One in One Hundred: Drivers of Success and Resilience among College-Educated Romani Adolescents in Serbia

Which factors contribute to better educational outcomes among Roma students and what role does discrimination play in their educational experience? Find out in this recent study by Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the CIP-Centar za interaktivnu pedagogiju in Serbia.

 

New report on factors for success among Romani college students challenges the narrative of Roma indifference to education

One of the major factors in whether Roma adolescents continue on to university is if they have significant support from a non-Roma teacher or peer in combatting everyday racism in school, according to a study released today in conjunction with International Human Solidarity DayOne in One Hundred: Drivers of Success and Resilience among College-Educated Romani Adolescents in Serbia, a collaboration between the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (Harvard FXB) and the Center for Interactive Pedagogy in Belgrade (CIP Center), goes beyond scrutiny of educational deficits to investigate factors contributing to the success of Roma college students. The report title refers to the 1 percent of Roma who beat the odds and reach university.  The project compared the educational trajectories of 89 Romani adolescents who succeeded in attending college in Serbia and 100 Romani youths from similar neighborhoods who did not. Almost all of the respondents (93 percent) in the sample (both college students and the comparison group) reported that their parents valued education for their children, in contrast to the dominant narrative that Roma are indifferent or hostile to education. In the study, Roma students also revealed they had faced a severe degree of discrimination. What emerges is a challenge to the easy story that Roma lack of educational achievement results from  Roma cultural attitudes rather than persistent racism and poverty.

The majority of Roma college students (58 percent) said they had experienced discrimination in school, with 18 percent of them saying that, at some point, discrimination was a frequent or near daily occurrence. In a follow-up qualitative component, almost all the college students told painful stories of discrimination:

“Little Gypsy girl” was the only way they described me in class. I just felt humiliated, I was fifteen, and I just felt miserable and humiliated.

They called me a Roma, said I lived in a garbage container and these are some of the reasons why I withdrew into myself…

The quantitative data emphasize the importance of three factors as determinants of positive higher education outcomes: access to early childhood development services; robust teacher, peer, and financial support systems in school; and parents’ and other relatives’ levels of education. In the qualitative data, Roma college students tell of unwelcoming school environments, of persistent stigma, stereotyping, and explicit racism.  However, they also suggest remedies: distinctive factors for educational success for the 1 percent are teachers’ belief in a Romani student’s intellectual capacity and teacher/peer support in facing discrimination.

Although the focus of this research is on Serbia, the statistics (and related patterns) reverberate throughout Europe. As Dr. Margarete Matache, director of the FXB Roma Program, concludes, “Instead of focusing on Roma ‘behavior’ to improve the educational performance of Roma students, both research and policy development need to target the deeply prejudicial and rights-violative institutional and societal enviroments in which Roma try to access their right to education.”

The executive summary of the report follows, along with a link to the entire report. For further information, please contact Dr. Margarete Matache, mmatache at hsph.harvard.edu

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

One in One Hundred: Drivers of Success and Resilience among College-Educated Romani Adolescents in Serbia,a collaboration between the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (Harvard FXB) and the Center for Interactive Pedagogy in Belgrade (CIP Center), goes beyond scrutiny of educational deficits and obstacles to investigate factors for success and resilience among Romani college students. The project title refers to the 1 percent of Roma who beat the odds and reach university. Although the focus of this research is on Serbia, the statistics (and related patterns) reverberate throughout Europe.

The project studied the educational trajectories of 89 Romani adolescents who succeeded in attending college in Serbia and 100 Romani youths from similar neighborhoods who did not. The study used a mixed-methods approach: a quantitative survey of both groups, qualitative interviews with a subset of the college students, and further qualitative research through a two-day workshop, designed to be a safe space for a subset of the college students to share on sensitive topics.

 

Similarities: Poverty and Valuing Education

 

The two groups shared many similarities. Most respondents in both groups had experienced poverty, came from cohesive but marginalized communities, and had deep connections to family and friends. Almost all of the respondents (93 percent) in the sample (both college students and comparison group) reported that their parents valued education for their children. This response mirrors the results from a previous Harvard FXB and CIP Center project, Reclaiming Adolescence: A Roma Youth Perspectivein which all Serbian Romani parent interviewees expressed a strong hope that their children would complete their education. These findings contrast starkly with the dominant narrative and related polices that portray Roma parents and the Roma culture more broadly as being indifferent or even hostile to education.

 

Differences: Early Education, Teacher/Peer Support, and Family Level of Education

 

We found several determinants of engagement with higher education among these Roma youth. Our quantitative data emphasize the importance of three factors as determinants of positive higher education outcomes: access to early childhood development services, robust teacher, peer, and financial support systems in school, and parents’ and relatives’ levels of education.

The qualitative data provide us with additional insight that suggested another key difference. For many of the college students, a non-Roma ally—a peer or a teacher—helped them to persevere in the face of discrimination.

 

Untangling the Role of Discrimination

 

The two groups diverged in their experience with discrimination (or readiness to name it). Both groups reported different rates of discrimination, according to the school level they were attending.

More college students (58 percent) than non-students (41 percent) said they had experienced discrimination in either primary or secondary school. Both groups reported greater levels of discrimination in primary school than high school. A particularly troubling finding was that overall 18 percent of the college students and 8 percent of the non-students reported experiencing discrimination often or almost every day at some point during their time in school.

Even though more college students reported discrimination than did respondents in the comparison group, over one-third of the college students in the quantitative survey did not mention any experience of experience. However, in the Writing Lives workshop, almost all participants told painful stories of discrimination, lending credence to the idea that discrimination is vastly underreported, and suggesting a path for future exploration of such sensitive topics.

In Harvard FXB/CIP’s previous study Reclaiming Adolescence, the qualitative data showed that Romani youth tend to normalize and internalize discrimination in their lives. As discrimination accumulates, they become less confi­dent and more pragmatic about their aspirations and desired careers. One in One Hundred takes the research one step further, by not only confirming the negative effect of discrimination but by showing how to combat it. Two of the most distinctive and decisive factors for educational success in the case of the 1 percent of Romani youth who enroll in higher education are 1) teachers’ belief in a Romani student’s intellectual capacity and related support and mentorship and 2) teacher and peer support in standing up and facing discrimination.

Given the rich qualitative data in One in One Hundred and our previous research, it is likely that those who do not mention discrimination may have experienced it at similar levels, but lack the tools, sense of safety, or resources to allow them to name it or call it out. Even those who are relatively successful—Roma college students—report having faced an oppressive environment of persistent stigma, negative stereotyping, and explicit racism, starting from their earliest encounters with the educational system.

 

Need to Radically Change the Emphasis of European Policies

 

What emerges most forcefully from this study, then, is the need to radically re-orient the emphasis of current European research and policies designed to improve Roma access to education. A prime target of research, should be anti-Roma racism, given its profound and widespread influence. Instead of focussing on Roma “behavior” to improve the educational performance of Roma students, both research and policy development should target the deeply prejudicial and rights-violative institutional and societal enviroments, that are key determinant of Roma educational underperformance.  What Romani children most need for educational success is what all children need: good schools, characterized by equity and inclusion, with unbiased, supportive, and well-prepared teachers.

To read the full report, click here:
One in One Hundred: Drivers of Success and Resilience among College-Educated Romani Adolescents in Serbia

 

Source: fxb.harvard.edu

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