29th Jun 2022


Roma: education is the only answer

A massive investment in education is the only way that the huge Roma minority in Romania can emerge from grinding poverty and marginalisation. If better educated, the Roma people could fill the gap created by the country's falling population and provide future generations of entrepreneurs, scientists and skilled workers.

Estimates of how many Roma are in Romania vary wildly. At the last census in 2001 well under a million Romanians declared themselves to be Roma (fears of the holocaust linger on), but un-scientific estimates of 2 million or 3 million are made by Roma NGOs.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • NGOs think there are up to 3 million Roma living in Romania (Photo: Studii Romani)

But what is clear is that Roma communities can be found on the margins of most Romanian villages and many do not have identity papers, without which you cannot access public services.

If one visits a Roma community, the real meaning of the word marginalisation becomes clear. In a typical Romanian village, the paved roads tend to stop where the Roma community begins.

They have to cope without the utilities and public services which their non-Roma neighbours are routinely provided with. If children from these communities go to school they are discriminated against relentlessly and many drop out.

The Romanian people are tolerant of the Roma way of life and public officials tend to make little or no effort to offer public services (or identity cards) to these marginalised people.

The prevailing attitude is "they don't want to work or study; they live off crime; so we leave them alone." Most Romanian journalists seem to share these views.

Education is the only answer

Experience in other EU Member States has shown that dealing with Roma poverty is difficult and results are intermittent. The prejudice is so deeply rooted and the problems are so widely spread that well-meaning social projects tend to have limited impact. And the Roma leaders lack the education required to provide the right kind of leadership that the Roma minority so obviously need.

The Romanian Government allocate about €2 million a year to the Roma Party, ostensibly to help the Roma people. Unfortunately this money does not reach the people who need it and only a small cadre of politicians know where this money actually goes. If this cash were used to provide Roma children with school bursaries, it could have a big impact.

Education is the only answer. Only a massive and sustained investment in education can ensure a solution that is acceptable to both the Roma minority (who jealously preserve their cultural independence) and mainstream society which desperately needs well educated people to replace those who are emigrating west.

There are a number of compelling reasons why a long term educational investment programme is the only possible answer.

Concentrating ones resources on one sector is far more likely to lead to a positive result than investing small sums in a wide range of projects. Prioritising education is something that is easy to understand for illiterate villagers and the most bone-headed public officials.

If food, books and uniforms were provided free the main reasons for educational exclusion would be swept away.

Marginalised children

Romania has actually made good progress in getting marginalised Roma children into primary schools, and Gheorghe Sarau at the Ministry of Education has made heroic efforts to hire Romanes language teachers into Romanes speaking areas.

Their job is essentially to teach the Roma kids the Romanian language. The problem is that this programme is not backed up by any investment in schools in Roma villages.

Sarau has declared that getting a Roma child into primary school for even just one year has long term effects. "When this child becomes a parent he or she will understand the value of sending their children to school."

But Romania's educational system is an elitist one and what limited resources are available seem to be concentrated on the best performing schools in the big cities. Rural schools tend to be completely neglected, particularly those schools which have a majority of Roma children.

A big part of the problem is the fact that Romanian politicians tend to ignore and belittle their peasant population, despite the fact that almost half the population live off the land. The media share this disdain for their rural brethren and when they do report from a village the people tend to be treated as victims or with irony.

The Roma minority are currently perceived in Romania as a social problem and a source of national shame, but if there was a sustained investment programme in the education system the Roma minority could become part of the solution.

Rupert Wolfe Murray has produced a number of observational documentary films about the Roma minority in Romania.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The euro — who's next?

Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.


One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

The Czech Republic is already in the throes of an extremely difficult period — several waves of Covid, high inflation, energy fears, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and a Prague corruption scandal. Now it has the EU presidency.

How to enhance EU cybersecurity

The Hungarian hacking allowed Russian intelligence to read 'over the shoulder' of an EU member state for an extended period of time. The difficulty for the EU is that it's not one nation, but a combination of 27 cybersecurity policies.


China's support for Russia challenges Europe's Peace Order

China's soft support to Russia is deeply troubling for Europe. Here is the EU's biggest trading partner signalling that it is on the side of Russia, its aggression, and its challenge to the post-war international order.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

News in Brief

  1. New president for European Committee of the Regions
  2. Gas flows from Spain to Morocco, after Western Sahara row
  3. BioNTech, Pfizer test 'universal' coronavirus vaccine
  4. UK sanctions second-richest Russian businessman
  5. Hungary permits emergency supervision of energy firms
  6. Bulgaria expels 70 alleged Russian spies
  7. EU Commission told to improve CAP data analytics
  8. Scotland pushes for second independence vote in 2023

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank
  2. EU Commission says it cannot find messages with Pfizer CEO
  3. EU ministers sign off on climate laws amid German infighting
  4. EU presidency still looking for asylum relocation pledges
  5. Finland and Sweden to join Nato, as Erdoğan drops veto
  6. The euro — who's next?
  7. One rubicon after another
  8. Green crime-fighting boss urgently required, key MEP says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us