Roma integration and special schools in Slovakia
Christian Brüggemann* and Daniel Škobla
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – 29 June, 2012 – Since the late 1970s, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have stressed the potential of education to improve the living conditions of Roma and other groups such as migrants and travellers.
In 2012, education is still considered to be one of the priorities for Roma inclusion.
This ‘quality imperative’ also includes the aim of educational desegregation.
‘Segregation’ - two distinct phenomena
On the one hand, ethnic segregation refers to the schooling of Roma in schools or classes where all or the majority of the students are Roma, and on the other, to the disproportionate streaming of Roma into a) special schools or b) special classes in regular schools for children with (mental) disabilities or special needs.
In 2005 the Slovak Government adopted the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 Action Plan including the goal to reduce the number of Roma enrolled in special educational settings by 15 percent.
Has progress been made since 2005?
The recently adopted National Roma Integration Strategy of the Slovak Republic aims to address this issue by reducing the rate of Roma in special schools and special classrooms to equal the proportion of the general population that can be found in this education setting.
Given the political commitment to avoid disproportionate streaming of Roma to special education settings, this paper explores the extent of ethnic segregation in education in the Slovak Republic using household survey data.
Based on UNDP household surveys in the Slovak Republic, we compare 2005 and 2010 data on the number of young Roma enrolled in special education settings.
We pay particular attention to the influence of settlement type and mother tongue on disproportionate streaming of Roma in special schools and classes because former research has shown significant associations between these variables.
Disproportionate numbers of Roma students in special education
Table 1 shows that the number of Roma aged seven to 15 who attended special schools (16,1 %) and special classes (4,0 %) is slightly lower than in 2005.
However, the differences between the results in 2005 and 2010 are statistically not significant (p > .01).
In 2010 still more than one in five Roma of primary school age is enrolled in special education settings, whereas according to national averages 4,1% of pupils in the respective school age have been enrolled in special schools and 2,2% in special classes.
Table 1: Roma aged seven to 15 enrolled in primary school
Source: UNDP Roma survey, 2005 and 2010 data sets, p = .192 , Phi = .034.
According to the 2010 UNDP Roma household survey in the Slovak Republic and a study commissioned by the Roma Education Fund, most Roma children placed in special schools and classes indicated that most of their schoolmates were Roma.
This phenomenon might be considered as twofold educational segregation: de jure segregated education settings (special schools and special classrooms) have developed into de facto ethnically segregated settings for Roma children.
Pupils with Romani as their mother tongue are more likely to end up in special education
Research based on 2005 household data has shown that the schooling of Roma in special settings is associated with the extent of residential segregation.
Roma living in segregated settlements (at distance from the next town or village or segregated by a physical barrier) and separated settlements (concentrated in a certain part of a town or village) were found to be more frequently enrolled in special education settings than Roma living in integrated environments.
Moreover, the schooling of Roma in special settings was found to be significantly associated with the indicated mother tongue.
Table 2 replicates 2005 findings with 2010 household data and shows that Roma who indicated Romani as their mother tongue face a significantly higher frequency of being enrolled in special education settings than Roma who indicated languages of school instruction (Slovak or Hungarian) as their mother tongue (p < .01).
Results show that roughly one in four Roma children indicating Romani as their mother tongue had been streamed into special education in contrast with about one in 10 Roma children indicating Slovak or Hungarian as their mother tongue.
Table 2: Roma aged seven to 15 enrolled in primary school, by mother tongue, 2010
Source: Based on UNDP Roma survey 2010 data set, p = .000 , Phi = .187.
When controlling for settlement type the association between mother tongue and school setting remains significant for the characteristics ‘separated settlement’ and ‘segregated settlement’ (p < .01) but not for the characteristic ‘integrated settlment’ (p > .01).
This result suggests that language as a distinction characteristic plays an important role in segregated and separated environments while in integrated environments other distinction characteristics are more substantial.
Assuming that Roma who indicated that they speak Romani as their mother tongue have a more limited mastery of Slovak or Hungarian when enrolled in school, the finding suggests that a limited mastery of the language of school instruction at the beginning of their school career strongly contributes to the risk of being streamed into special education settings.
Roma aged between seven and 15 living in segregated and separated settlements are more frequently enrolled in special settings than Roma living in integrated environments (p < .01).
However, when controlling the association between settlement type and school setting for mother tongue, the association is significant neither for ‘Slovak or Hungarian’ nor for ‘Romani’ (p > .01).
This suggests that Roma children in segregated and separated environments are not disproportionately streamed because of their residential segregation but because in segregated and separated environments the language of instruction (Slovak or Hungarian) is spoken less frequently than in integrated environments.
Analysis of household survey data shows that despite political claims and some marginal improvement, the extent of special schooling in the Slovak Republic has not decreased significantly since 2005.
The continued disproportionate streaming of Roma children in special education and the fact that in many special schools and classes the majority of students are Roma, point to the long way that desegregation policies in the Slovak Republic still have to go.
Differentiating between those Roma who indicated a language of school instruction (Slovak, Hungarian) as their mother tongue and those who indicated Romani as their mother tongue shows that the latter group faces a much higher risk of being streamed to special settings.
We assume that children who are primarily socialized in Romani do not enter school with the same level of competencies in the languages of school instruction as children that are primarily socialized in those languages.
Following this assumption the limited knowledge of school instruction appears to contribute to the disproportionate streaming of Roma to special schools and classes.
This is not to say that Roma should give up their right to speak their mother tongue or that the Romani language should not be introduced in Slovak schools.
Rather, the implication is that besides preventing institutional discrimination, educational institutions in Slovakia should respond to the fact that for a growing number of pupils the language taught at school is not their first language.
Ensuring at least two years of pre-school participation and additional language courses for these groups as well as educating teachers to effectively adapt their methods to the needs of linguistically diverse classes might be a good start.
To assess the assumptions expressed in this paper, future research would need to evaluate the association between language skills and the streaming of Roma children to special schools and classes.
Christian Brüggemann was Carlo-Schmid-Fellow at UNDP's Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS from October 2011 to March 2012 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D in the field of intercultural and international comparative education at the University of Dortmund.
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