Roma Education in Post-Socialist Bulgaria: Different Accounts of Academic Underachievement

Lambrev, Veselina
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2015]
Since the fall of socialism that occurred in Central and Southeast Europe in 1989, the situation of Romani (Gypsy) population in the region has dramatically worsened. The transition to market economies, necessary for European Union membership, increased unemployment rates and caused further disparities between mainstream and Romani groups, raising the inequalities. Historically vulnerable and excluded, today Roma are the largest, poorest, and most discriminated against minority group in Europe. Despite the existence of an antidiscrimination law from 2004, for the most part ethnic school segregation in Bulgaria is still preserved. Recent data from the Bulgarian Ministry of Education confirm the educational discrepancies between Roma and non-Roma and reveal that in 2010 83.7 percent of the Roma dropped out of high school and 30.6 percent never finished primary education. In comparison, the numbers for ethnic Bulgarians were much lower: 5.6 percent did not finish high school and just below one percent (0.2 percent) did not complete primary school. Knowledge about the factors contributing to Roma academic underachievement is important because it could help confront stereotypes and stigmatization and may allow for empowerment of Romani youth. However, few studies have examined the Romani perspective on the existing academic disparities. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the school experiences of Roma, to identify the factors that contribute to Romani students’ disparate outcomes, and to identify their education needs. Observations, focus groups, and individual interviews were conducted with ten Bulgarian teachers and twenty Romani parents and family members between 2010-2012 in three towns in Bulgaria. Miles et al.’s (2014) two levels of coding were used to identify iii categories and theoretical concepts. The findings of this study indicate that discrimination and antigypsism in policy, curriculum, and teaching is the main factor for Romani students’ underachievement and dropout from school. While institutionalized antigypsism is maintained through school segregation, imposition of a mainstream curriculum, and neglect of Roma’s education needs, Bulgarian teachers have developed certain stereotypes about Romani culture that influence their expectations and attitudes towards Romani minority students and prompt them to perceive Roma underachievement as a cultural phenomenon. This research suggests that the Bulgarian government should take immediate steps to close the segregated Romani schools and indicates the need of culturally responsive pedagogies in the Bulgarian schools.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
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