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Introduction to Roma in Bulgaria

Brief presentation of Bulgaria

Bulgaria is parliamentary democracy with a high degree of political, administrative, and economic centralization, where the most powerful executive position is prime minister. The population of Bulgaria according to the last census is 7 364 570 inhabitants. It is a member of the European Union, NATO, and the Council of Europe; a founding state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); and has taken a seat at the UN Security Council three times. The economy of Bulgaria functions on the principles of the free market, having a large private sector and a smaller public one. Bulgaria is an industrialized upper-middle-income country according to the World Bank. Before the economic crisis from 2008, it has experienced rapid economic growth. GDP per capita is estimated at $14,400 (PPP, 2013) and the average monthly wage is 812 leva (554 USD). The international human development indicator of Bulgaria is 0,777.

Brief presentation of the Roma in Bulgaria

The official number of Roma people living in Bulgaria is 370 000, but unofficially the number of Roma is estimated to be 700 000-800 000. Roma communities in the country divides into three groups - Yerlii, Kardarashi and Rudari. Each group is divided into subgroups, differing mainly in their spoken dialect and traditional male profession. The persons from the Roma ethnic group are distributed across all regions in the country. Their share of the population is biggest in the region of Montana – 12.7% and Sliven - 11.8%, followed by the region of Dobrich – 8.8%, Yambol – 8.5%, the country average is 4.9%. Approximately half (55.4%) of the persons who identified themselves as belonging to the Roma ethnic group reside in the cities.

The age structure of the Roma population shows a distinctly manifested tendency – the relative share of the age groups decreases with the increase of the age: children in the age group 0 to 9 years constitute one fifth (20.8%) of all persons who identify themselves as Roma, the groups of 10-19 year-old and 20-29 year-old persons show equal relative shares of 18.3% each, 30-39 age group constitutes 15.2%; 40-49 age group – 11.6%; 50-59 age group. - 8,7%; 60-69 age group - 4,9%; 70-79 age group - 1.9%; 80+ age group - 0,4%.

Bulgaria is one of the eight countries signed the declaration and joined the initiative „Decade for Roma inclusion 2005-2015” in 2005, in 2008 the country adopted the "National action plan" in frame of the initiative. From 2012 according to the EU framework Bulgaria have new strategy for roma integration "NRIS 2012-2020" and Action plan to implement the strategy. Another important document that is adopted in Bulgaria is the "Strategy for the integration of children and students from ethnic minorities" adopted in 2004 and updated in 2010.

The situation of the education of Roma 

Improving the access to education for Roma is not only a problem of Roma. Many international studies show a strong link between the education level of the workforce and the economic growth. A major problem identified through various sources is that a significant share of Roma children are not recorded or early drops out from the education system. But even recorded and attending to classes, roma pupils receive less than the average quality of educational service.

The 2001 Census shows that Roma are the least educated Bulgarian population. In the age group 25-64 illiterate Roma are 12.7%, secondary and higher education have only 7.2% of Roma (in 76.5% of the total population).

According to the Strategy for Educational Integration of Children and Students from 

Ethnic minorities, most significant issues related to education are recording a large number of children without disabilities in special schools, adaptation of Roma children in the kindergartens and elementary schools, insufficient knowledge of the Bulgarian language which leads to unsatisfactory results in the school. Poverty is one of the main factors for irregular attendance and progressive increase in the number of school dropouts. 

One of the main problems facing the Roma education is the presence of "Roma" segregated schools, most often they are in Roma ghettos or near Roma neighborhoods.  Roma pupils in such schools often reach near to 100% . Educational level is much lower than in mixed schools, educational integration is hampered by the lack of contact with Bulgarian classmates and insufficient contact with mainstream society. 

According to the latest data from the Ministry of Education and Science 30 000 Roma children living in cities, attends kindergartens and schools with more than 50% of Roma. According to a report of "Open Society" - Sofia, "Roma schools” in Bulgaria are 554 form the total 2657 mainstream and 127 special schools. Meanwhile schools with more than 30% Roma students are 960 (35% of all schools in the country). One of the most important observations noted in this report is that school where over 30% of the students are Roma quickly became in "Roma schools", as parents of non-Roma children moves their kids to another facility. 

In the country there are few significant educational initiatives, concerning Roma ethnicity.

- Desegregation of children from segregated schools - since 2000 various NGO’s implements desegregation projects in seven Bulgarian cities. The projects are funded by OSI Budapest and REF. Various studies show that Roma children involved in the projects show success in math and Bulgarian language test compared to their peers studying in segregated schools. 

Although the strategy for educational integration set desegregation as a priority,  in practice there is no real action in this regard. The process of desegregation is not embedded in the general policy of the Ministry of Education and is not present in the produced documents. For this initiative does not set aside funds from the state budget, the initiative relies on external financing such as REF and OP of  EU. 

- Optional subject "Roma folklore" - this is an initiative of NGO in partnership with several municipalities. The aim of the program is to reduce the number of school leavers Roma children, by increasing their motivation to attend school and the involvement of parents in the educational process. Within this initiative children are getting familiar to Roma life and culture.

- Classes in mother tongue - this process were initiated in 1992 by Ministry of education. Despite the inclusion of these EPA in all documents related to the educational integration of children from ethnic minorities, this initiative has remained very limited. 

- School mediators(Teacher assistance) - in 2003/2004 school year in some public schools ware assigned teaching assistants (Mediators). In 2005/2006 year 107 roma teacher assistants ware hired in municipal schools in 17 districts. Some of these mediators ware appointed by the schools, while others by NGO’s in frame of different projects. Unfortunately the introduction of delegated budgets in 2008 and the lack of an active policy by the Ministry of education led to a sharp reduction in the number of appointed mediators. 

In addition to the poverty another key factor for not regular attending and dropping out from the schools is that the education in Bulgaria still uses mostly old pedagogies and although there are courses for professional development of teachers, many of them offered by NGOs, are not part of the official teacher trainings. +Many teachers recognize that despite efforts to improve their knowledge of intercultural relations they have lower expectations from Roma students. This reflects the usual attitudes of the Bulgarian society as a whole, which still opposes integration of children from minorities in the education.

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