Critical Perspectives on Roma Education: ECMI supported a symposium in Budapest

102126bd799 September 2015. With a support of the European Centre for Minority Issues, Dr. Eben Friedman together with Dr. Christian Brüggemann (Humboldt University in Berlin) co-organized a symposium “A decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015: Critical Perspectives on education research, initiatives and interventions. The event was a part of the European Conference on Educational Research taking place at Corvinus University in Budapest.


The Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) can be understood as a joint effort of European governments and international organizations to fight exclusion and marginalization of Roma communities. Based on coordination and financial support institutionalized through the establishment of the Decade Secretariat, the Decade Trust Fund and the Roma Education Fund, the Decade has been the core reference and baseline framework for a multitude of research activities, initiatives and interventions with education being a key priority. The Decade has contributed to the internationalization of Roma education discourse and triggered large-scale fundraising possibilities for education. Nevertheless, little change has been observed at the local level and many Romani communities seem not to have benefited from this international endeavor.

About the symposium

The objective of this symposium, which consists of two sessions, was to take a critical look at projects, research, and activities related to the education of Roma over the last ten years. The contributors analyzed scientific research, scrutinized large-scale interventions, and examined initiatives related to the Decade of Roma Inclusion, paying particular attention to the unintended effects of relevant policies at local, national, and international levels. The methods used by the contributors to the symposium included ethnographic fieldwork, participant observation, interviews, and contextual comparisons.

The symposium was a continuation of a discussion that started at the 2014 conference of the Comparative Education Society in Europe with the panel “Governing Roma Education: International Initiatives and National Idiosyncrasies” and followed a  panel at the 2015 conference of the Comparative and International Education Society entitled “A Decade of Roma Inclusion: Local-Level Analysis of Persistent Educational Segregation”. Eben Friedman (European Centre for Minority Issues) and Christian Brüggemann (Humboldt University of Berlin) introduced each session with a look back at a decade of ECER contributions on the education of Roma. They also gave a short overview of relevant policy developments over the last 10 years and point to the need for local-level contextual comparisons to complement international and national level policy reporting. Linked to the symposium is a call for papers for a special issue of European Education: Issues and Studies on the symposium theme.

Symposium participants and their presented work

Jekatyerina Dunajeva opened the first session of the symposium with a close examination at the genesis and deployment of essentialized images of ‘bad Gypsy’ and ‘good Roma’ based on participant observation at two sites in Hungary. Central to her analysis is an evaluation of unintended consequences of this discourse on identity, including perhaps most notably deepening divisions among Roma. Zuzana Kusá made use of ethnographic research in ethnically and socially mixed classes in 12 Slovak schools to explore how the sense of social inclusion of Romani pupils is created, sustained, or destroyed through everyday interactions among between teachers and pupils on the one hand and among pupils on the other. Her research also catalogs incentives and disincentives for schooling which come from outside the school environment. The session ended with a challenge to the notion of a ‘Spanish model of Roma integration’ by Bálint-Ábel Bereményi and Sílvia Carrasco. These authors reviewed research production on the education of Roma/Gitanos in Spain from 2004 and 2014, reconstructing the approaches taken by qualitative, quantitative, and evaluation research in that period and relating them to recommended and adopted policies. At the same time, they attended to factors which interrupt the aspirations of a generation of Roma/Gitanos.

Iulius Rostas and Claudiu Ivan opened the second session with an analysis of policy making for education of Roma in Romania. Contrasting official discourses with the findings of a longitudinal study conducted on cohorts of Romani and non-Romani children, the authors concluded that educational inclusion policies in Romania are based on widely held beliefs partly taken from European-level studies, neglecting  regional- and local-level data and context. Tina Gažovičová examined scholarship programs which have targeted Roma in Slovakia in various ways, paying particular attention to an initiative which combined financial support with tutoring organized through community centers. Her findings provide a potential basis for better targeting support for Romani pupils in future. A contribution to the session by Christina Rodell Olgaç and Angelina Dimiter-Taikon treated the introduction of Romani mediators in Sweden on the basis of the particularly ambitious strategy adopted by the government for the period 2012-2032. Inspired by critical ethnography and action research, their analysis attends to negative as well as positive consequences of increased cultural capital acquired through mediators’ participation in a two-year training course. The symposium’s second session and thus also the symposium closed with a comparative look by Andrew Ryder at support and encouragement for the inclusion of Roma in education in selected countries of Eastern and Western Europe. Making note of a gap between rhetoric and reality where the education of Roma is concerned, this account identified forms of inclusive community development needed to endow local Romani communities with agency and the means to engage in decision-making processes in schools.

Also relevant:

Eben Friedman assesses progress under the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015

ZEP: Approaches to the Education of Roma in Europe

The ECMI Working Paper #73 is now online: education element of the EU states’ Roma integration strategies

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