Outside View II
Report on the use of the instrument for recognition of informal learning with socially disadvantaged groups - focussed on Roma
by Magda Balica, Bucharest/Romania
1. Target group description: Roma in Romania
According to the latest census (2002) the population of Romania was 21,680,974. Roma population living in Romania is 535,250 (2,5%). The highest rate of Roma population is registered in rural area (3,2%), compared to urban area (1,8%). Some organization suggest a number as high as 2.5 millions (Minority Rights Group) but the estimation of the Institute for Quality Life (between 1,452,700 and 1,588,552) is used both by the government and civil society.
In a research study realized in 1998 by the Institute for Researching Quality Life it was found that the Roma population is a young population (the average age is 25,1 and also 33,9 % from the entire population is between 0-14 years and 4,3 % of the population is over 65 years.
Geographical distribution of Roma population shows that in Romania there are some concentrated areas where Roma population are living. Therefore, the highest rate of Roma population is situated in the central area of the country (Bra_ov, Sibiu, Mure_), in West (Satu Mare, S laj, Bihor, Arad), and South (Dolj _i Mehedinci).
According to a World Bank community survey (Roma Social Mapping, Targeting by a Community Poverty Survey, World Bank, Bucharest, July, 2005) about 60% out of the total Roma Community are poor. The highest concentration of poor Roma population is in large communities of over 500 people and in medium size communities of 200 -500 persons. Over 60% of the Roma population that is clustered lives in large communities of more than 500 persons.
2. Social disadvantage features
According to the World Bank report in 2000, nearly 80 percent of Roma in Romania were living on less than $4.30 per day, in comparison with 30 percent of the total population.
A study run by the International Management Foundation in December 2000 reported that Roma group was the only ethnic group whose poverty incidence departed significantly from the average. Unlike other minority groups, such as Hungarian and German minorities, in 1997 the incidence of poverty rate of Roma was 3.5 times higher than the average poverty rate and their consumption 40% lower than the average consumption per equivalent adult. Another report, developed by a Governmental Commission CASPIS 10 in 2003 reflected the following situation of poverty rate based on ethnicity:
|Ethnicity || |
Rate of severe poverty
|Romanian || |
|Roma || |
52, 2 %
75, 1 %
Source: The Commission against Poverty and Promotion of Social inclusion, Romanian Government.
Due the poverty level, dependence on social assistance is very high. Children s allowance represents the most frequent regular income source for Roma families - 66.2% of the researched households benefited from these allowances. Salaries round up the family Budget only in less than a quarter of the cases, and retirement pensions are a source of income in 11.7% of the targeted Roma families. Unemployment compensations are a source of income for 9.5% of the researched households. Disability and illness retirement pensions are granted in 4.7%, respectively 5.8% of the families. 53.4% of the total number of households investigated in 1998 declared occasional (or non-permanent) revenues.
Roma living in poor Roma communities have a lower education stock, lower migration abroad experience, a more traditional orientation by speaking Romani language and a larger average household size. The poorest of the poor Roma communities have a very low education stock and very low experience of migration abroad. Low access to education among Roma is related to a range of complementary and contrasting factors, including economic and sociological factors, discrimination, and characteristics of the education systems at large. Apart of poverty and economic constrains, other important determinants are presented below.
Discrimination against Roma by non-Roma parents, children, and teachers contributes to low attendance and can both discourage children from attending school and affect the quality of education in the classroom. According to the above mentioned study (Broadening the agenda. The status of Romani women in Romania, Open Society Institute, 2006, p 11) more than a half of Roma women interviewed felt that the educational system discriminates against Roma children, while, based on the answers of interviewed Roma women whose children attend the school, 19% of their children are currently learning in a segregated school environment.
Qualitative studies documented examples of discrimination and abuse of Roma students by teachers ranging from teachers ignoring Roma in classrooms, to outright physical abuse. Stereotypes about Roma and their attitudes toward education lower teachers expectations about the potential of their students. Discrimination can be both explicit as in the case of schools creating separate classes or more subtle if parents discourage their children from interacting with Roma classmates. As mentioned above, Roma parents who experienced discrimination during their own schooling, may be reluctant to send their children to school, or may prefer to send their children to special schools, where they feel that they will be more sheltered and protected from abuse.
- Social and Cultural Factors
Language. While most Roma speak the majority language, use of the Roma language is still prevalent among some communities. In some cases language affects the ability of Roma children to start school, and children without full language proficiency are at a disadvantage relative to other students. With the decline in preschool attendance, and the lack of Roma speaking teachers, children who do not speak the majority language are at risk to become discouraged and drop out of school.
Negative stereotypes of Roma attitudes toward education are common and explain in many cases the low enrolment of Roma children into primary education. However, social and cultural factors may influence Roma participation in mainstream public education. For example, the division between the Roma and non- Roma communities may be wide in some cases. Roma parents may be protective and reluctant to send their children out of their family and community especially if they fear their child will face discrimination and negative treatment by teachers or fellow students. Parents may also fear that participation in public education will take their children away from their family, physically and emotionally, and weaken family and community ties. Parents in settlements in more rural areas where children may have to travel outside their home village or settlement may decide to keep their children at home. School organization may also differ significantly from Roma society.
Parents education levels play an important role in children s school attendance and performance. In this regard, Roma are at a greater disadvantage because of the gaps in educational attainment. While illiteracy rate of population older than 15 years in Romania is 2,7%, in case of Roma population aged between 17-45 years who can not read at all or with high difficulty is 31,8% and Roma population aged over 45 years old face illiteracy. Lack of parental literacy may affect school attendance in different ways. Parents with limited education will be unable to help their children with schoolwork in the same way that parents of other children can. Parents may also be less likely to participate in school related activities. As a result, the communication between teachers and parents may be less frequent.
According to a study done by The Institute of Educational Sciences in 2002 on the rural education in Romania (Jigau, M. (coord.) Rural education in Romania: conditions, problems and development strategies. MarLink, Bucharest, 2002), the main category of determinants of children school failure is represented by social and family factors, namely: the negative attitude of the parents toward school (58%); the impossibility of the family to provide the child with the necessary resources to attend school (clothes, shoes, stationery, etc.) (55%) and keeping the child home to conduct different household activities (54%). Other causes with a lower school attendance frequency were the season migration of the family, the child's affiliation to nomad families and the deviant behaviors of the family members (delinquency, alcoholism), as well as certain specific traditions (for instance "the Gypsy Law" the woman must not bee too educated).
- Systemic Constraints
Geographic isolation of Roma settlements. Research reports shown clearly that in general, in rural isolated communities, the schools with Roma majority students there are poor facilities for learning and the percent of qualified teachers is very low. Similar situation can be found in the case of urban schools situated usually in the peripheral area of the city.
Lack of necessary identification, registration papers, and enforcement of compulsory education keeps children from being able to enrol in school in the first place. Similar constraints exist for street children and children of seasonal workers. Children in these situations are also not identified by education officials responsible for enforcing school attendance. An estimated 47,000 people in Romania lack identification documents necessary to access public services. (http://www.romadecade.org/files/downloads/Education%20Resources/REF_Needs_Assessment.pdf)
3. Social disadvantage, education and training and employment
A closer look on the educational system done in 2002 by the Institute for Educational Sciences (Jigau, M. (coord.) The participation to education of Roma children. Problems, solutions, actors, MarLink, Bucharest, 2002) highlighted a set of critical points with regards to Roma education:
- Low participation in education of Roma children;
- Limited access to alternative forms of education (low frequency education, long distance education, etc.) of Roma children and youth who dropped out or were never enrolled in school
- The high percentage of unqualified teachers (ethnic Roma or of another nationality) in the rural environment and the magnitude of the fluctuation and commuting phenomen
- The absence or the insufficient development, during initial and continuous training teacher programs, of a number of modules which would promote cross-cultural education and develop the competencies needed to prevent, monitor, and improve school failure
- Lack of cross-curricular and intercultural approaches in education
- The low degree of involvement of the Roma parents in making school decisions
- Deficiencies in the data collecting system regarding cases of drop out and non-schooling
Poverty and poor economic conditions are a main reason why children are unable to attend school. High poverty rates limit the ability of many Roma to afford the direct costs of schooling, such as clothes, food, and school materials, as well as the indirect costs, including the opportunity costs of sending children to school.
Gender gape is also relevant in terms of access to education. According to a recent study published by the Open Society Institute (Broadening the agenda. The status of Romani women in Romania, Open Society Institute, 2006, p 11), in the Roma family culture, girls are generally expected to complete lower levels of education than boys. Because of large families, Roma girls may stay home to take care of children and other household chores.
Another important element in explaining the weak schooling situation is discrimination that has various aspects according to the context. The discrimination seems not to be the result of any particular policy, but it is rather the joint effect of some prejudices and ethnical stereotypes. It is surprising that these stereotypes and prejudices are not only held by ordinary people, but also by some teachers and headmasters.
To sum up, Roma children face the following barriers to their education:
- Parents' attitudes towards school determine the weak school situation of their children. But this attitude has to be understood within a wider framework; it is a part of a culture of poverty (short-term orientation) that makes investment in education almost impossible, which has a long-term orientation. They often consider it useless that their children attend school as long as they can have money without it.
- A series of deficiencies in primary socialization determine difficulties in understanding the school rules and objectives and also inadequate behaviour of the children. Very few Roma children attend kindergarten.
- The time for individual study and for doing homework is very short or it doesn't exist. Families may require children to work, either in the home or outside in the informal sector. The extent of this phenomenon among Roma households is not known, but there are many reports of children dropping out of school in order to work. In rural areas children may work in agriculture or other common income generating activities, such as gathering and selling scrap metals and herbs. Children work most frequently in the informal sector and as a result may engage in illegal or dangerous employment.
All these determines the fact that Roma children have to overcome more complicated obstacles than children from other ethnic minorities. These circumstances lead to increasing prejudices from their non-Roma schoolmates and teachers; they are stigmatised as not being able to learn and this leads to their elimination from the regular classrooms. As a conclusion, this situation of poverty and social exclusion gives rise to difficulties in accessing standardized educational processes.
The main barriers to positive educational experience can be concluded:
- lack of access to relevant pre-school experiences with their peer-group, which fosters inadequate behaviour;
- difficulties in comprehending school rules and objectives;
- lack of motivation and low self-esteem;
- prejudice and discrimination from their non-Roma schoolmates and teachers;
- non-recognition of Roma culture in schools;
- general feeling of insecurity inside school.
Formal registered unemployment is remarkably high in many Roma communities, reaching 100 percent in some of the poorest and most marginalized settlements. According to a report done by UNDP in 2003, at the national level, the unemployment rate in case of Roma population is 24%, but this figure might be disturbing as far as in rural areas (representing almost 50% from the population in Romania) an owner of a small piece of land can not be registered as unemployed. The UNDP survey presents also the difficulties faced by Roma to find a job. According to the survey, the main difficulties for professional integration in Roma population view are the followings: 1. ethnic affiliation; 2. general economic difficulties in the country; 3. not having adequate skills required on the job. The same survey shows that Roma think that their traditional skills cannot be valued in a global economy. Regarding the current occupations of the Roma population, we can say that most of the people working as employees are present in all the different sectors of the economy, but preponderantly in constructions and agriculture.
The percentage of housewives is over 4 times bigger in the case of the Roma population than at the national level, and reveals the weak participation of women in the labour market. The participation of Roma in continuing training is very low. In 2004, out of 28032 persons enrolled in CVT programs organised by National Agency for Employment and funded from Employment Fund only 282 were Roma (1% from total number of participants).
4. Specific pedagogic approaches and ethical issues
- Clearly stating the purpose and added value of the experience
Would be a difficult task for an interviewer to motivate a Roma young person for the interview. We can find a very friendly and opened Roma person, ready to spent some time discussing with a nice interviewer, but would be difficult to make them understand that this might be an useful experience for him/her. This mission is especially difficult because, not only Roma, but also other young persons in Romania are not used with this type of experience. They might see with difficulties how this interview could help them in practical terms. That is why we think is very important for the interviewer to understand in which way the interviewed Roma young persons could use the experience, getting to know the personal story of the interviewed and its own context. Than, it is important to make clear from the very beginning the purpose and to highlight the added value of experience, in the context of the personal story of the interviewed person.
- Understanding and respecting cultural differences
The interviewer that intends to apply the tool in case of Roma young people should be first aware about the culture, social perception, habits and history of this ethnic group. There are some specific sensitive issues that can disturb the interview, in case are not taken into consideration. The most important specific cultural factors that have to be considered are the following:
- gender stereotypes;
- social discrimination experience of the group, but also the personal history of the discrimination;
- specific group values related to education, work, life in general;
- specific role in the family;
- poverty experience.
We already presented above in extent some of these aspects, information that has to be studied and reflected upon by a potential interviewer before starting the interview. We would like to talk a bit more on the language issue.
In case we discover that our young person is speaking and understanding well the language of majority, than we don t need to worry much about the language problem. To detect this, we need a preliminary discussion with the young person. In case we discover that the language is an issue, we can go for at list two alternatives:
- use a double interviewer procedure, the specialised interviewer and a community facilitator that is acting in the community, a friend of the young person that is speaking the language or a member of the family of the interviewed;
- find and train a pool of native Roma language speakers (that have the necessary prerequisite to be an interviewer) on the tool and let them do the interview.
Both alternatives can have strengths and weaknesses that can be discussed, but we thing the best solution is to analyse carrfuly the following aspects before choosing one of the above alternatives:
- resources available;
- the community context;
- the way is perceived in the community the facilitator that we are going to involve;
- the relationship between young person and the friend or a member of the family that we are going to ask for help;
- the profile of the young person to be interviewed.
Understanding the context and the background of their previous school experience
The former school experience of a Roma young person might be significantly different than others, especially because of the different aspect of discrimination they faced and the specific values and perceptions on education promoted by their families. It might be the case that they are tempted to deny any other type of learning experience just because learning is a word that brought them in mind bad feelings. That is why, before applying the ICOVET tool, would be a good idea to research with the interviewed persons the story of their schooling experience, trying to understand:
- What is his/her attitude towards school and education?
- In which way they felt discrimination experiences in the school?
- How they deal with the feeling of failure in school?
- What were the main reasons for drop-out, in their opinion?
- Building an optimum level of mutual trust
Some issues of the tool might explore a private space of the interviewed persons, were he/she could not be opened because of the possible fear for socially not desirable answers. For instance, might be the case of illegal work experiences that the person would not be happy to share, even this experience could be a good example of different types of competences they acquired so far. To avoid this type of situations, building an optimum level of mutual trust is required from the interviewer. This can be done either in the first stage when we present our selves as an interviewer and when we explain the purpose of the tool, but signs of trusts should be send constantly during the interview.
- Searching the level of expectations for their future learning experiences
Many research studies on Roma shown that because of economical constrain, many families may have short-term expectations in relation with their children education. We should acknowledge this aspect and try to introduce in the reflections of the interviewed concrete examples that might make him/her think on a long run. Such a perspective might be simulative for the further learning experiences.
- Pay attention to the survival strategies and try to understand them
In some cases, you might expect strong feedback, active participation to discussion from the side of a Roma young person. We should research if this is authentic or is only a survival strategy that it used sometimes in order to make his/her image appropriate. Many Roma might learn from their discrimination experience that can be much productive for them to dissimulate. And this is perfectly understandable. This is not only the case of Roma, but also all interviewed persons that experienced cognitive and affective dissonance in their previous learning experiences in school or in family or community.
For some other persons, the survival strategy might be more aggressive. Would be advisable to stop the interview in case any sign of rejection is noticed during the interview.
5. Practical suggestions for the interviewers
In terms of practical suggestions, we can draw attentions to the following aspects that we think are important in case of Roma young people:
- Preparing the interview preliminary contact
In Romania, for instance, Roma communities might be rather different, in terms of living conditions, location, traditional activities practiced, level of segregation, extend of the community. Before starting the interview it is important to collect useful information related to the context in which our interview is living, taking into consideration all factors presented above. A pre-meeting might precede the interview itself, where small talk can prepare the ground for the stage of applying the tool. Even a visit in the community might be extremely useful, because this way we can find important information to understand better the story of our interviewed.
In the preliminary meeting, general questions like: What do you usually do during the day? When and how do you start in the morning? To whom do you spend the evenings? What is your role in the family? How do you see your living conditions?
When is possible, parental agreement might be necessary when we try to contact a young Roma person for the interview. Parent reaction might be sometime unexpected when someone is entering in their space, as of all of us.
- Choosing the best space for discussion
As any of us, Roma young people might be much more confident if the interview is done in his/her own environment. But this doesn t mean necessary their family or their community; even in some cases Roma can have a high sense of community and strong family relationships. This depends rather on the type of relation that our interviewed have with his/her belonging family or community. Try to investigate which is the best place that provides confidence to him/her.
- Using relevant examples
To provide examples in order to encourage the interviewed is a general aspect in a interview. In case of Roma, but not only in this case, we should look for relevant examples for the lifestyle and context of our interviewed. This means that the interviewer should know before some features about the context and life experience of the young person.
- Interviewer profile
To sum up, apart of being transparent with the purpose of the tool and managing good interviewer skills, a good interviewer that is going to discuss with a Roma young person should have the following qualities:
- good knowledge of the situation of Roma, as a minority group (social disadvantage features, education and employment barriers);
- good knowledge of Roma community that the young persons belong;
- willing to be free of any type of prejudice towards Roma;
- general community research skills.
6. Adapting the tool content
After analysing the tool trough the eyes of a Roma young person, we find out that some small changes might be necessary. We see a need for some changes especially in the sections related to Civic, Social and Political Involvement, Household and Family, Jobs and Work Experiences. When we say changes, we mean that:
- some questions might be avoided;
- some other questions can be changed not in meaning, but only in terms, in order to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
- some additional questions might be useful in few cases in order to search some aspects of their lifestyle that have not been mentioned.
We have find more easy to make our comments directly on the tool. So, please see the related document attached.
7. Follow up
We don t think that in Romania, employers or other training organizations are ready to take on board the EuroPASS. The EuroPASS was only introduced in Romania in few organizations, but ordinary people don t know much about it. What we can do is to make visible our project outcomes trough a series of dissemination activities targeted to employers, training providers, evaluation and certification authorities, psycho-pedagogical councillors, Roma organizations and Roma young people themselves.
- EVALUATION COMMITTEE FOR SECOND CHANCE EDUCATION
We think to propose the tool to the evaluation committee that is in charge with the assessment of young persons for the second chance education program in Romania. Some discussion started already and they seem to be very interested.
- EVALUATION COMMITTEES FOR NON-FORMAL AND INFORMAL COMPETENCES
We think to propose the tool to the evaluation and certifications committees that are in charge with the assessment and certification of competences acquired informally or non-formally.
The main benefits for Roma young people:
- Becoming aware of their own competences;
- Stimulating self-reflection on its own competence;
- Increase the self-esteem;
- Reflect on the effects of the victimization process on his/her own competences;
- Stimulate them to think of discrimination in a positive way.
9. An example for using the questionnaire
Magda Balica is researcher in the Institute of Educational Sciences in Bucharest, Romania and expert in the framework of "Observatory for Lifelong Learning Development" organization. Her background is in sociology and educational sciences and has over 10 years of experience in research activities and international projects
DJI Online / Stand: 1. August 2006