Zenia Hellgren presented the results of the VAKERIPEN Project at the EUROCITIES Roma inclusion working group meeting organized by the City Council (Ajuntament) of Barcelona on May 15th

Zenia Hellgren presented the results of the VAKERIPEN Project at the EUROCITIES Roma inclusion working group meeting organized by the City Council (Ajuntament) of Barcelona on May 15th


Zenia Hellgren presented the results of the VAKERIPEN Project at the EUROCITIES Roma inclusion working group meeting organized by the City Council (Ajuntament) of Barcelona on May 15th.

Vakeripen (Roma inclusion in education) is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union, Grant Agreement JUST/2015/RDIS/AG/DISC/9372). The project is based on a large number of workshops and dialogue sessions organized with families and teachers in four residential areas considered marginalized in the metropolitan area of Barcelona: Bon Pastor, La Mina, San Roque and El Gornal, during 18 months from January 2017-July 2018, complemented by in-depth interviews with Roma mothers/fathers, teachers and intermediary actors as school mediators and social integrators, participant observation and teacher training organized by the project team. The main objective is to promote a better communication between Roma families and schools in order to prevent school failure.

The work performed by Zenia Hellgren and her colleagues Lorenzo Gabrielli, Evren Yalaz and Dirk Gebhardt from GRITIM-UPF in collaboration with the project partners Pedro Casermeiro from Rromane Siklovne and Miguel Ángel Franconetti from Fundació Privada Pere Closa has generated the following, preliminary conclusions:

1. Both the Roma families and the school staff encounter structural limitations that affect the relationship between them.

The Roma mothers and fathers in these neighborhoods are seriously affected by economic and labor-related precariousness. Very few of the mothers and fathers who participated in our project have a stable employment; the vast majority makes a living on a day-by-day basis out of sporadic jobs, ambulating sales, etc. They also suffer from frequent discrimination (in job interviews, contacts with social services and other authorities, in supermarkets, insults in public places, etc.), which generates frustration, negative expectations to suffer discrimination repeatedly, hyper sensitivity, low self-esteem, and a fear that their children will be discriminated and mistreated by school staff and others.

Also the school staff has to deal with a constant lack of resources: deficits in time and budget make it impossible for teachers to attend the needs of the pupils. Moreover, the fact that several of them have to perform “social work” instead of actual teaching (there are many pupils in these schools whose basic needs are not covered; some even come to class hungry and the teachers have to buy them sandwiches during school hours, etc.), which means less time for teaching, seriously affecting learning processes in already disadvantaged schools.

We conclude that there is a need for a more comprehensive view on school failure: what are the underlying reasons when, for instance, a child does not go to school? What the school may perceive as a lack of interest or involvement may simply reflect a life situation that is difficult to sustain. It appears necessary to work at multiple levels:

- At the structural level, to improve the economic and labor related prospects and social mobility in these residential areas, and, for instance, revise the function of the social services so that the teachers do not have to perform their work instead of focusing on actual teaching.

- At an interpersonal level – with awareness, understanding and flexibility the schools can work to find viable channels for communication, even if this means that they may have to reconsider current norms and practices, for instance by finding hours for individual meetings with families outside of the standard schedules. It is important that all teachers and other school staff are trained to make sure that their attitudes towards the Roma families are egalitarian and inclusive at all times.   


2. The Roma families do not have low expectations regarding the education of their children.

The 60 families who participated in our project want their children to continue studying and “have a better life than them”. Nevertheless, they are very aware of the fact that their lack of economic resources may make it difficult for them to, for instance, pay for university fees.

In some schools and among some teachers we did find an attitude that best can be described as resignation considering the future of Roma children. It seems that the individual teacher and his/her level of involvement are central to support and motivate the students.

We conclude that it is central to work actively to increase the expectations that the school staff has on Roma children. It is absolutely fundamental that they actually want to work in the school where they are, that they believe in these pupils and that they are able to transmit such positive expectations to them. It is also important to continue working with the expectations of the families, and to make sure that their expectations are realistic.

In order to do so, the schools may need to improve and develop structures of support and information about future possibilities: mentor programs, detailed and concrete, practical information about scholarships for higher studies, how to reach different professions, etc. for the children and their families (this seems particularly central in secondary school to motivate the students, who may want to continue studying but are uncertain of the use of these studies or in general, of how they can achieve a better future). 


3. There is a lack of Roma role models.

The Roma children in these neighborhoods rarely meet adults with whom they identify who have higher studies and stable employment. There are no Roma teachers in the schools, Roma culture and history is rarely mentioned in class, etc. These children and their families virtually never see a positive image of their own culture or people of Roma origin transmitted by the majority society.

We conclude that it seems necessary to make Roma culture and history visible in the general school curriculum (not only in schools with high proportions of Roma students). For instance, by including Roma authors and artists in a normalized way in classes about Spanish/Catalan literature, speaking about the Roma victims of the holocaust, etc.

It would also be very positive to work actively in order to recruit teachers and other role models (beyond the current school mediators) of Roma origin, so that Roma people are present in a normalized way and not only to have a mediating role.

The final project report will be published in August 2018. For earlier UPF news about the Vakeripen project click here.