estimates indicate that Roma make up 84.2 percent of the students in "catch-up"classes in 192 schools surveyed by the Institute for Education Research. [19] School authorities reportedly have a stake in maintaining "catch-up" supporting classes because they can receive supplementary grants for the education of minority children, offered under a 1993 law. [20] In practice, these classes are frequently substandard, offering poor quality education in spatially segregated areas, such as run-down separate buildings. Most Romani children educated in "catch-up" classes never "catch-up" and are never mainstreamed into the normal school system. Instead, they finish their educational career in the separate system, often as early as the fifth grade. In his 1999 Annual Report, the Hungarian Minority Ombudsman stated that: "the supporting school system is nothing but a "blind alley" into which unfortunately Roma children are compelled to enter in very large number. In other words, the system of supporting schools could be termed as a very special form of discrimination about young Gypsies, meaning unambiguously segregation, artificial separation. [21] This practice, however, has not been curbed since. A 2002 investigation of the Minority Ombudsman established that the Romani students of the Verpelét primary school, Heves County, are educated in separate classes, starting from the first grade, without the express consent or request of their parents. [22]

Non-Romani parents in Spain have engaged in civic action to attempt to prevent the enrollment of Romani children in schools, actions that have resulted in the effective racial segregation of Romani children in the school system. In an episode which made national headlines in Spain, beginning April 14, 2000, parents of the 633 students of San Juan Bosco school in the northern Spanish town of Barakaldo protested against the admission of three Romani children. The children had been without schooling since March 31, 2000, when the public school they attended was closed. On May 10, 2000, the Romani children had their first day at San Juan Bosco school, but were the only students present. They were accompanied by Mr Jesús Gimenéz of the association Iniciative Gitana, the thirty teachers of the school and a police escort, while parents protested vigorously in the street. The non-Romani parents had voted to boycott the school. Local authorities put the matter in the hands of the district attorney for juvenile affairs, who threatened non-Romani parents with legal action if they did not comply with the obligation to send their children to school. Under this threat, over 90% of the students were back in school on May 15. However, the three Romani children were reportedly placed in a separate classroom with no other students. [23]

In the Slovenian town of Leskovec pri Krskem, in the local primary school, Romani children in grades 1-4 attend separate classes in a separate school building that stands next to the main building. Similarly, authorities in several towns in southern Poland reportedly took advantage of the existence of a private schooling project aimed at reducing illiteracy among Roma and transferred all local Romani children into separate classes, literate or not.

Ghetto schools

in some instances, Roma are placed in inferior quality schools as a result of residential segregation: ghetto children go to ghetto schools. In such schools, the overwhelming majority of children are Romani, and although the schools often formally offer a standard curriculum, education is in practice substandard because teachers lack basic qualifications, textbooks are out-of-date, teaching aids are lacking, and school buildings are run-down and ill-equipped to provide for quality education.

In Bulgaria, for example, ghetto schools are generally dilapidated buildings, often with broken windows covered in barbed wire, paint peeling off the walls, and classrooms with few decorations. Such schools are usually overcrowded and lack basic facilities; classes are not held regularly; some Romani students who graduate from these schools can hardly read or write; and in many cases teachers do not have the qualifications required by law. In addition, underlying negative prejudices towards Roma held by non-Romani teaching staff often result in degrading treatment of Romani school children. It has been estimated that around 70% of all Romani children in Bulgaria attend such schools. [24]

In many towns and cities in Portugal, there are large communities of shanty-dwellers, and some such communities are predominantly or exclusively Romani. The squalor and deprivation of such sites is often extreme: houses are made of debris and often have no electricity or proper sanitation. Romani settlements frequently have no heating, sanitation or washing facilities. Schools in such communities are substandard ghetto schools in which Romani children are frequently the majority of pupils. Such conditions prevail, for example, in the town of Coimbra, as well as in a number of other communities.

Spatial segregation also leads to the segregation of Romani children in schools in Moldova. For example, the school in the Romani community in Schinoasa is in very poor condition, is staffed with unqualified teachers, and is frequently not open. The school building in Schinoasa is situated in the yard of a Romani family in the community. At the time of an ERRC visit in December 2001, it comprised two small rooms, which were filled with dilapidated desks and blackboards. There were no windows in the building and the glass pane was missing from the window in the entrance door. At the time of the ERRC visit, a book had been placed where the glass once had been. The building also lacked a source of heat and in wintertime the inside of the school is reportedly only slightly warmer than outside. The teaching staff at the school in Schinoasa consists of two non-Romani teachers from the nearby town of Tibirica who reportedly possess only an elementary school education themselves. During several visits by the ERRC to the community, the school was not even open and the teachers were nowhere to be found. Romani children in the community report that the teachers are only present at the school for two hours per day, although not every day. The level of knowledge of the children also attests to this. Many older pupils at the school are unable to read or write. Romani children attending the school in Schinoasa also stated that they have no textbooks, and that their parents cannot afford to purchase notebooks, pens, or pencils, necessary for their lessons. Their parents told the ERRC that they frequently cannot afford food. Romani children in Schinoasa rarely attend classes past the fourth class. From the fifth class, Romani children must travel to Tibirica to attend school. Romani children from Schinoasa attending school in Tibirica - at the time of a recent visit by the ERRC in December 2001 there were reportedly less than five such children - are allegedly subjected to violence and ridicule by their classmates and teachers because they are Romani. Students report being beaten by their fellow pupils in Tibirica, and being called names by their teachers. ERRC field research indicates that the situation is similar in other settlements in Moldova as well. [25]

Exclusion from school

many Romani children never have the opportunity to attend school at all. In some places, a combination of bureaucratic obstacles and poverty work effectively to exclude many Romani children from the school system entirely. In others, non-Romani parents and/or school officials block the enrolment of Romani children in schools.

Numerous Romani children in Romania, for example, have been blocked from enrolling in schools by officials who have justified their actions with reference to residence permit requirements, as well as with reference to the fact of birth abroad. In the years following the collapse of the Ceauşescu regime in 1989, Romania was the site of approximately thirty anti-Romani pogroms featuring killings and the expulsion of whole communities from villages. Many of the victims, along with Roma who have left villages in search of work opportunities in cities, now lead extremely marginal existences on the outskirts of Romania’s larger towns and cities, most notably Bucharest. Unable to procure residence permits for what is often no more than cardboard box housing, Roma are unable to enroll their children in schools. In other instances, a lack of identity documents has been used as a pretext for denying Romani children access to school. [26] In Timişoara, near the western border of Romania, Romani parents wishing to enroll their children in a local school were told by authorities that this was impossible because their children did not have birth certificates issued in Romania. [27] Similarly, Roma forcibly returned from Germany have been denied access to schooling because education officials in Romania have refused to recognize their schooling abroad. [28] Parents in the Zabrăuţi neighborhood of Bucharest told the ERRC in February 2001 that their children had been refused enrolment in the local school for years until a member of parliament intervened. [29]

Similar administrative obstacles to the enrolment of Romani children in schools have been documented in France. The non-governmental organization Socio-Educative Tzigane d'Aquitaine (USETA) reported to the ERRC that during the academic school-year 1999/2000, members of the organization noticed a growing number of obstacles to implement the right to education for Romani schoolchildren. Romani children were refused either in pre-school, elementary or secondary schools for various apparently pre-textual reasons: lack of places, lack of teaching materials, no certificate of schooling to evaluate the academic level of the children. In one school, a pedagogical team reportedly fixed an arbitrary quota on the number of Romani children allowed in school "to prevent conflict situations." [30]

Journalists from TeleMadrid, a private local television station in Spain, have recently conducted tests of kindergartens using hidden video cameras (a lawful practice in Spain), in order to document discriminatory practices in admissions procedures. One journalist was given extensive advice by a member of the state organization of kindergartens as to how to open a kindergarten such that no Romani children would come to it. The interviewed official sternly admonishes the journalist, who had posed as a person wishing to open a kindergarten, not to admit any "Gypsy children" at all, "or else soon you will be swamped with Gypsies." In the video recording, the same administrator advises the journalist not to explicitly discriminate, "since this would be illegal", but rather to place Romani children indefinitely on a waiting list until the parents" interest in enrolling their children waned. The videotape was broadcast on a number of Spanish television stations and provoked nationwide debate.

Many Romani children in Italy live in segregated "camps for nomads" and effectively have no access to the Italian school system. Distances between segregated camps and schools are often exacerbated by frequent evictions. During raids, police authorities often destroy the school supplies of Romani children. In numerous cases, Roma live in camps far away from schools. Non-citizen Roma threatened with expulsion - and this category includes persons who have been in Italy for long periods of time or were born there - have in many cases pulled their children out of school in order to go into hiding. [31]

In Greece, in November 2000, in an effort to exclude Romani children from school, authorities in the municipality of Halastra near Thessaloniki, Greece, closed a local public primary school for approximately one week. The closing came as a result of pressure from the local non-govern-mental parents and guardians association, according to information provided to the ERRC by the Thessaloniki-based Drom Network for Gypsy Social Rights. The parents and guardians association reportedly protested the enrolment of Romani children from the Aghia Sophia Gonou community, near Thessaloniki. A compromise was eventually reached, according to which only half of the 16 Romani pupils newly allocated to the school would continue their education there, and the school re-opened one week later. [32] Despite Greek legal provisions stating that children should attend the school closest to the place where they live, to date, the other eight children concerned attend schools as far as 17 kilometers from their homes.

In other instances, Romani children already enrolled and attending school are driven out of the school system again. There are, for example, widespread reports that Romani children in Hungary are dramatically over-represented among children involved in so-called "private student" arrangements which effectively exclude them from schooling. Pupils can become "private students" if both parents and school officials agree to waive mandatory school attendance and allow the child to learn at home. The provision is intended for especially talented children, but there are disturbing reports of teachers putting pressure on Romani parents to accept private schooling arrangements if their children have discipline problems or on grounds of raw racial prejudice. ERRC field research in the eastern Hungarian town of Berettyóújfalu in 2000 revealed that all nine of the children involved in "private schooling" programs in the town were Romani and that many were repeatedly failing periodic examinations. [33] The effect of coercing Romani children into "private student" arrangements is to force them from the school system.

Finally, in some countries including Greece, Italy, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro, hundreds of Romani children do not go to school at all. Whole communities of Roma in Romania live on dumpsites, and the efforts of non-governmental organizations to assist Roma in enrolling their children in school have met with obstruction at nearly every official instance. Roma living in so-called "unauthorized camps" in Italy - temporary roadside shelters erected without permit and frequently demolished by police and municipal authorities - are similarly completely excluded from Italian society. In such instances, the complete lack of schooling of Romani children is one component of the marginalization of whole Romani communities. Not going to school is both effect and reflection of the total legal non-existence of thousands of Roma in Europe. One result of such exclusion is the reproduction of generations of persons with no prospects and no chances to realize aspirations for a better future.

Abuse in school

roma suffer abuse in schools by non-Romani children and parents, as well as by schoolteachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators frequently turn a blind eye to racist abuse by non-Romani children. In the worst cases, schooling officials themselves physically abuse Romani children or insult their ethnic origins, bringing home the lesson of racism. At a very young age, many Roma and non-Roma are taught that hate, humiliation and even physical abuse on racist grounds is acceptable or at least tolerated.

An ERRC interview in March 1998 with a ten-year-old Romani girl from the village of Bontida, near Cluj-Napoca in Romania, revealed that her schoolmaster had pulled her ear so hard that it had bled and medical assistance was required. [34] One primary school student from the Hungarian town of Dömsöd, approximately fifty kilometers south of Budapest, told the ERRC that her teachers had on one occasion called Romani girls at her school "stinking little Gypsy whores" and had hit a Romani classmate of hers. Although Romani parents complained to authorities at the school about the incident, the teacher in question was reportedly never reprimanded. [35] According to ERRC research in Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro, in March 2002, two Romani children from Kosovo temporarily withdrew from school after their mathematics teacher hurled a notebook at them, striking one of them. [36] One Romani boy who had been enrolled in both German and Macedonian schools told the ERRC in an interview conducted in August 1997 that he preferred German schools because, "in Macedonian schools, teachers hit me."

In May 2001, an ERRC staff member visiting a primary school in the northern Croatian village of Orehovica, noticed a six-year old Romani boy relegated to the corner of the room. She inquired as to why he was being punished and was told that the young boy had been caught writing on the wall and as a result the teacher had hit his head against the wall several times. When later asked about the incident, the teacher justified her actions by saying that, "These children come in with real behavior problems because their parents don't care about them. They need to be taught to behave. [37]

Non-Romani children also ridicule and humiliate Romani children without effective intervention from instructors. For example, a thirteen-year-old Romani girl from Alexandria, Romania told the ERRC in a 2000 interview that, "[My schoolmates] said that I was Gypsy and that I was not supposed to be there." In Serbia and Montenegro, the Belgrade-based non-governmental organization Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), in cooperation with the ERRC, has documented numerous cases of Romani children being systematically harassed and verbally and physically abused by their non-Romani classmates. For example:

  • Zaim Beriša, a thirteen-year-old fourth-grade student in Zaga Malivuk primary school in Belgrade, reported that his non-Romani classmates frequently call him names and sometimes hit and kick him. In September 1999, five non-Romani boys reportedly attacked Zaim in the schoolyard, hitting him in the stomach and face. The school janitor reportedly put an end to the attack and informed the school principal of the incident. Zaim's mother, Ms Ljubica Stanković, confirmed that he came home that day with bruises on his face and a swollen nose, and that she had to take him to the doctor. She complained to the school principal, who promised to speak to the boys and to prevent any further attacks. Nevertheless, a few days later, the same group of boys attacked Zaim and his fifteen-year-old brother, Safet, at the train station as they were returning home from school. This time, one of the boys had a knife. Zaim managed to run away but the attackers beat his brother until a neighbour intervened.
  • Zoran Miladinović, a nine-year-old second-grade Romani student at Ćirilo i Metodije school in Belgrade, stated that the non-Romani children slap him and call him names almost every day. Zoran complained to his teacher, who reportedly told him it was best to ignore the other children when they called him names. In September, two boys attacked Zoran in the schoolyard, one of them holding him, while the other punched him in the head. Both of them shouted racist insults. Ms Radmila Miladinović, Zoran's mother, stated that on that day her son came home from school with a bleeding mouth, complaining that he had been beaten by the other children.
  • Kristina Stanojević, an eleven-year-old fifth grade student at Banović Strahinja school in Belgrade, stated that when she was in the fourth grade her classmates frequently taunted her and her two Romani classmates, calling them names such as "filthy Gypsy", and pushed, slapped and kicked her.

According to HLC, teachers are reluctant to take action to guarantee the safety of Romani pupils in schools throughout Serbia and Montenegro. One Romani parent in the Czech Republic told the ERRC:

Patricia, my youngest daughter, sits in the classroom with a boy who is constantly insulting her. After school I have to pick her up because the boy waits for her and hits her. She is only seven and is very scared. My son Michal is attending eighth grade. He has no friends and sits on his own at the back of the classroom. He is the only Romani pupil in the classroom and the other pupils in the class regularly insult him. [38]

Conclusion: the effects of racial discrimination

According to a publication by the Open Society Institute, in w1992, only 35 percent of Romani a children in Spain completed primary education on time, while 51 percent had failed one grade and 14 percent had failed two or more grades. [39] The situation is little changed today, and illiteracy among Roma in Spain is estimated at around 50 percent. Reliable data has recently revealed that the number of Romani children who attend school in Croatia after the fourth grade drastically diminishes. [40] In its 2000 report on Croatia, the U.S. Department of State expressed concern that "Romani children face serious discrimination in schools, and nearly all drop out by grade 8. [41] In Portugal, according to government statistics, during the 1997/1998 school year 6.8% of Romani pupils dropped out of the lower level of primary education, and 28.6% of Romani children dropped out of the upper level of primary education. [42]

In crisis and post-crisis areas, the non-schooling of Roma has reached dramatic proportions. For example, according to research conducted by the Sarajevo-based Romani organization Naša budućnost (Our Future) for the academic year 1995/96, only one third of Romani children of school age in the Sarajevo Canton actually attended primary schools. [43] Among the children of Romani returnees from Western European countries, participation in the formal educational system is even rarer - reportedly only 5% of families of Romani returnees to the Tuzla-Podrinje Canton had children in the Bosnian school system in 1999,6 and among Romani returnees in the Brčko District, reportedly only 20 children from a total of 206 families were attending school in 2001. [44] As primary reasons for non-attendance, Romani parents and children interviewed by various non-governmental organizations have cited pressure caused by extreme poverty necessitating that children become breadwinners, and fears of racially-motivated abuse in the classroom. Bosnian authorities have to date done little to ensure that Roma realize the right to education; nearly all educational projects targeting Roma in Bosnia are non-governmental.

The number of Roma who manage to remain in the educational systems of their countries to the university level is in many cases only in the single digits. To name only one example, although there are probably more than 100,000 Roma in Moldova, according to the Moldovan Government's own data, for the 1999/2000 academic year, there were only eight Romani students registered in the forty-three higher education institutions on the whole territory of Moldova. This situation is actually apparently worse than in the previous academic year, during which there were, according to the government's own reports, forty-three Romani students registered in thirty-eight institutions of higher education.

All over Europe, Roma are failing to realize the right to education, and authorities are doing little or nothing to address this fact seriously. Racism is a primary factor in the non-schooling or the inferior schooling of Roma in Europe. Non-governmental organizations working to assist Romani children in enrolling in schools report that they have met with hostility from nearly all authorities concerned. As a result, whole Romani communities in Europe receive no schooling whatsoever. In addition, because of racism and the stigma attached to the Romani identity, many of Europe's educated Roma vigorously deny their ethnic origins; at present, such denial seems, sadly, to be among the best strategies for Roma determined to pass successfully through the education systems of Europe.

The preceding pages have provided an outline of the ERRC’s most fundamental concerns with respect to the right of Roma to education in today’s Europe. The complex of burdens weighing on Romani children in European schools is among other things the result of centuries of coercive policies of assimilation, in which the Romani identity has been the object of stigma, and Romani culture, history and language have been denied legitimacy. Romani/non-Romani relations, played out in the classroom are also, sadly, burdened by a legacy of episodes of the persecution of Roma - most recently during the Holocaust in World War II - intense periods of hate and aggression which have never been recognized adequately, let alone redressed. Even if all racist schooling practices against Roma and all practices effectively denying the right of Roma to education were ended tomorrow, European schooling would still require positive, proactive policies for Roma, aimed at overcoming the legacies of such persecution.

Today, however, racist practice in European schools is alive and well. In addition to the concerns detailed above, one could add that almost nowhere do European school curriculums recognize the contributions Roma have made to the histories and cultures of the countries in which they live, almost nowhere do Romani and non-Romani children learn about Romani history and culture in the schools they attend, in few schools is the Romani language offered as a second language, and in none whatsoever is it a language of primary instruction. European schooling is, at present, monochrome.


  1. The right to education is elaborated in a number of international laws and instruments, including Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Article 29 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). European law affirms the right to education for all. Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights states: “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
  2. The ban on racial segregation under international law is unequivocal. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Article 3, stipulates, "States Parties particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction".
  3. One noteworthy finding of ERRC research was that Romani children are not dramatically over-represented in so-called "auxiliary schools" - schools for children with medium to profound mental handicap. Over-representation is egregious primarily in "special schools", schools for those children who fall in the gray area where cultural difference and early language difference can easily be mistaken for light to medium mental disability. Indeed, a very high number of the Romani children interviewed by the ERRC in Ostrava had, during original placement, been classified as "borderline cases".
  4. For a detailed account of the segregation of Romani children in "special schools" for the mentally handicapped in the Czech Republic, see the ERRC Country Report A Special Remedy: Roma and Schools for the Mentally Handicapped in the Czech Republic, Country Reports Series No. 8, June 1999, on the Internet at:
  5. Legal complaints challenging racial segregation of Roma in special schools in the Czech Republic, filed in June 1999 by parents of a group of Romani children in Ostrava, assisted by local counsel and the ERRC, were unsuccessful at the domestic level. In its decision of October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court, acknowledging the "persuasiveness" of the applicants' arguments, nonetheless rejected the complaints, ruling that it had no authority to consider evidence demonstrating a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in Ostrava or the Czech Republic. The Court effectively refused to apply applicable international legal standards for proving racial discrimination. Having exhausted all domestic remedies, on April 18, 2000, representing 18 Romani children from Ostrava, the ERRC and local counsel filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The case is currently pending before the Court.
  6. For further details, see Parliamentary Ombudsman for Minority Rights declares Hungarian education system discriminatory
  7. For more information on Roma and the right to education in Romania, see the ERRC Country Report State of Impunity: Human Rights Abuse of Roma in Romania, September 2001, pp. 104-120, available on the Internet at :
  8. ERRC field research, September 15, 2000, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
  9. Wide Open School Foundation, "Strategic Plan 2001-2003", Slovakia, 2000, p. 10.
  10. Open Society Institute, Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection, Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001, p. 33.
  11. ERRC interview, December 11, 1997, Prague, Czech Republic.
  12. ERRC interview, May 3, 1999, Olomouc, Czech Republic.
  13. ERRC interview, November 15, 1998, Ostrava, Czech Republic.
  14. See Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, High Commissioner on National Minorities, "Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area," March 10, 2000, p. 74.
  15. According to a recent article in the Croatian press, around 192 Romani children attending one segregated school in Međimurje County must enter the school building via a separate entrance (See Karlovacki List, July 24, 2001).
  16. See Jutarnji List, September 7, 2000.
  17. See ERRC, State of Impunity, pp. 110-111.
  18. See ERRC, State of Impunity, pp. 111-112.
  19. See Open Society Institute, EU Accession Monitoring Program, Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection, 2001, p. 228, as well as information provided in the Hungarian daily Népszava, October 17, 2000.
  20. Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities.
  21. For more information see, The Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights, report 1999, at:
  22. Roma Press Center, Electronic Weekly, February 25, 2002.
  23. For further information on the incident, see Parents of 633 students boycott the admission of three Romani children in Spain
  24. For further information on ghetto schools in Bulgaria see especially: Parallel worlds: Romani and non-Romani schools in Bulgaria as well as European Roma Rights Center and the Open Society Institute, "Conference Report: The Desegregation of 'Romani Schools': A Condition for an Equal Start for Roma", Sofia, Bulgaria, April 27, 2001".
  25. For further information on the situation of Roma in Moldova, see
  26. Human rights researcher Ina Zoon has written recently on the importance of documents for - and the role of a lack of documents in precluding Roma from – realizing basic rights in Romania: "The existence of identification documents is the sine qua non for accessing social welfare benefits, health services, or public housing. Not having such documents seriously affects the exercise of many other rights by placing a person's freedom in danger, jeopardizing his or her participation in community life, and barring access to employment and education. The lack of documents is one of the most important problems confronting a large segment of the Roma population in Romania. [...] The most frequently mentioned missing documents are birth certificates and identification cards. The lack of civil marriage certificates raises difficult legal issues but also sensitive cultural ones related to the acceptance of the civil institution of marriage within the Roma community. [...] Birth certificates may be missing because children are born at home, and parents neglect or postpone registering the newborn. Legal provisions that provide high fines for delays in registering children, the social workers' lack of interest in assisting Roma, and the corruption within the administration are additional obstacles to obtaining birth certificates. Experts describe the lack of birth certificates, identity cards, and civil marriage certificates as a "mass phenomenon". Thousands do not have legal documents that reflect their family relationships and legal status correctly." (See Zoon, Ina, On the Margins: Roma and Public Services in Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, Mark Norman Templeton, ed., New York: Open Society Institute, 2001, pp.35-36). In the extreme case, the Roma concerned may be stateless. A forthcoming report by Save the Children UK estimates that 1200-6000 Roma in Romania may be stateless (Save the Children Fund UK, "Denied a Future? The Right to Education of Roma/Gypsy and Traveler Children", draft May 2001 (final report, forthcoming, October 2001), p. 25). The recently published Romanian Government "Strategy of the Government of Romania for Improving the Condition of Roma" acknowledges that statelessness is a problem among Roma when it lists "solving the cases of stateless Roma in Romania" as a goal of government policy (The Government of Romania, Ministry of Public Information, "Strategy of the Government of Romania for Improving the Condition of the Roma", Bucharest 2001, adopted as Government Resolution 430, official translation, p. 8).
  27. For further details of the case, see ERRC, State of Impunity, p. 109.
  28. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities found that, "Although some of the children in question attended school while abroad (not a few of them thrived; among those who emigrated to Germany, many quickly mastered the German language), the local schools in Timisoara did not recognize their foreign schooling for purposes of placement." See Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Op. cit., p. 73.
  29. See ERRC, State of Impunity.
  30. For more information on the issue, see Roma and Sinti voices on the right to education in France
  31. For further information on the situation of Roma in Italy in general, as well as in the Italian educational system in particular, see the ERRC Country Report Campland: Racial Segregation of Roma in Italy, October 2000, available on the Internet at:
  32. For more information see Public school in Greece closes in order to exclude Romani children
  33. Full statistical information on the schooling situation of Romani children in Berettyóújfalu in the 2000-2001 school year is available at: Romani children and the right to education in Central and Eastern Europe
  34. For further details of the case, see ERRC, State of Impunity, p. 116.
  35. For more information on the case, see Roma in the educational systems of central and eastern Europe
  36. ERRC interviews, Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro, March 14, 2002.
  37. For more information, see ERRC field notes, Croatia: being taught to hate.
  38. For further details of the case, see ERRC, A Special Remedy, p. 95.
  39. McDonald, Christina, Judit Kovács, Csaba Fényes eds., The Roma Education Resource Book, Budapest: Open Society Institute, p. 28.
  40. For example, according to information from the Međimurje County Department on Education, Culture, Information, Sports, and Technical Education, in the school year 2001/2002, in four of the schools in the County (Podturen, Orehovica, Macinec, and Kuršanec), the total number of Romani children enrolled from the 1st to 4th grade was 398, while their number from the 5th to the 8th grade was 122, or more than 3 times lower (Response of the Međimurje County Department on Education, Culture, Information, Sports, and Technical Education to the Croatian Ministry of Education and Sports about the "Request for information regarding the segregation of Romani children in the primary schools of Međimurje County", Cˇakovec, 7 December, 2001).
  41. See U.S. Department of State, Croatia, Country reports on Human Rights Practices 2000, February 23, 2001, at:
  42. According to official sources, in the Portuguese city of Coimbra, in the 1997/1998, 136 Romani pupils enrolled for in lower primary education, but only seven enrolled for upper primary education. In the Ingote primary school, the main primary school for the Romani community in Coimbra, in the year 1998/1999, 15.2% left school; 21% failed the year; 25.6% were absent more than regulations allow.
  43. See Save the Children, Denied a Future?, London, 2001.
  44. Helsinki Citizens Assembly and Roma Associations from Tuzla, "Analysis on the Current Status of the Roma Returnees to the Tuzla Canton", 1999, quoted in Save the Children, Denied a Future?, London, 2001. Sae Roma, "Bulletin No. 17", Tuzla, 2001.


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