Macedonia promotes education for Roma population

21/04/2014

The government and civil society are funding and implementing programmes for young Roma to attend school and improve their social integration.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European times from Skopje -- 21/04/14

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Roma community leaders tour the new Roma high school in Suto Orizari. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]

Macedonia is investing nearly 2 million euros to build and equip the first Roma high school in Suto Orizari in Skopje, where 30,000 Roma live.

Officials said more than 2,000 Roma children are expected to enrol in the high school in September.

"We expect the structure to be finished [this] month and the high school will be fully functional for the upcoming academic year," said Spiro Ristovski, education and science minister of Macedonia.

The structure is 4,000 square metres and houses a library, a gym as well as other facilities.

The school will allow young Roma to finish primary and secondary education in their municipality, said Redzep Ali Cupi, director of the directorate for promotion and development of languages in the education of ethnic minorities.

"Students of other nationalities will also be able to attend and that will contribute to the breaking up of stereotypes and prejudices about the Roma community. The school will be a space for promoting co-operation and tolerance," Cupi told SETimes.

Cupi said such efforts will allow Roma to be educated in their mother tongue in the near future. Macedonian schools offer Roma language as an optional subject beginning in the third grade.

Truancy among the young Roma has been a serious problem. At present, 10,500 Roma children are enroled in primary schools, a 23 percent increase since 2005, Cupi said, adding that the number of Roma high school students has doubled to 1,700 during that same span.

"The increase is a result of the government measures and civil society activities, but also the scholarships given to Roma high schoolers in the past several years. Of the four main priorities foreseen by the Decade of the Roma -- housing, employment, healthcare and education -- the best results are in education," he said.

Civil society supports, but also compliments the government efforts through informal education projects that improve Roma integration in society, said Fatima Osmanovska Kundevska, president of the Roma Resource Centre in Skopje.

"We offer training on financial literacy for low-income families, and building personal capacity beginning with leadership, communication skills, writing CVs and motivational letters. We trained more than 300 people, and there is particular interest among the young Roma," Osmanovska Kundevska told SETimes.

Elsewhere in the Balkans, some countries have taken a different approach to improving Roma education.

In Bulgaria, where nearly half of the 325,000 Roma have not attended or finished primary school, civil society has focused on desegregation projects to enable Roma youths to attend schools away from their neighbourhoods.

"The goal is to improve the quality of education," Ognyan Isaev, co-ordinator of the Roma Education Fund in Bulgaria, told SETimes.

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Isaev said civil society is also focussing on kindergarten and pre-school education.

"The idea is to increase awareness of early child development and provide information about the living environments that best serve their life goals as well as home education and habits," he said.

Correspondent Tzvetina Borisova in Sofia contributed to this report.

What can Balkan governments do to increase the availability and quality of Roma education? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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