Cablegate: Roma Education in Latvia

Published: Thu 18 Oct 2007 07:31 AM
DE RUEHRA #0775/01 2910731
P 180731Z OCT 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Roma education in Latvia
1. Summary: The available statistical data and reports of educators
reveal that Latvia's comparatively small Roma community educational
achievements at all levels lags far behind the average national
level. Individual initiatives, mainly special segregated classes for
Roma, aimed at tackling underachievement and low inclusion rate were
launched in the beginning of the decade, but have met with little or
no success. Human rights organizations argued that these initiatives
were, in fact, discriminatory towards Roma. 2006 marked changes in
the official attitude towards the Roma. The government adopted the
"National Action Plan 'Roma in Latvia' 2007 - 2009" aimed at
combating discrimination against Roma in Latvia in three fields,
including education. Despite a general positive evaluation of the
government's initiative, educators and NGOs have doubted there will
be successful implementation of the plan due to a number of
shortcomings, including insufficient funding. End summary.
2. Scarce statistical data available on the inclusion and
achievement of Roma children within the Latvian education system
reveals a rather dramatic picture: among the 5,985 Roma who were 15
years old or older at the time of the last population census in
2000, 24.3 percent had finished only three, two or one grade or even
had not been to school at all, while only 26 of all Latvia's Roma
had graduated from university. (Note: education in Latvia is
compulsory through age 16. End note.) Though no data is available
on the number of illiterate persons according to their ethnicity at
national level, the data of one national agency - the National
Employment Agency - shows that 85 percent of illiterates registered
with the Agency are Roma. There is no official data whether all Roma
children are enrolled in schools and their attendance and drop-out
rates. However, a number of school administration representatives
and teachers have admitted to especially low rates of enrollment and
attendance and high drop-out rates among Roma. The only available
official numbers indicate a constant decrease of the number of Roma
children officially enrolled in public mainstream schools by about
100 children a year since 2003. Experts note that the drop raises
serious concern since the Roma community is the only minority group
in Latvia which has a positive demographic trend. Additionally,
official statistics show a very low rate of Roma emigration to other
EU countries. Therefore, the drop in enrollment might be explained
by either a continuous inability of the Latvian education system to
include Roma children or a high rate of unofficial Roma emigration
or a combination of both.
3. Despite dramatic statistics, until 2006 no national and
comprehensive measures were taken to improve the situation of Roma
in the field of education. The attempts to integrate Roma, usually
through special segregated classes for Roma, were made by individual
municipalities and schools in all places where the number of Roma
was high and was approved by local and national officials. The
majority of these segregated classes were opened around 2000 and
over the period 2003 - 2006 there were seven segregated classes and
one segregated school. No official evaluations of the segregated
practices were carried out; however, human right NGOs voiced concern
about their compliance with minority education and human right
standards. Although there were no official instructions to close the
segregated classes, only one such class remains in operation. The
educators who implemented these practices claimed that segregated
classes were closed due to lack of Roma children to attend, while
NGO's believe that greater education of parents to the dangers of a
segregated education changed their choice of schooling options for
their children.
4. The National Action Plan "Roma in Latvia" 2007-2009 is the first
comprehensive attempt by the government to fight discrimination
against Roma and improve their situation. The Plan focuses on the
two key tasks in the field of education: gradual transfer of Romani
children from segregated classes to mainstream classes, and
increasing availability of preparatory classes for Roma students in
all regions inhabited by Roma. A small regional NGO, Centre for
Education Initiatives, was among main contributors to the
development of the Plan and was also designated as a main
institution responsible for implementation of most of the
educational activities.
5. In 2007, CEI received funding for the implementation of some
activities foreseen by the Plan. Daiga Zake, CEI's coordinator of
the National Action Plan, voiced concern about the possibility to
implement the Plan fully. Zake pointed out that the Plan does not
include development and distribution of specific teaching aids and
text books, the Plan does not include sufficient training for
teachers' assistants of Roma origin, and it lacks any activities
concerning work with Roma parents and formation of support centers
for them. She also added that lot of work is needed to raise
awareness among the general public since the majority believes that
there would not be any problems if "Roma have the same life-style as
we do."
6. Comment. It will require strong political commitment, including
financial resources, to achieve changes in the situation of Roma,
including and particularly in education. Another major challenge is
to achieve changes in a dominant perception of mainstream society
that Roma do not want to study and that they are not capable of
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following a mainstream school curriculum. In addition, overall
changes in the Latvian education system are needed to make it more
inclusive (not only for Roma children but also children of any other
minority background, children with special needs, etc). Integration
of Roma will be successful if these challenges are addressed. That
would require much deeper structural changes within the education
system than are likely in the near-term, but the action plan is an
important first step.
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