Introduction to Roma in Greece
A. Brief presentation of Greece
Greece is a parliamentarian democracy and a founding member of the United Nations, a member of European Union since 1981 (and the eurozone since 2001), and is also a member of numerous international institutions, including the Council of Europe, OECD and OSCE. Greece's economy is also the largest in the Balkans. In particular, its GPD per capita (compared to the EU) amounts to 75%,1 while according to its international human development indicator (0,760) its degree of human development is regarded as “very high”.2 According to the 2011 census, Greece's population is around 11 million.
B. Brief presentation of the Roma in Greece
The history of Roma in Greece goes back to the 15th century. They live scattered on the whole territory of the country in some 70 settlements, mainly in the suburbs.The majority of the Greek Roma are Orthodox Christian and have assumed a Greek identity (language, names) while a small part of them, the Muslim Roma concentrate in Thrace.
Since 1951 there has been no data collection on the ground of ethnic origin in Greece. Nevertheless the Roma, along with other groups of the population (repatriates, immigrants, refugees, et. al.), have been regarded as particular targets for policies aiming at social integration. In that frame, data are collected only upon request of policy makers or institutions observing the situation of Roma in the country. The latest published research, conducted in 2008, on which the national strategy for the integration of marginalised Roma is based on, distinguishes about 65,000 individuals residing in 162 distinct Roma locations.3 Other frequently used estimates about the Roma population in Greece are those of the Greek National Committee of Human Rights4 referring to 250,000 persons of Roma origin nationwide, both sedentary and travelling. The “Greek Helsinki Monitor” in 2005 and “Interights” in 2008 reports are setting pertinent numbers to 300,000 individuals. Romani leaders have frequently indicated numbers between 350,000-500,000 or even higher. A combination of data from the abovementioned sources suggests that the range of 175,000 individuals, indicated amongst others by the Council of Europe’s (CoE 2012) estimates,5 may be closer to the number of the actual people that can be described as retaining a Roma cultural identity. This makes up 1.55% of Greece’s population.
C. The situation of the education of Roma
The level of education among the vast majority of Roma is still very low. This is due to the general living conditions of Roma.What distinguishes them from other protected groups is the extent of poverty and deprivation they suffer, as well as the accessibility of the schools since many Roma live out far away from schools, as well as the attitude or the non-welcoming atmosphere that might be created by the teachers and pupils in the classroom or in the school. These factors along with the lack of financial resources and the fact that they need to move in various areas of the country for professional reasons are the main reasons that dissuade Roma children from participating in school life. The lack of education has hindered their rights awareness –particularly their awareness of their right to education Unfortunately, the data collection related to education can be characterised as poor. Information on preschool education is insufficient in order to reach a conclusion, not only on Roma children attendance but on non-Roma as well. Only half of Roma children (at least those included in the researches) are attending elementary school and few go through with mandatory education.6
As far as pre-school education is concerned, since 2008 the mandatory schooling age in Greece has dropped to include 5 years- old children as well.Hence kindergartens represent the so called pre-school primary education. The latest FRA survey, based on Eurostat findings, cites Greek Roma and non-Roma children participation in pre-school education as the lowest amongst the surveyed European countries, where “less than 10 % of Roma children are reported to be in preschool or kindergarten compared to less than 50 % of non-Roma”.7
As for the compulsory school attendance in general, a national research for the General Secretariat for the Management of European Funds and the NGO “Efksini Polis”,8 conducted in 2008, recorded that 54.7% of Roma has never received schooling, 33.4% have finished only a few grades in elementary school, 7% has graduated from elementary school, 3,4% has followed some grades in lower secondary education, 0.5% has concluded lower secondary education and thus compulsory education, while only 1% has continued to higher secondary education . This survey recorded data of nationwide school attendance according to levels of education. This research has showed that just 17.7% of the Roma population has graduated from primary education . Of the total sample, only 2% of the interviewees have graduated from secondary education. On the whole, the Roma children in Western Greece seem to suffer more from social exclusion compared to those from other areas of Greece, with the exception of some groups residing in locations of greater Athens and Thessaloniki urban centres.
A more recent estimation (2010)9 suggests that 51% of Roma children between 6-15 years old attend elementary school. In addition, empirical findings show that school dropout rates increase after Christmas and during spring time.10
Cases of segregation and separate schooling infrastructures for Roma are frequent and Greece has been condemned by the ECHR for that. Local societies and local administration attitudes are frequently hostile to Roma children integration initiatives. This causes frequent conflicts with the central state administration, human rights organisation and NGOs, which are making efforts to attract Roma children to the school system.
However, there have been some encouraging positive actions that have been put into practice in the field of education during the previous decade by the Ministry of Education in co-operation with the Universities, focusing on the educational needs of the Roma students. These actions aimed to conduct special curricula and produce new teaching material and they were focused on the training of teachers and the attempt to train them on specific intercultural issues as well as the methodology to teach in multicultural classes.11
Nevertheless, there are still no provisions in place for encouraging effectively the promotion of diversity in Roma education: the language, history and culture of various minorities is still not taught in any school; very limited language support is offered to students whose mother tongue is not Greek; the curricula and textbooks developed by this project are not used in those schools with Roma students; there is no provision for teacher training in diversity management. During the decade of 2000 Greece has initiated programmes for the introduction of Roma mediators/assistants in the educational system through the involvement of public authorities and particularly of educational authorities, but this policy is not followed on a systematic and permanent basis and there is lack of data in this field.