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Segregation of Roma children persists across European schools- a daunting challenge

18/11/2013

For centuries, the Roma have been part of the European cultural landscape. The members of ethnic group are also often the victims of discrimination and prejudice, particularly in times of economic crisis. One example of discrimination prominent in Europe is the segregation of Roma children in public schools.

Segregation takes multiple forms

 

The processes through which segregation appears are complex and varied.  In some cases, school admission policies based on academic achievement have the effect of placing large numbers of underachieving Roma students into separate schools. In other cases, segregation is a consequence of residential segregation, with the phenomenon of white flight (majority residents leaving areas with increasing minority presence) exacerbating already existing segregationist tendencies at both residential and school levels. Finally, loose alliances of teachers, parents, and sometimes school administrators often join forces to remove or segregate ‘disruptive’ Roma pupils from classrooms and schools, with the academic interests of the children in mind. These and many other factors interact in ways that effectively keep Roma children segregated in schools across much of Europe.

 

Regulatory efforts appear to be insufficient to address the problem

 

The EU and national governments have passed laws prohibiting segregation of schools (such as the Racial Equality Directive) and an anti-segregation stance has been held up by the European Court of Human Rights in a handful of cases. However, legal reviews pdfsuggest that no European or national court has ever issued orders to end the segregation of schools and few policies aim at addressing the principal means through which it is taking place.  In effect, a recent report pdfof the FP7 “Accept Realism” project on segregation indicators has found that the segregation of Roma children is a persistent reality across Europe.

 

Cultural communication in the wider context of the fight against racism

 

Although a common assumption is that integration efforts might help communities prevent and confront racist attitudes, the report suggests that these actions may not reach the desired effect or even backfire on the long run. They suggest considering policy approaches aiming at the valorisation of Roma cultural distinctiveness to improve relationships between the communities, such as the involvement of intercultural mediators, intercultural education and bussing, a service offering the transportation of minority children to majority schools. However, the report’s authors point out that policies narrowly focusing on desegregation have little hope in efficiently solving the problem. What’s needed is a fundamental culture shift: racism against the Roma needs to be confronted and eliminated both in popular attitudes and political discourse.

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