Academic journal article Romani Studies

Discrimination or Not? Romani Children in Polish Special Schools and Diagnoses of Intellectual Disability

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Discrimination or Not? Romani Children in Polish Special Schools and Diagnoses of Intellectual Disability

Article excerpt


The Roma are Europe's largest minority, with a population estimated between 10-12 million dispersed across the continent, mostly in the countries of Central and Eastern (CEE) and South-Eastern (SEE) Europe (European Commission 2017). The Roma are also one of Europe's most vulnerable minority groups; they experience discrimination in most aspects of life, such as healthcare (they have higher rates of infant mortality and lower life expectancy), housing, and the labour market (unemployment rates among them are more than five times higher than in the general population of their countries of residence), and they are often disproportionately affected by poverty (O'Nions 2010; Pietraszkiewicz 2011). As far as educational deprivation is concerned, the Roma are "the most vulnerable group experiencing racism and discrimination in education" (EMCRX 2005: 23).

There have been several international projects aimed at helping improve the situation, such as INSETROM and Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015. These projects were designed to fight discrimination of Roma in different areas of life, including education, healthcare, and housing. Although generally successful, the projects encountered a variety of obstacles, such as difficulty in achieving broader inclusion of Roma communities in their respective countries.

However, another perspective on educational support of Roma children was provided by Matras et al. (2015). They exposed the somewhat questionable agendas of some NGOs working for the Roma (but not with the Roma) population in Manchester, which demonstrated a false picture of the Roma population's needs and situation in order to create an explicit reason for becoming outside grant recipients. The NGOs in question performed a job that was actually undermining the Roma population and passing on false information to teachers.

Important controversies around the education of Roma children in Ghent have been described by Hemelsoet (2013) and could be summarized as homogenizing and minimizing the complexity of their frequent migration, and focusing instead on descriptions of their life in terms of multiple deficiencies The group has been described as lacking housing, documentation, and employment. The rights of Roma children to education have been understood as the right to mainstream education, which might be less desirable or even completely meaningless for Roma children because their lack of official identification documents often means there is little chance of them being employed. Also, they often leave school at the age of 18 without having obtained any educational certificate. Finally, education may be less desirable, especially because skills pertaining to very practical matters can be obtained at home (e.g. learning how to build a shelter or communicate with welfare workers) (Hemelsoet 2013).

Considering the life circumstances of Roma families, children's participation in school education might clash with other family priorities, including securing their livelihood. In Roma families, there are various strategies for the transmission of knowledge and skills. Parents expect their children to become skilful traders and, as a first step, hone these skills within their own community (Themelis and Foster 2013). Traditional Roma education also prioritizes the importance of family life, oral transfer of important information, experiential learning of skills, and socializing children to important values such as respect for elders, self-initiative, group solidarity, keeping one's word, and willingness to defend one's family (O'Nions 2010).

Another important reason for the limited willingness of Roma children and their families to participate in school education pertains to the mainstream school curriculum, in which no information about their history and contribution to the cultures of different countries can be found. Also, prejudice against Roma in schools is not sufficiently addressed (Themelis and Foster 2013). …

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