Is segregation irrelevant for the actual situation of Roma?

In February 2005, at the launching event of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the prime ministers and other top officials of the nine participating governments from Central and Eastern Europe pledged their commitment to close the gap between Roma and non-Roma achievements in education, among other fields. Thus, through the approval of the national actions plans, which included measures to combat segregation of Roma children, Roma school segregation became a topic on the governments agenda in CEE.

Seven years later almost nobody talks about school segregation. Have these governments implemented their action plans? Have the CEE governments brought to an end segregation of Roma in education? Is segregation irrelevant for the actual situation of Roma?

The answers are well known to those that are in contact with Roma communities, visit schools in the region from time to time and go beyond the rhetoric of the public officials. For those that do not have these privileges, the answers to these questions are eventually intuitive. No, the governments from CEE did not implement their commitments and they did not bring to an end the school segregation of Roma children. The book I edited recently – Ten Years After: A History of Roma School Desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe– offers more elaborated and detailed answers.

The logical question is then why almost nobody speaks out against segregation? Segregation in education is not a hot topic these days. Important donor organizations for the region do not consider at all school segregation as an issue. The leadership of some of these organizations considers the debate about segregation as artificial, as irrelevant, or, at best, not a priority for their agenda. This is an explanation of why these important organizations that promote human rights and inclusion of Roma remain silent on this topic. A second possible explanation is that they did not get it right what is about when children are separated in schools based on their ethnicity.

Roma school segregation remains an under-researched topic in academia. While the literature on Roma is growing significantly in the last ten years, there is no research or study on Roma school segregation or desegregation. There are also exceptions, but most of these exemptions are in fact connected to the non governmental initiatives and are not part of scholarly interests.

Together with a team of scholars, lawyers and activists I managed to put together a first book on Roma school desegregation policies in CEE. I hope that it will stimulate a debate among specialized circles on school desegregation in the larger context of social inclusion policies. It will serve as a reference point for those interested on education for Roma, anti-discrimination and social inclusion, both scholars and policy-makers.

Based on the research I carried out with my team, I can say that Roma school segregation is a very actual topic for Roma, affecting hundreds of thousand of children. The next postings on my blog will try to present the main messages of the book.

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