Despite recognition as an official minority, little is known about educational opportunities for Sinti and Roma in Germany. But a research project has shown that Sinti and Roma lag far behind the rest of the country.
The study shows a lack of chances for Roma kids
Sinti and Roma have been at home in German-speaking parts of Europe for over 500 years. Scientists and minority experts estimate that there are around 100,000 Sinti and Roma in Germany today, but how they fit in to society at large is an area that remains only partially researched.
For Daniel Strauss, the head of the Baden-Württemberg state branch of the Association of German Sinti and Roma, this lack of research needs to change. He needs facts to help him in his fight for more opportunities for Sinti and Roma.
"When I was a kid, I went to about 200 different schools. As a child of a fairground worker, every week I went to a new one," Strauss said. "I told my own kids that I can't expect that of them. Over the last few years I've noticed that it's not the exception, but rather the rule, that the educational situation is pretty difficult. There are many people whose parents or grandparents have more or less no educational background."
Study reveals size of problem
Backed by the national Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future", Strauss commissioned a study on the current educational situation of German Sinti and Roma.
Many Roma children never go to school
In order to keep the project from failing from the start due to prejudices among the participants, a group of Sinti and Roma were trained and then sent out with a questionnaire. At the end of the project, 261 interviews had been conducted spanning three generations.
Educational researcher Jane Schuch from the Humboldt-University in Berlin evaluated the interviews, and was struck by the number of Sinti and Roma who never went to school: thirteen percent of those surveyed. The number drops by generation - 9.4 percent of the current generation has never attended school - but of those who do go, 44 percent don't graduate.
Only 15 percent received some kind of vocational training, and "we didn't even talk about university graduation," Schuch said.
The numbers - and the nearly complete lack of university graduates - are in stark contrast to the majority of German society. Members of the Association of German Sinti and Roma and researchers agree that the poor educational representation is a result of the persecution of Sinti and Roma in Nazi Germany and the ensuing ostracism from German society after World War II. Parents today don't have a good feeling about sending their kids to school, says Schuch. They know what kind of reception they're likely to get.
"It ranges from open hostility - 'gypsies stink, gypsies steal,' the whole row of stereotypes that these kids are confronted with at school - to teachers who go so far as to say things like 'actually, Hitler had the right idea with you guys.' That's happened twice in two different places," Schuch said.
Schuch believes the education system lacks structures that would make integrating Sinti and Roma in schools easier and help stop discrimination.
Atmosphere of change
In order for that to happen, says Daniel Strauss of the Association for Sinti and Roma, there needs to be more activity at the political level. In his community, there's an unmistakeable mood for change.
Strauss will present his study to a parliamentary commission
"One thing is clear: there is complete agreement that things can't continue the way they are," Strauss said. "Education is a human right and we are demanding access to this right. The government needs to take note of this responsibility at the national level as well."
Strauss's next step will be to present his study to the parliamentary commission for children. He says it's time for equal access to education for all and would like to see doctors, lawyers, and business leaders with a Sinti and Roma background. To make that possible, Strauss is calling for a national action plan to open up educational opportunities for Sinti and Roma.
Author: Heiner Kiesel (mz)
Editor: Susan Houlton