Education of Roma People in Romania: why a failure?

Autor: Ana-Maria Socaciu


Roma population was first dated as being on Romanian lands beginning with the 13th or 14th century, the exactly date cannot be identified because of lack or resources. Since that time Roma continued to be part of Romanian population, sometimes representing a considerable number of Romania’s total population. If the history of Roma on Romanian lands is very well-known mostly as being one of slavery, during the world-wide events Roma started to gain recognition and to enjoy more and more rights. Nowadays, Roma are recognized in Romania and enjoy, along with the other minorities of this country, the rights that the majority of population has (O’Grady & Tarnovschi, 2000:3-11).

Because of its history and specificity as an ethnic group, Roma people were wanted to integrate as well as possible in the Romanian society. Action was taken to this direction and today Roma people have free access to the labor market, education, and social benefits and so on. But the process of integrating these people into the society has proven to be more difficult than expected (because of discriminative attitudes and social exclusion) and even nowadays, Roma population represents a challenge for governments of European countries were Roma are represented in a significant number, as citizens or migrants.

Considering that one of the most important factors of integration for a minority is education, we would like to draw the attention in this paper over the education of Roma people in Romania. Because education itself is one of the key ingredients for a better life, we believe that it also plays an important role and it significantly influences the situation of many Roma nowadays. As it is shown in statistics that people with higher education have more chances to a better job, watching the presence or absence of education, especially amongst Roma children, is important in order to have an over view over the situation of Roma and where it will be directed in the next years. Because the subject of education is broad, we decided to narrow it down and to focus on the causes that make it more difficult for Roma to follow their studies along each stage of education: pre-school education (kinder gardens, crèches or daily centers), primary school, gymnasium (secondary school), high-school, and post-high-school or academic studies (according to the Romanian educational system). The data we found and will use as a base for this essay is providing us with enough information to discuss here what the main causes that lead to failure in educating Roma population are.

One of the problems that may appear in the educational process of Roma children is that it is rarely completed. The number of Roma children who start school is significantly lower when counting those who finished at least the gymnasium. This situation is worry-worthy and one should look at the roots of this phenomenon. There are bigger rates of scholar abandon amongst Roma children than of non-Roma children, as researchers have shown (Preoteasa & Serban, 2012).

Before starting to discuss about the findings from different researches that some researchers have done on Roma population in Romania, we would like to offer an overview over the results of three big studies that show a large perspective over the causes that lead to scholar abandon by Roma pupils.

Voicu(2010: 22-25) Duminica and Ivasiuc(2010: 82-89) Surdu(2011: 80-89)
The individual and the family -Economic difficulties-The educational model offered by the parents-The educational model offered by bigger brothers-Family(divorce, domestic violence, vices)-Involvement in law-limit activities (prostitution, belonging to a band/gang, begging)

-Affiliation to labor force




Poverty Economic -Education costs-Implication in labor activities-Distance from school-Unsafe path to school
Community -Premature marriage-Premature pregnancy-High-risk of criminality zones-Norms of abandon after finishing the 8th grade-Bride kidnapping Weak performance/ psychological discomfort Institutional -Discrimination of children in class (by professors and their non-Roma peers)-Less expectations of teachers-Limited communication btw. school and community-Mono-cultural curricula-Fluctuation of didactic personnel
School -Lack of teachers’ involvement ( in prevention)-Insufficiency of programs for scholar and professional orientation-Years of frequently repeating the school year-Limited familiarity with the scholar environment Premature marriages Cultural Premature marriages

As we can see here, Voicu’s model is somehow different from the other two because he presents the individual, familial and community/cultural characteristics. In his analysis, ethnicity is the main factor that leads to scholar abandon, but he mentions that mostly the abandon takes place not because of cultural factors, but rather because of lack of economic resources (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012:30). Anyways, the reason why we have chosen to present this table here is because it gives us an overview or at least a clue about the causes behind Roma children’s motives to leave school long before completing some stages. In what follows, we would like to draw the attention over some of these causes, discussing them briefly and exemplifying them with data from different statistics and researches. We are aware that what we are trying to present here is just a little piece from the bigger puzzle of Roma education issues and that we will not come to the point of presenting all the relevant information in such a limited space.

For the beginning, it is good to acknowledge that, as in many other cases, it is difficult to count how many Roma are taking part of the Romanian educational system. This difficulty appears from two reasons: one is because there are no public data about the ethnicity of pupils in schools, even though the Romanian law from 2007 expects the schools to collect information about their students by ethnicity, and the second reason is related to the method of identification of Roma people. They may identify themselves or not as Roma, depending on the situation – those who feel discriminated will not recognize it to the society, but only inside the Roma community, or other would tag them as Roma, but this method is very subjective and has its limits. The only data we have about the number of Roma pupils comes from the estimation of a high representative man of Ministry of Education, made during the scholar year 2008/2009, and which number is more than 200.000 Roma children in Romanian schools (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012:27).

When speaking about the necessity of Roma children to go to school, the speech does not match the reality. For example, an old report of the Presidential Commission in charge with the elaboration of policies and strategies for education and research, during the scholar year 2004/2005, shows that the rate of students for primary education was only 64% amongst Roma, in comparison with 98.9% of non-Roma (Miclea, 2007:8). These children absent from the educational system face different difficulties together with their parents, and these difficulties limit the access to education because of structural constraints, administrative and legal requirements, costs, residential segregation/ geographical isolation, procedures of enrolling in schools and classes, and often the language (Preoteasa & Serban, 2012).

But even for those who do take part in the system, things are not easier, otherwise we would not have so many cases of scholar abandons amongst Roma children. In what follows we suggest to take a look at some of the causes for scholar abandon.

The Romanian society’s perception about how Roma see their own education is that Roma do not care about it and that parents do not do enough efforts to make sure that their children get educated (Voicu, 2009:23). The results of a focus group realized among Roma parents in 2010, show that on the contrary, they do want to have their children educated, but often problems appear in having a good and strong relationship with the teachers, discrimination on the labor market, big rate of unemployment amongst Roma communities etc (Surdu, Vincze, & Wamsiedel, 2010:79-83).

According to a recent longitudinal study (Ivan & Rostas, 2013) made on Roma and non-Roma children from Muntenia (south region of Romania, in the survey the area covered being Central, North-East and South part of Muntenia), during the second semester April-May 2011 (first wave) and 2013 (second wave), the number of Roma children that would be in the risk of leaving school or in the situation of scholar absenteism is clearly bigger than non-Roma children facing the same situation. Also, the way Roma children perform in school is way weaker than of non-Roma children performance. What the researachers found interesting is that even when the situation of both children, Roma and non-Roma, is the same ( same level of education for parents, same cultural capital in the family, same duration of prescholar education, same place of residence, urban or rural) Roma children still have less chances to finish school. Here the attention will be drawn then to other aspects, like the quality of the educational act itself, Roma children being treated different, even when they are in the same class with non-Roma, they may suffer from their non-Roma colleagues discriminative behaviour, unequal treatment coming from the profesoral group because of some negative stereotypes regarding Roma pupils (Ivan & Rostas, 2013:9).

The reasons why Roma children are facing the risk or abandoning school or have a big rate of absenteism are many. Most of them are related to the precarious lifestyle their parents give them: usually the income is based only on the children’s allowances or the social help from the government, parents cannot help them with their homework (especially in those cases where parents have only primary school) and of course,  the first language they will speak at home is Romani, not so often Romanian (Ivan & Rostas, 2013:11). Thus, children lack of many things that would make them comfortable to go to school as almost all the other children. For example, often they are ashamed of the clothes they wear, they lack of learning conditions at home etc. There is no wonder then why Roma children do not finish their studies. The reaserchers have arrived to the conclusion that a Roma children has 6 times more chances to abandon school than non-Roma children (Ivan & Rostas, 2013:14-15).

The results of the the second wave of the longitudinal survey that we are speaking about, have shown that the reasons for abandoning school are significantly corelated with the following variables: very low familial support, unfriendly and uninclusive scholar environment, low grades obtained in class activities, the passing from one educational stage to the other (especially for those who finish the 8th grade and are ready for high-school, the scholar abandon rate is very high) and being part of a vulnerabile group (Ivan & Rostas, 2013:15).

Apart from the fact that the situation of the family determines in a big  measure whether or not the child is succesful in finishing his studies, there are also other factors that contribute to its failure. For example, it is very important what is the environment in which the child studies, how are the others behaving around him and in relation to him: is he discriminated or not, is he favoured or not, is he placed between the other non-Roma children or ignored and let alone or with his Roma peers in the back of the class etc. There are also important the conditions of the classes and of the school, its structure and facilities, the quality of education – a good and dedicated teacher can always make the difference (Ivan & Rostas, 2013:9-10). Surprisingly, in most Roma schools teachers that are more likely to be hired are young people who just finished university and had a pedagogical training before, while for non-Roma schools, teachers mostly present have studied in pedagogical high-schools and did not continue with university studies (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012:66). We could say that children from Roma schools have a better experience with learning because their teachers are young and  instructed to  use new ways of teaching, but the disadvantage is that many of the teachers leave the schools, so there is no continuity in the process of learning with the same teacher during primary school, which make the relation teacher-pupils more difficult, and it may also affect the teaching and learning process of the children.

It is good to be reminded that inequality in the matter of distributing the resources, can lead to segregational attitudes, especially towards Roma. For example, the segregation of Roma from non-Roma is high-lighted through the schools infrastructure and the human resources they have. The results have shown that Roma schools are less likely to be well equiped with  Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Informatics laboratories than non-Roma schools. Regarding other types of infrastructure, the differences between schools are not so big when it comes about curent water and different ways of heating the classrooms, but they are significant in the matter of salubrization – having toilletes inside the schools – 15% of non-Roma schools being more likely to have such a facility than Roma schools (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012:60).

In a 2012 study made on teacher absenteeism in Romanian schools (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012), the results have shown that 78% of the teachers from Roma schools disagree or completely disagree with the idea of having segregated schools. For non-Roma teachers, 73% of them would want to have speacial schools for Roma children. So for teachers who do not work with Roma children would be more desirable to have non-Roma children separated for Roma children, while teachers who work with Roma children consider that they should be integrated in schools with non-Roma children. Also, teachers from Roma schools agree in a bigger percentage with the idea of having mixed schools and classes of Roma, non-Roma and other ethnicities, than teachers from non-Roma schools. In this case, we can say that teachers who had more contact with Roma children are awarer of the need of having Roma and non-Roma children together in the educational process (Stoica & Wamsiedel, 2012:76-77).A fact that may worry us is that if teachers do not have a clear attitude against segregation of Roma children, we cannot expect that other people ( non-Roma parents and their children) to have a better opinion.

Discovering the causes that lead to scholar abandon help us to have a better understanding about not only their motives to abandon school, but also the other problems that they have to confront with. The studies that we have mentioned above come with their suggestions to find better solutions for these problems.

Of course that there have been for many years attempts to reduce the rate of scholar abandon among Roma children, and working into this direction have proven positive results especially locally, being hard to have faster and better results at a country level. Even though the Romanian state offers support for children who come from a defavorized family, many times the social help consisting in money is not enough. The best proof is that we still have many children who do not go to school because their conditions are still precarious. Along with social workers, NGO-s also try to do work in this direction of helping Roma children. In the last decades, in Romania were implemented many projects, like those for the pre-aderation to EU: PHARE program – e.g. ‘Access to education for disadvantaged groups, with focus on Roma’, 2003, and other organisations that helped are Roma Education Fund – analizes the needs of Roma children every year, Soros Fondation – seeks for ways to make easier the integration or Roma in Romania, through better policies, institutions; Romani CRISS – introducing Romani language and Roma history in schools and implementing a program to combate the scholar abandon amongst Roma, since 2001, Open Society Institute and EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program – equal access to quality education for Roma, 2007 and so on.

The efforts made towards educating Roma are not in vain. There are reports which show that year by year, the situation of Roma in Romania gets better. For instance, Roma Education Fund is very active and each year publicizes a report about its activity during the year (Annual Report, 2010, 2011, 2012). Its focus now is on facilitating the acces to pre-school education for Roma children, also educationg parents in this way. We hope that next generations of Roma children will have better opportunities.



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Ivan, C., & Rostas, I. (2013). Părăsirea timpurie a școlii, cauze și efecte. Fundația Roma Education Fond România.

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