Roma, Disabled Children Suffer Most Prejudice in Bulgarian Schools

Society | February 25, 2010, Thursday // 19:26|  views

Bulgarians with college degrees are the most intolerant about Roma children, a recent poll shows. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

Discrimination is widespread in Bulgaria’s elementary schools with stereotypes about Roma children and children with disabilities being the top forms of prejudice, instated in children since the early grades.

The data comes from a poll conducted in September and October 2009 among 2000 elementary school parents and teachers.

The results were presented for the first time Thursday by Mira Radeva, Director of the Institute for Marketing and Social Research, MBMD. Radeva spoke during e media seminar in the resort town of Velingrad, focusing on the fight against discrimination and the role of the media in preventing and countering human rights violations. The seminar is organized as a joint initiative of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the Bulgarian Commission for Protection against discrimination (CPD). It is held with the financial assistance of the EU Program for Employment and Social Progress.

According to Radeva, the topic of diversity is not yet a priority for the Bulgarian school where elementary grades textbooks still impose numerous stereotypes such as the woman being always near the stove and the man doing hard manual labor to provide for the family.

Half the parents polled said they are willing to have their child sit next to a Roma youngster, while 40% are against it, but almost half of those with college degrees (46%) and 42% of the people with high school diplomas oppose the practice. Another interesting result is the fact that 50% of people with ethnic Turkish background and 51% of the Muslims polled oppose friendship between their children and the Roma ones. According to Radeva, the reason is that ethnic Turks in Bulgaria live in closed communities and are more unwilling to accept diversity. Bulgarians who are most open to Roma children are those with elementary education and/ or low income.

20% of elementary school parents are willing to accept students from other ethnic background in their child’s class if they are not Roma, while nearly 25% are agreeable to have Roma enrolled in the same school, in condition they are in separate classrooms. Almost one of every ten teachers also opposes the ethnic mix.

The picture becomes ever grimmer when it comes to future marriage or cohabitation of their child with a Roma person – 85% of the parents firmly oppose it and only 18% of those with high-level jobs are susceptible to the idea. People in small towns and villages, who have Roma and other ethnic groups as neighbors, are more tolerant – 21% of them would accept such marriage.

The poll also shows widespread prejudice regarding children with disabilities, especially mental ones. Only 29% of the polled would accept their child marrying in the future or living with such individual, but on the other hand side – a large majority – 89% would accept friendship between their child and a student with disability. 43% of elementary school parents are willing to accept students with disabilities in their child’s class; 26% believe those children should attend special schools while 39% believe disabled children in the same classroom hurt their child’ education.

A staggering number of teachers – 50% also think that disabled children slow down the educational process, which the MBMD experts attribute to institutional unpreparedness. The study further shows that very few of the educators have undergone training to deal with children with special needs.

70% of the teachers and the parents believe the school program must include more information about diversity and how to approach it.

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Tags: MBMD, Roma children, disabled children, stereotype, discrimination, EU Program for Employment and Social Progress


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