What would a child’s future look like without education? While many of us take our education for granted, many do not have access to education at all. This is particularly true for Roma children. While the educational system is still far from equitable, there have been some initiatives to improve its situation. Kenne deine Rechte took part in the European Conference on Guaranteeing the Right to Education for All in European Cities, organized by the GUARANTEE project.
Two-thirds of the world’s school-age children do not have an Internet connection – which hinders them from participating in online classes.  While one might believe that this is only a problem in developing countries, even in Austria, some students have not been able to participate in online classes because they did not have a laptop or an Internet connection. Looking beyond Austria’s borders, the situation is even more dismal: globally, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school. In particular Roma children are less likely to start or complete primary school, leading to a range of political recommendations and projects catering to combating high rates of absenteeism.
Guaranteeing the Right to Education for Roma Children in Selected European Cities
One project to tackle the inequality of the educational system is GUARANTEE, which was co-funded by the European Commission DG Justice. The project takes place in three countries – Austria, Bulgaria, and Germany – between September 2019 and February 2022. Its objective is to promote the children’s right to education by preventing school dropouts and encouraging the transition to secondary or vocational schools. This is achieved through peer-to-peer training for professionals and learning activities for children in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and Dortmund (Germany). These activities are accompanied by action research.
At the closing conference of the project, which was held online on 27 May 2021 with participants from all over Europe, a message of hope could be conveyed: even during the pandemic, project partners in Dortmund (Germany) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria) succeeded to maintain most of the established youth groups, kept in touch with them by providing internet access and devices, moved activities to online formats and thereby encouraged them to continue learning and attending lessons. The major achievement was that all participants passed their classes and continued school in autumn, which signifies the maximum possible impact of the project. Klaus Starl, the project coordinator, stated that “desegregation programmes are indeed successful if young people are supported in their learning and in their free time, as shown by the project”. As such, “it is possible to combat discrimination and stereotypes”.
Trust helps keep children at school
Simone Philipp, one of the researchers involved, highlighted that the project was able to offer human rights education through sports and arts projects. As it emerged, it proved central to foster trust between children and teachers/trainers, between children and parents, and also between parents and teachers/trainers to ensure children participated in the activities offered. GUARANTEE was successful in enabling young participation and keeping children in school – however, it was the nurturing of these vital relationships that made all the difference, proving that to establish a “lived” culture of human rights, engagement with the needs and rights of young people is necessary.
Why focus on education?
The UN’s fourth sustainable development goal – SDG 4 –focuses on guaranteeing quality education. The sustainable development goals are “the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030”. It consists of 10 targets, and it also aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. These subgoals entail, inter alia, free primary and secondary education, quality pre-primary education, eliminating discrimination in education, and universal literacy and numeracy. Roma children, among others, are among the prime target groups for this undertaking. As GUARANTEE shows, it does not only need top-down action of enabling access to schools – which arguably still is a major problem in itself – , but also bottom-up action of supporting children, listening to their wants and needs, and supporting them in their educational journey.
Education matters for everyone. While some children learn how to read before they enter formal education, some would never become literate if they did not attend school. Apart from that, also other skills are conveyed at school, such as numeracy, problem-solving skills, or media literacy. Furthermore, graduating from a school creates more employment opportunities for graduates. This, in turn, can secure a stable income, which creates financial independence and confidence. Without proper education, one would be financially dependent on someone else, and would most likely not be able to build up a stable sense of self. Last but not least, schools enable students to work on their social skills and build positive relationships with peers. This is something worth supporting on all levels.