Currently, Spanish society is a mosaic of historical and cultural realities with their own peculiarities, languages and peoples. In this multicultural context, it is necessary to make known that the Roma reality in Spain has six centuries of history and is very diverse.
The Roma people have been assimilating many of the cultural elements that have been found in the different territories that they have crossed in their way from India and, thanks to this, the current common culture is full of their contributions made both in the language, as trade, music, literature and many other arts.
Roma people are fully right citizens, in Spain and in the European Union. They have cultural features that are their own and share a common identity, which does not detract anything from their citizenship, but rather on the contrary, it implies wealth and added value for the society of which we are all part.
But despite the achievements in Spain since the establishment of Democracy in improving the living conditions of the Roma population, there are still situations that require the attention of public authorities and society as a whole to get once and for all that Roma exercise their citizenship on equal terms as the rest of the citizens.
The Spanish Roma population was incorporated into the educational system just 30 years ago. In such a short time, the progress has been enormous, and it has gone from exclusion to schooling, previously going through separate schooling through the bridge schools.
But the great educational gap is crudely shown both in the possibilities of young Roma to access secondary school and in the possibilities of completing post compulsory studies. The gap begins to be drawn in Primary, but it opens even before the completion of Compulsory Secondary Education – with 64% of Roma students between 16 and 24 years old, they do not finish compulsory studies compared to 13% of all students.
From 15 to 16 years there is a great decrease in schooling. At 15 years old, 86.3% of Roma students are in school (compared to 97.9% of the population as a whole) and at 16 this figure drops to 55.5% (for students as a whole, this data is 93.5%). The course in which the most abandonment occurs is 2nd of the E.S.O and the age in which the most Roma students drop out is 16 years old.
In general terms, the Roma population in Spain has made major social advances over the past 40 years. This progress has gone hand-in-hand with the democratisation of Spanish society, the economic growth of the country, the construction of a social state, widespread access to social welfare systems (especially housing, education, health and social services and benefits) and specific measures and programmes designed to offset disadvantages. Important progress has been made specifically in some aspects of education such as enrolment in primary education with rates close to 100%. Moreover, over half of Roma children start pre-school at age three and in 90% of the cases Roma children are in the grade level that corresponds to their age. In short, more and more Roma families are taking the initiative to enrol their children in school. In addition to the growing value that families place on education, headway has also been made in terms of consistent attendance at school and improvement in the social interaction of Roma students with their classmates and teachers. Therefore, universal and inclusive education, and what has come to be known as the “Spanish model for the inclusion of the Roma population”, can be considered as one of the achievements of the last several decades and a benchmark against which to measure future progress; a model featuring more and better collaboration between public authorities and Roma associations. However, we cannot rest on our laurels but rather must continue to work in the field of education, both from within and outside the educational 7 community, to improve and advance in the level of education attained by Roma youth since it is still a far cry from that achieved by the majority population. Here we would draw attention to the dropout rate which is one of the symptoms of the problem: 64% of Roma youth fail to complete their compulsory secondary education studies (ESO) compared to 13% for the population. Moreover, the illiteracy rate of the Roma community stood at 8.7% in 2011 compared to 2.19% for the whole of Spain. By age 16 the Roma enrolment rate declines to 55%, far below the 93.5% for the rest of the population. In 2007, only 2.6% of the Roma population had gone on to higher education compared to 22% of the population. We would also note that at age 15-16 the vast majority of Roma who remain in school are enrolled in middle level vocational training or an Initial Professional Qualification Programme (PCPI). The situation is even worse in the case of Roma girls and young women1. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, aware of the importance of continuing to work to resolve the issues raised above, and convinced that better training and qualifications over the medium and long term will help to promote equal opportunity for Roma children and contribute to economic growth, actively participates in the implementation of the National Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma in Spain 2012-2020, adopted on 2 March 2012 by resolution of the Council of Ministers. The Spanish Strategy for the Social Inclusion of the Roma Population was developed in response to the European Commission Communication “An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020” submitted by the Commission on 5 April 2011, undoubtedly the most important initiative launched by that institution in recent years in this area.
Roma students enrol in public schools at all levels of education. While this is also the option chosen by most of the general population (74.7%), the percentage is higher among the Roma population (81.7%). Most Roma students who choose private education opt for semi-private subsidised schools. Up to age 14, the enrolment rate for Roma youngsters is very similar to that of the general population. At age 12, for instance, the general enrolment rate stands at 99.2% compared with 98.6% for the Roma population. However, as of age 15 the number of Roma children enrolled in school gradually declines with a very significant drop of 30.8 percentage points between age 15 and 16, the age at which education is no longer compulsory. The most substantial differences between the Roma population and the general population are found between the ages of 16 and 20, reaching a maximum enrolment rate gap of 50.4 percentage points at 18, age at which 71.1% of the overall population is in school compared to only 20.8% of Roma youth.
Here we should point out that the enrolment rate for Roma women is lower than that of Roma men which is just the opposite of what happens in the general population. This means that the gap between Roma girls and the general population is even wider, reaching 56.6 percentage points at age 18
Educational path of Roma students in compulsory secondary education (ESO): From age 12 to 16, most Roma pupils are enrolled in ESO (commensurate with their age) but a closer look shows that at age 12, when most Roma students should be in year one of ESO, 37.3% are still in primary school (compared to 16.1% of their general population counterparts) which means that even at this early age a significant percentage of Roma boys and girls have had to repeat a grade level. Age 15 marks another milestone in the educational gap between the general population and Roma. Not only do we see a drop in the enrolment percentage of Roma students, 11.1% of Roma pupils (6% girls and 16% boys) continue to study through what are known as “initial vocational qualification programmes” (PCPI) compared to 1.3% of the general student population at that age. Hence, the PCPI are an important alternative for Roma youth to continue their training but are also a way out of ESO. Another significant gap opens up at age 16 when many Roma students drop out of school (the dropout rate being higher for girls than boys) since it is no longer compulsory. Moreover, of the Roma youngsters who remain enrolled in school at that age, 43.8% are still in the ESO (compared with 32.6% for the general population). As already alluded to, we would draw attention to the fact that the age-grade correlation rate of Roma students is lower than that of the general population in all of the age brackets studied (12, 14 and 15), the gap being especially wide at age 14 where 68% of the general student body is enrolled in the grade corresponding to their age compared to 26.5% of Roma students. We would also note that that at age 15, only 28.4% of Roma students are enrolled in the grade that corresponds to their age. If we disaggregate data by sex we find that the age-grade correlation rate is higher for girls both in the case of the general student body and the Roma student body.
THE EDUCATIONAL LEVEL OF YOUNG ROMA
Young Roma are less educated than youngsters in general. For instance, 64.4% of Roma boys and girls aged 16 to 24 have not earned their compulsory secondary education (Spanish acronym ESO) diploma which means they have not even completed compulsory education, compared to only 13.3% of all young people in that age bracket. That comes to a difference of 51.1 percentage points between their respective school failure rates
There is a noteworthy gender difference among the general population with regard to the school failure rate, 11.5% for girls compared with 15% for boys and the figures are virtually the same for Roma youngsters. As for the level of education achieved by Roma youth aged 16 to 19, 62.7% have completed primary school, 24.8% have earned their ESO diploma and only 7.4% completed non-compulsory secondary education (high school or intermediate-level vocational training). At these ages, the difference with the general population is quite significant; for that same age bracket, 47% of the general population earned their ESO diploma and 24.7% finished non-compulsory secondary education. For the Roma population between the ages of 20 and 24 the gap with the general population is even greater, especially with regard to higher levels of education; only 8.9% of the Roma population finishes high school or intermediate-level vocational training and 2.2% finish higher studies while those same percentages for the general population are 39.9% and 21.5% respectively. 60.4% of Roma youth in that age bracket have not completed any post-primary school studies. A more detailed analysis of the maximum level of education reached by the Roma population reveals that while among older Roma it is the men who have attained a higher level of training, among the youngsters there is very little difference between genders. Lastly, mention should be made of young people who neither study nor work, popularly known in Spain as “ni-nis”. As regards the youngest age bracket (between 15 and 19), 43.3% of the Roma population neither studies nor work, 30.4 percentage points above the national rate (which stands at 12.8%). In the next age bracket considered (20 to 24) the gap with the national indicator narrows: 48.5% of Roma youth are not engaged in any sort of training or labour activity compared to 27.4% of the general population. For both age groups, the percentage of Roma women who neither study nor work is higher than Roma men with differences ranging from 6.7 percentage points for the youngest bracket to 8.8 for the 20 to 24-year-old group. These results show the impact that early school leaving has on the young Roma population as well as how unemployment hits the young Roma community particularly hard.
Unlike the general population where fewer girls than boys in ESO have to repeat a grade level, just the opposite is true for Roma; in other words, more girls than boys have to repeat an academic year. The biggest difference is in the fourth (last) year of ESO with a gap of 13.6 percentage points. We would also draw attention to the high levels of absenteeism of Roma students in ESO where both absenteeism and unexcused absences are higher than at other levels of education. The absenteeism rate for Roma students stands at 14.3% and is higher for girls (16%) than boys (12.8%). The unexcused absence rate, which also includes the first four absences each month, was 26.4%. At the end, after successfully passing the different courses of the ESO, 62.4% of the Roma students enrolled in the fourth (last) year of ESO obtained their ESO Diploma. 15% more Roma boys earn their ESO diploma than Roma girls which compares the number of students who have graduated from ESO (regardless of age, i.e. without considering that theoretically students begin the last year of ESO at age 15), clear differences are observed between the Roma population (56.4% graduation rate) and the general population (74.1%). However, if we only consider the Roma pupils who earn their ESO diploma by the theoretical age, the percentage falls drastically to 15.4% (17% in the case of Roma girls and 14.1% for boys).