School segregation of Roma children remains at high levels in some countries of the European Union, but Portugal has significantly lower figures comparatively, according to data from the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), released this Thursday.
Analysing the percentage of Roma children between 6 and 15 years old who attend schools in which the majority of their colleagues are Roma, there is a significant difference when children live in neighbourhoods or locations where the population is complete or mostly “gypsy”, against those who live in mixed population neighbourhoods.
For example, in Hungary 73% of children living in neighbourhoods with a majority of Roma population say that their school reflects this reality, with most, if not all, colleagues sharing the same ethnicity. As for those who live in mixed population neighbourhoods, only 22% say they have classes mostly or completely of their ethnicity. Slovakia and Bulgaria are two other countries where segregation numbers are high.
However, in the nine countries analysed, Portugal has the lowest numbers of segregation indicators in overall terms: only 17% of Roma children living in neighbourhoods with a majority Roma population claim to have classes mostly of their ethnicity, a percentage that drops to 10% for those who live in mixed population locations.
The environment children grow up in should not be used as an excuse to form exclusively Roma groups though, defends the FRA, which suggests that children could be transported to other schools where they have the opportunity to attend a more diverse environment.
"Segregating children and young people in schools and other educational settings based on their ethnicity is a serious violation of fundamental rights. It prevents youths from minorities such as Roma from accessing the same education as everyone else, perpetuating poverty and social exclusion ", reads the annual report of the FRA, which analyses progress on fundamental rights in the European Union.
Regarding segregation in a school environment, the FRA report states that the separation of Roma children is often justified with their "special needs" and mentioned as an "inevitability" of their housing environment, and states that segregation does not happen only with the formation of exclusively Roma classes, or placement in schools mainly attended by Roma children, but also in referral to specific schools for students with special needs.
Regarding the measures that Member States are taking to integrate the Roma community, the report summarizes with "robust plans and policies, but poor implementation and limited results", based on what was done in 2019 in the 9 EU countries researched.
Portugal is highlighted in terms of educational policies, with a reference to scholarships for Roma students in secondary education, under the Escolhas Program, to support the integration of children and young people from disadvantaged socio-economic contexts, aiming at equal opportunities and social cohesion.
On the other hand, the report also points to Portugal as one of the countries where the Roma population lives in the worst living conditions, segregated and without access to essential services such as drinking water or electricity, above 50% when the neighbourhoods or locations where they live are totally or mostly inhabited by Roma people.
The report also mentions the impact of segregation on education in access to employment and health care, the most difficult types of segregation, according to the FRA. The agency also argues that it is necessary to collect information in a disaggregated manner, namely on ethnic groups, in order to produce targeted public policies and not to exclude certain groups, such as Roma, from those same policies, stressing that the one that exists is collected by the FRA itself in its surveys.
"FRA surveys are particularly important given the lack of official disaggregated data. This poses challenges for monitoring policies and measures aimed at the Roma population, in particular on education and housing," the report reads. Portugal is the example presented on this specific theme, recalling the "national obstacles" to the inclusion of a question about ethnic and racial origin in the 2021 Census, for fear of institutionalizing prejudices and ethnic or racial categories.