Study: Special schools failing Roma community

Branch classrooms from vocational schools situated near marginalised Roma communities are expensive and produce unskilled workers.

(Source: Sme)

Roma children that receive the best grades in elementary school rarely continue their studies at top secondary schools and are more often diverted to branches of vocational schools with other Roma that have been set up in their segregated communities, according to study by the Centre for Ethnic and Culture Research (CVEK).  

“The teacher told me that I am smart enough to study at business college,” one unnamed Roma girls says in the study. “But I didn’t want to be alone therefore I did not enrolled at business college. We all preferred such a school.”

The idea behind branches of secondary vocational schools is that young Roma from marginalised communities get at least a low-level education instead of nothing. However, graduates can find only poorly-paid jobs or they become regular visitors of labour offices. Moreover they struggle to integrate to society because they spent their whole childhood in the settlement, according to the study.

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“The idea of these branches is another tool increasing social segregation and strengthening barriers between the majority population and people from marginalised communities,” Zuzana Balážová of the Roma Advocacy and Research Centre in town of Skalica and the author of the study told The Slovak Spectator.

The Education Ministry meanwhile continues to back the idea saying that they are effective and do not segregate Roma.

Expensive education

There were 56 such branches run by 25 state schools in Slovakia in March 2015. A year earlier, there were 36 additional elocated branches run by private schools, according to the latest data. Many of them are placed near Roma settlements, some are run in prisons.

Classes are usually in fields like practical housekeeping or tailoring, with teachers wages topping €2,100 per month. To compare, the normal wages for grammar schools is less than €1,200.

Despite being educated by better paid teachers, only around half of young people graduating there in 2013 and 2014 as tailors or upholsterers found a job. From those who studied for forestry 64 percent is employed. Students learning the field of wood processing were more successful with only a 17 percent unemployment rate. Nearly 20 percent of those who studied practical housekeeping field are unemployed, according to CVEK study.

However, the numbers are likely even worse, the study says, explaining that for example mothers who gave a birth until May 2014 and therefore were receiving benefits for parents are not accounted for.

“Politicians should reconsider whether funds spent on such education of youth is effective and beneficial for those persons and society generally,” reads the CVEK analysis.

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The Education Ministry responds that unemployment is common among all recent graduates, no matter the field of study. 

“We don’t consider branch schools to be ineffective or segregating,” reads the Education Ministry statement. “There is complex problem of finding a job in labor market in Slovakia and it is not related only to secondary-level schools graduates.”

Getting out of ghetto

One of the most important reasons for Education Ministry to support branches is the fact that they will be constructed near Roma settlements thus being more accesible for local Roma.

However, a UN Development Fund’s 2012 study says that only 1.8 percent of Slovak Roma claim that geographical proximity is the reason why they decided to not continue their studies after finishing elementary school. The largest portion, 29 percent, said that they lack motivation and 24 percent laimed they did not have enough funds to cover fees for studying.  

If Roma had to travel for study and leave their segregated community it would increase their integration into society, according to Vlado Rafael of Eduroma, the Roma education NGO.

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“It is important to know that purpose of schools is not only education but also socialisation and integration,” Rafael told The Slovak Spectator.

Eduroma workers experienced that poor children from segregated communities are slow to learn right after they start to visit schools of majority. Those complications are temporary and are probably stem from culture shock children suffer, according to Rafael.

“Education results and [learning] speed of Roma pupils later match others or they are even better,” Rafael said, adding that also their ambitions grow and they are looking for more challenging job positions.

Using money

It is true that branch classrooms provide at least some education to Roma who would otherwise had none but they still struggle to find a job with decent salary or job at all, according to the study. On the other hand, state spends three times more money on teachers’ salaries in those branches.

Balážová proposes to completely cancel the whole project and to spend saved money on better preparedness of teachers at regular schools to work with those students. Those funds should be also used to cover Roma students’ expenses so they can study among their peers from the majority population.

The education system should provide the best possible education to anyone, she said.

“Wouldn’t it be more effective if youth from marginalised Roma communities just studied with non-Roma students?” Balážová added. 

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