Sara Jiménez has graduated as a Primary teacher at the age of 21. Raised in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas, her journey through the educational system is excellent, with Honorable Mention included in Baccalaureate. But there is one factor that differentiates Jiménez from the rest of her classmates: she is a gypsy, and her case is an exception. And higher education is the glass ceiling for the Roma population in education: only 3.8% graduate from Baccalaureate or Intermediate Degree and 0.4% do so from the University, according to a report by the Gitano Secretariat Foundation presented this Tuesday.
The situation at the highest educational levels of the Roma population, which represents 1.6% of the total inhabitants in Spain, has worsened compared to a decade ago, as reflected in the report, which compares data collected ago a decade by the foundation itself with those obtained at the end of 2022, with a sample of 7,285 people (4,120 under 25 years of age). In 2012, 6.3% of the Roma population finished Baccalaureate or an Intermediate Degree and 0.9% graduated from university studies. Also the early school dropout rate—those young people aged 18 to 24 who have at most an ESO degree and are not studying—is a good indicator of this decline: while in 2012 it was 63%, it currently reaches 87.5%.
During the school years of the pandemic, several educational leaders privately admitted that absenteeism generated as a result of the coronavirus had increased especially among Roma students, which may have influenced the negative evolution now detected in this report.
The president of the foundation, Sara Giménez, points out the lack of specific measures for the Roma reality. “The State has put patches, but there are no concrete solutions,” she says. Of course, it should be noted that fewer and fewer people do not have any training, since the rate of the Roma population that does not have any education has been reduced by half, from 13% to 6%.
Once they turn 16, the age from which it is no longer mandatory to go to school, the gap between the Roma population that studies (53%) and the Spanish average (95.6%) skyrockets. And the trend continues as the years go by. The school enrollment rate is also slightly lower from the age of 16 compared to a decade ago. This is why six out of ten Roma students finish the educational process without graduating from ESO.
This abandonment of study does not mean that there is an immediate transition to the labor market. Six out of every ten young Roma people between 16 and 24 years old neither study nor work, while in the rest of the population they are only one in ten. Furthermore, the difference between genders in this figure is considerable, since in the case of women the figure reaches 67%, while in men it is 50%.
The lack of economic resources is one of the main obstacles that causes this setback in the last decade. Nine out of ten Roma families are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, according to the report, which implies a constant barrier throughout the educational period. There is a lack of resources for materials, extracurricular support or early childhood education. And this, accumulated over several years, causes educational deficiencies that lead to demotivation. In the case of Jiménez, she was able to count on scholarships and aid to be able to continue her studies.
Economic precariousness immerses the Roma population in a vicious circle in which poverty is reproduced between generations and from which it is difficult to escape. Dolores Flores, mother of six children, knows it well, that every summer she did the math so that none of her children would be missing “a pen” when they started the school year. “The hardest thing for me was when they asked me for help with their History homework or other subjects and I told them ‘I just don’t know how to help you’.”
Now he speaks with pride about his son Samuel Hernández, 18 years old, who this year begins the Higher Degree in Teaching and Sports Animation. Hernández acknowledges that he had “some setbacks” when he failed “seven in the first quarter of his third year of ESO” that made him doubt whether to continue or not, but thanks to family support and having a clear goal he was able to achieve it. He managed to pass everything in the year that corresponded to him, but his case is an exception, since 68% of 15-year-old adolescents of Roma ethnicity have repeated a year at least once. “Of my group of friends from the neighborhood, most of them repeated in Primary and, in the second year of ESO, I was the only one who was in the grade that was assigned to them,” says Hernández.
The widespread access of the Roma population to education began just four decades ago, with the promotion of bridge schools, which were segregated and exclusive public centers for Roma students. The objective was to prepare them for their integration into the educational system with the rest of the students. Despite the advances in schooling levels produced in these 40 years, the Gypsy Secretariat argues that there is still a lot of work to do. For this reason, they propose three measures: a specific plan for educational guidance, support and reinforcement, free early childhood education for the Roma population and reversing school segregation and the concentration of Roma students that occurs in some public centers.
Both Samuel Hernández and Sara Jiménez acknowledge that during their studies they missed family references who had made it to post-compulsory studies. “For me it was all an uncertainty, since no one around me had done it,” explains the graduated teacher. Now, they have become the references for the next generations.
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