The establishment of “elite” schools for Roma is not an alternative to school desegregation

The establishment of the elite school for Roma children is the second alternative proposed by the opponents to Roma school desegregation. There are usually two bases for their arguments. The first relies on the experience in US of creating “magnet school” in order to desegregate. The second relies on the model developed by the Hungarian authorities by establishing the Gandhi high school in Pecs, south-west Hungary, as an elite school for Roma. Let me explore these two arguments.

From the policy perspective, the establishment of the magnet school does not make sense as they are very expensive and the results are not sure. For example, for a policy maker it does not make sense to invest 10 mil Euro in two “Gypsy schools” to develop infrastructure, acquire educational materials, train teachers, and pay good salaries. In this case, it is less costly to prepare the ground for moving the Roma children into the nearby mainstream school. Such measures might include working with Roma and non-Roma parents, teacher training on managing multiethnic cohorts, antibiased methods, participatory teaching methods and so on, intensive support for children that have to catch up with the mainstream curricula, developing rules, procedures and mechanism to mediate conflicts in schools, social assistance to the children in need, etc The experience from the US and the projects implemented by NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe show that this scenario has better chances for success at lower costs.

The Gandhi gymnasium in Pecs was established in 1994 as a way to foster Roma identity and promote minority education. The curriculum includes Romani and Beash language classes and the school is involved in cultural activities. The school has also a dormitory that delivers for the students. Though the school was intended to deliver for Hungarian pupils as well by to date it failed to do that. Moreover, it could hardly be regarded as an elite school in Hungary since only half of the students graduating the Gandhi gymnasium are able to continue their studies. In fact, the school has also a second chance program and a vocational training program. It is a fact that Gandhi school is not an elite school in Hungary in spite of its fame. However, the model was followed by Slovakia and) I hope not) by Romania, which intends to open a Roma high school in Bucharest.

In fact, one has to acknowledge that there are pretty low chances for a Roma only school or majority Roma students school to become an elite school, especially for a high school. There are several factors influencing the educational performance of students that makes almost impossible the existence of a Roma elite school these days. First, the family environment and support from family. There is a strong correlation between the parents’ level of education, especially the mother’s level of education and the educational performance of children. It is a well known fact that educational level among Roma is the lowest among all the ethnic groups in different countries in CEE. As regards Roma women level of education, that is even lower taking into account also the gender discrimination from the society at large and inside the community. Early marriages is another factor impeding their access to education. Thus, Roma students enjoy less support from family to perform in school.

In addition, poverty is a risk factor for drop-out rate and affects the educational performance of children. It is another well known fact that poverty rate among Roma is the highest of any ethnic group in any country in CEE. It is clear that Roma parents are unable to support costs associated with education of the children the same way as other parents do.

The second important factor influencing educational performances is the teacher qualification and performance in school. Teacher training in CEE countries does not include antiracism and managing ethnic diverse cohorts. They do not receive training on Roma culture and traditions in order to be able to understand and deal effectively with Roma students. It is assumed that teachers have the same level of prejudices and stereotypes towards Roma as the average in a given society. Taking into account the profound negative prejudices towards Roma all over CEE, teachers might have lower expectations from Roma students as research from these countries indicate. Researches in these countries also show that in schools with high percentage of Roma pupils, teachers are less qualified and the turnover of teachers is high (See ERRC’ “Stigmata” report or Agentia Impreuna “A School for All”).

There is also a category of Roma nationalists that support the establishment of Roma “elite” schools using the example of the German minority in Romania. German schools in Romania are highly valued by the parents due to the positive stereotypes and prejudices towards German minority in Romania, although very few Germans are enrolled in these schools. I would say that the situation of German and Roma minority are so different that applying the same standard would be a mistake. While the majority of population has positive views towards Germans, anti-Gypsyism is rampant all over CEE. Who will be so open to register their children in a “Gypsy school”? While learning German opens opportunity to enter in relations with a significant labor market, economy and a vivid cultural area, learning Romani does not lead to the same opportunities.

I have serious doubts that in these conditions there are any chances to establish an elite school for Roma. It might be the case if one considers “elite” the fact that Roma are attending school. In reality, an elite school is one in which educational performance are well above the national average.

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