Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Mai 2004

8.1. Intercultural Education
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Susanne Binder/Mikael Luciak (Vienna)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Educational Alternatives in Communities with Predominantly Roma Population in Romania

Daniela Ion (Voluntari, Ilfov County, Romania)



There is a general consensus in recognizing that the social reality today is becoming more and more multicultural. Schools are a reflection of the social reality of which it forms part; that is why we can say that the educational act is an intercultural one.

The cultural diversity has been a part of schools in Romania for some time ever since the incorporation of Roma children. In Romania, there is a small percentage of immigrants, but a considerable number of pupils from the national ethnic minorities. Ethnic Romanians make up 89% of the population and ethnic minorities stand for about 11% of the total population of Romania:

Originating in northwestern India before the 5th century, the Roma have lived in Europe for more than 500 years. They tend to live separately from the Romanians and other ethnic groups. Although they have a rich oral tradition and musical culture, and are skilled craftspeople; the Roma are generally poor, undereducated, underemployed and subject to discrimination.

According to the latest census (2002), about 535,000 Roma currently live in Romania.

It is a well-known fact that this ethnic minority especially faces discrimination and lives under severe social-economic conditions. The children are particularly vulnerable suffering from poverty, sexual exploitation, high mortality, lack of basic services, including health care and education. (Cherga 2001, p. 67)

They are provided with specific schools and teachers in classes taught in their mother tongue. Teachers consider that the most important problems come from the enrolment of the Roma children in schools because of the high degree of absenteeism and learning difficulties manifested by the majority of them.

I have studied some analyses that various NGOs in Romania have drawn up. No doubt that they have the best intentions to act effectively in the direction of improving Roma children's living conditions, integration, and education. In fact, I believe that the NGOs have an important role to play in providing support for the Roma population. However, an important role has to be played by schools and other educational institutions as well.

That is why I consider that is important to talk about the aspects of Roma children's school education; unfortunately, these aspects are so complex, that an ordinary study can only offer a general view without specifying particular problems.

The current study is based on analyses of the educational alternatives promoted in "Stefanestii de Jos", a community with a majority Roma population, situated 20 km afar from Bucharest. The main objective of the present study is to evaluate the results of implementing new educational strategies at this school level.


The Negative Social Context of the Roma Population in Romania

Today, the educational level of the Roma population in Romania is lower than that of any other social or ethnic group. Despite the numerous social programs that they could benefit from, they continue to be characterized by high illiteracy rates, school failure and early dropout. This situation can be explained by two sets of factors:

The difficulties of daily living - lack of basic necessities, illiteracy, and child labor exploitation since early ages - dramatically define the existence of Roma children.

With some exceptions, the representations Roma people have about themselves correspond in many ways to the ones that the majority population has about them. Research indicates an increase in the intensity of the negative attitude towards the Roma people, beginning with the 1990. The image that Roma people have about themselves is most of the time a negative one; that is why some of them don't want to accept that they are Roma. (Cherga 2001, p. 68)

There is a general consensus in considering that the Roma are the ones who steal, beat other people, swear and have a mean language. Roma people live in extended families. Generally, they have 2-3 rooms where a higher number of persons live. The poor living conditions are also determined by lack of running water and sometimes lack of electricity. Children don't have good conditions for learning because they lack a special place at home to conduct their studies. Children's nutrition is poor and has negative effects upon the health. They are modestly dressed and the clothes are not clean. The fact that they don't have the necessary clothes and footwear contributes to school abandonment on their opinion.

All these unfavorable conditions in connection with Roma children's daily life have a negative influence upon education, community relations, and also upon their identity.

As a conclusion, the negative social context of Roma people in Romania can be characterized by:


The Main Difficulties of the Educational System Regarding the Roma Population

After 1989, the educational system preserves and amplifies the status inequalities between the Roma and the majority population. A decrease of school and social opportunities for Roma children is recorded. (Iosifescu and Rogojinaru, p. 11) An important element in explaining the weak schooling situation is discrimination that has various aspects according to the context. The direct and the most serious aspects of discrimination go up to school separation and the refusal to admit Roma children at school.

The discrimination we have perceived seems not to be the result of any particular policy, but it is rather the joint effect of some prejudices and ethnical stereotypes. It is surprising that these stereotypes and prejudices are not only held by ordinary people, but also by some teachers and headmasters. Some reasons for this are:

This situation determines the fact that Roma children have to overcome more complicated obstacles than children from other ethnic minorities. These circumstances lead to increasing prejudices from their non-Roma schoolmates and teachers; they are stigmatized as not being able to learn and this leads to their elimination from the regular classrooms.

As a conclusion, this situation of poverty and social exclusion gives rise to difficulties in accessing standardized educational processes; there are some barriers to positive educational experience:


The Results of the Failure of the Traditional Educational System

Several studies have underlined the failure of the educational system regarding the Roma population. The result is a high illiteracy rate of about 50%, which is affecting all the aspects in Roma population life. (Ciolan 1998, p. 127)

Roma families' attitude towards education is generally reticent, based on the fear that their own children would suffer because of the attitude of the colleagues or teachers.

In the field of education it is estimated that about half of the Roma population is school aged and only 30-40% of them go to school regularly.

Research performed in 1992 (Foundation for an Open Society 1998, p.) can provide a general view on Roma children education. It comes out that the weight of the lack of education is very high among Roma children. The following have never attended school:

- 29,9% of the children aged between 7-9 years old;
- 17,2% of the children aged between 10-16 years old;
- 22% of the adult generation.

As a general trend, it is important to notice:


The Strategies for Intercultural Education and Antiracism

Despite of this situation, in Romania we promote an educational policy meant to encourage interculturalism and antiracism. The basic idea behind intercultural education is to fight stereotypes. It uses a series of concepts such as solidarity, empathy, creativity, and tolerance.

In fact, it is very important to establish points in common with the other person, rather than crushing him. In one sense, intercultural learning is a subversive concept. Sometimes one learns more about oneself than about others.

The main concern in intercultural education is that all cultures and groups are treated equitably. This premise necessitates that all groups be treated in a manner that recognizes and respects their dignity and their contributions to society.

Intercultural education tries to promote positive attitudes, both of the students, but also the teachers, communication, and co-operation between pupils who belong to various socio-cultural groups.

It is difficult to define in one sense the intercultural education; but it could be important to mention that it is not:

Intercultural education represents a new approach of the teaching and learning process based on democratic values, which try to promote the cultural pluralism in the context of social diversity. This concept means: interaction, exchange, communication, co-operation, solidarity, trust and mutual respect. One of the basic objectives of a intercultural education is to promote positive feelings of unity and tolerance among students and break down stereotypes. It also involves the entire school community with the necessary participation of the student body in a critical analysis of the social reality and in the action projects designed to fight against inequality.

Intercultural education focuses on the systematic education of the entire student body and not only on those children belonging to minority ethnic or cultural groups. Its pedagogical principles are based on:

Various projects propose strategies for intercultural education and antiracism at the national level as well as at the school level. Intercultural education is a new field for our teachers. It needs to implement changes in all school activities and also in the curriculum.

It is a well-known fact that the national curriculum common for all students forms the fundamental framework and definitive element guiding all school activities. Unfortunately, this curriculum doesn't hold the key to school diversity, multicultural reality, and the development of values such as respect and solidarity. The design of such a curriculum makes necessary to implement different strategies that affect education agents, the school's administrative and pedagogical frameworks, the work materials, and their evaluation. It needs to implement changes at three levels of the curriculum:

  1. The compulsory curriculum has to be adapted to the diversity of educational situations. It is important to identify those common contents and objectives, which can promote interculturalism. Intercultural education is a transversal theme and each subject should develop intercultural activities.
  2. Among other strategies is important to introduce in the flexible curriculum some optional subjects focusing on topics as: "traditions and local customs", "my schoolmates - my friends", "children's plays", "traditional dances". This flexible curriculum represents an official way to introduce intercultural education based on co-operation and communication. There is not a general prescription for the best solution of implementing the intercultural in schools. It depends on the context.
  3. The extra-school curriculum should promote some activities that involve the entire community to foster better co-operation and living together. For instance, "Sunday schools", "parents' meetings", "school festivities", "celebrating birthdays". These activities offer to the students a more flexible framework and help them:

The extra-curriculum plays an important role in teaching students how to live and to learn together, how to know and understand one another better.

As a conclusion, the strategies for intercultural education have to start at the national level and continue at the school level:



Experience shows that no measures taken to improve Roma children's educational situation can be effective as long as the Roma themselves are not included in the work.

Supporting the whole Roma family is the best way of supporting Roma children and to fulfil the intentions of the "Convention on the Rights of the Child". It is necessary to view the Roma child as a part of a collective. Showing respect for the parents and the cultural background of the Roma children strengthens the child's identity.

The school has to be a place where a Roma child can be safe and where it seriously can undergo education.

The school content has to become more relevant for the Roma population. Different expressions of Roma culture and history should have a prominent place in the curriculum.

Teaching methods should also acknowledge the oral culture of Roma children.

Information for the majority population about the history, culture, and language of the Roma minority is vital and fundamental for achieving a better understanding and respect for the Roma minorities and their children.

We live in a more globalized world. Closing the gap between policy and practice concerning the Roma children in particular remains an enormous challenge.

© Daniela Ion (Voluntari, Ilfov County, Romania)


Cherga, Eugen et al.: "Mirror for Roma culture and humanity", Antiracist educational pack, Bucharest, Phoenix Foundation, 2001.

Ciolan, Lucian: "Pasi catre scoala interculturala" (Steps to intercultural school), Bucharest, Corint, 2000.

Ciolan, Lucian: "Pachet educational" (Educational Pack), Timisoara, Institutul Intercultural (Intercultural Institute), 1998.

Foundation for an Open Society: Raport final: "Copii romi in Europa" (Final report: Roma children in Europe), Bucharest, 1998.

Iosifescu, Serban and Rogojinaru, Adela: "Parteneriat si dezvoltare scolara in comunitatile cu romi" (Partnership and school development in Roma communities), Bucharest, Corint, 2000.

8.1. Intercultural Education

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