Half of Roma children drop out of primary school, UN-backed report finds

27 September 2010
Roma child playing music ©UNESCO/Michel Ravassard

Despite efforts to expand and improve education for children in the Roma community, the largest ethnic minority in Europe, an estimated 50 per cent fail to complete primary education, according to a report on early childhood education unveiled today at a conference co-organized by the United Nations.

The data on Roma children is contained in the Early Childhood Care and Education Regional Report – Europe and North America, presented at the first World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education, which got under way today in Moscow. The meeting will last until Wednesday.

The report is one of five regional reports on Early Childhood Care and Education prepared for the conference, which is organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Russia and the City of Moscow.

“Children are our most precious resource, and education is a basic right,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova prior to the Moscow meeting.

“The denial of this right leaves everybody much poorer. It creates exclusion. It creates unacceptable inequality. It nurtures social tensions. Let us seize the opportunity this conference offers to renew and expand our commitment to a healthy, happy start for all children – including and especially those who are currently being left behind. Everybody will reap the benefit,” she said.

The regional report for Europe and North America states that “among all the European populations, the Roma are at greatest risk of being poor, uneducated and unemployed.”

It points to European and national opinion surveys that show many European citizens have negative views about the Roma that are often based on stereotypes and prejudice dating back several centuries. There are an estimated 10 million members of the Roma community in Europe, according to the report.

“To meet the challenge of Roma exclusion and continuing deprivation,” the report states, “governments need to employ upstream fiscal, social and labour policies to reduce family poverty and give young children a fair start in life.”

UNESCO and the Council of Europe are finalizing guidelines for policy-makers towards ensuring the right to basic education for Roma children, with particular emphasis on improving access to early childhood educational opportunities and their transition to quality primary education, the agency said.

These guidelines are expected to significantly contribute to making the rights of Roma and Travellers to successful early childhood education a reality, and to guarantee a seamless transition to primary school.

UNESCO is also one of the co-signatories of the International Task Force for the Education of Roma (ITFER), whose mission is to develop and ensure close coordination of the international initiatives regarding education for Roma, Sinti and Travellers. The task force will hold its first meeting in Strasbourg, France, on 28 and 29 October.


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