Education for romanies in Finland

Romanies have inhabited Finland since the sixteenth century. Their exact number is not known because Finnish citizens are not registered according to their ethnic origin. According to the latest estimates, there are at least 10,000 Romanies in Finland. In addition, approx. 3,000 Finnish Romanies live in Sweden.

As Finnish citizens, Romanies are entitled to the same education as the majority population. However, in practice, the position of the Romanies as regards education is more difficult than that of the majority. In recent years, the educational level of the Romanies has improved considerably, but, compared to the majority population, it remains low. The problem for Romany children continues to be failure to complete the comprehensive school, which makes it difficult for them to enter further education. On the other hand, it must be recalled that the Romanies’ educational tradition is still relatively young. Various reports show that the education received by older people remains inadequate and that they even include illiterates.

Day care and pre-school education 

                    The Act on Day Care

The Act on Children’s Day Care (36/1973) incorporates a special obligation for the municipality to arrange (day care), i.e., a so-called subjective provision on the right to day care. This provision is contained in paragraph 1 of § 11 a of the Act on Day Care (... it must be possible for a child to attend the day care referred to in the provision until he or she, as a child subject to compulsory school attendance, as referred to in the Act on Comprehensive Schools, starts attending a comprehensive or comparable school.)

On the basis of the provision, all the parents or other guardians of children of pre-school age have been entitled since the beginning of 1996 to obtain for their child the day-care centre or family-care place arranged by the municipality, referred to in paragraph 2 or 3 of § 1 of the Act.

Under paragraph 1 of § 2 a of the Act on Children’s Day Care, the core task of day care is to support the homes of children attending day care in their upbringing task, and to further the balanced development of the child’s personality in collaboration with their homes. Under § 1 a of the Decree on Children’s Day Care (239/1973), the upbringing objectives in § 2 a of the Act on Children’s Day Care also include support for the native tongue and culture of the children of Finnish- or Swedish-speakers, Samis, Romanies and various immigrant groups in collaboration with representatives of the culture in question.

Legislation on pre-school education

The Act on Children’s Day Care does not include special provisions on pre-school instruction. As part of the early education which forms part of day care, a large number of municipalities have arranged pre-school instruction targeted in particular at six-year-olds but also at younger children.

§ 1 of the Act on Basic Education (628/1999), which took effect at the beginning of 1999, enacts concerning not only basic education and compulsory school attendance but also, inter alia, concerning pre-school instruction in the year prior to compulsory school attendance. According to § 2 of the Act, pre-school instruction is designed to promote the general objectives set for basic education and, as part of early education, to improve the child’s capacity to learn. Under § 9 of the Act, pre-school instruction lasts for one year.

Under § 15 of the Act on Basic Education, the body which arranges pre-school instruction is bound to draw up a curriculum for the teaching. The curriculum is approved separately for instruction in Finnish, Swedish and Sami and, where necessary, instruction in some other language.

The obligation to provide pre-school instruction will be imposed on the municipalities under a separate act, which will enter into force in 2001. These amendments will be made to both the Act on Day Care and the Act on Basic Education. Pre-school instruction can already start being provided prior to the entry into force of the Act.

The municipal day-care system thus provides children with opportunities for day-care services whilst their parents are out at work. Pre-school instruction, on the other hand, is arranged as far as possible for all children who wish to receive it. In the Romany culture, children have traditionally been looked after at home. Nowadays, Romany children attend day care and pre-school instruction to some extent, and this facilitates the start of their attendance at school. Pre-school instruction has a very important role to play in preparing Romany children in particular for school. Romany personnel need to be recruited to child day-care centres and pre-school instruction, so that the Romany language and culture are already taken sufficiently into account already the children start school.

The comprehensive school

Finnish Romanies are also subject to compulsory school attendance. However, the schooling of Romany children does involve certain difficulties, which have only now started to be taken seriously. Cultural differences, the teachers’ limited knowledge of Romany culture and inadequate co-operation between the home and school mean that Romany children discontinue comprehensive education more often than children from the majority population. Romany children have also been observed to suffer from what is termed "semilingualism", which means that they lack strong skills in their mother tongue when they start school. Their motor and mechanical skills are often poorer than those of other children. For these reasons, the children’s schooling is hampered from the very outset. Schools have not been able to pay enough attention to these causes, but Romany children have all too readily been placed in remedial classes.

Some projects to support Romany children and their parents in matters relating to schooling have been launched in Finland. These include Romano Missio’s Aina ammattiin asti (Right through to a job) project, which is designed to help young Romanies complete comprehensive school and take up further education, and to determine the difficulties which arise in the schooling of Romany children. A study conducted during the project indicates that, depending on the locality, as many as 10-20 per cent discontinue school. This is a disturbingly high figure.

Senior high school and tertiary education still attracts little interest among Romanies. The history of Finland’s Romanies means that Romany homes lack a history of education and that Romanies have not tended to esteem the education provided on the majority population’s terms. Nowadays, attitudes have become more positive. Romanies value education, and seek to support their children’s schooling so that they can obtain professional skill.

The teaching of the romany language in schools 

In Finland, the legislation on the comprehensive school guarantees certain prerequisites for maintaining and developing Romany language and culture.

                    Legislation on the comprehensive school:

The basic right reform of 1995, § 14.3 of the Constitution, observes that: the Sami, as an aboriginal people, and the Romanies and other groups are entitled to develop and maintain their own language and culture. The reform of the school legislation, which took effect in 1999, continues in the same vein (Act on Basic Education, § 10 Language of instruction: Paragraph 1; The language of instruction at school shall be either Finnish or Swedish. The language of instruction can also be Sami, Romany or sign language., § 12 Instruction in the mother tongue: Paragraph 2; In accordance with the guardian’s choice, Romany, sign language or some other mother tongue of the pupil may also be taught as the mother tongue.).

The aforesaid reform of school legislation has made it possible for instruction in the Romany

language and culture to be given at comprehensive and senior high schools, in vocational training

and in vocational adult education.

The municipalities are under no obligation to provide instruction, and no separate education or cultural allocations have been assigned for the purpose, as has been the case with the Sami language. The lack of funding is reflected in the instruction in the Romany language and culture provided by the municipalities.

Instruction in the Romany language at comprehensive school was started in Finland in the early 1980s, initially in club format. Since 1989, instruction in the Romany language and culture has been provided more broadly at the comprehensive schools, beginning at Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa schools. National curricula for the Romany language have been drawn up for the comprehensive and senior high schools.

In practice, instruction in the Romany language has been arranged in accordance with a notice issued by the Ministry of Education concerning instruction in the mother tongue for children who speak a foreign language. This means that instruction has been provided to groups of 4-5 Romany children for two hours a week either within or outside the curriculum. Out of the approx. 1,700 Romany children of comprehensive-school age, instruction in the Romany language is received by an average of 250 children in about ten localities.

There are a number of reasons for the scarcity of instruction in Romany. One major obstacle is the lack of qualified teachers of Romany. Each year, the National Board of Education’s Education Unit for the Romany Population has arranged further training for teachers of Romany in collaboration with Heinola Education Centre. In 1992, ten teachers of Romany started a two-year course for training teachers of the mother tongue who work with children who speak a foreign language. This has helped to strengthen their professional skill.

When teachers of the Romany language are working at a school, they have to perform numerous other tasks besides teaching the language. In order to meet the needs in the field, the Education Unit is extending training for teachers of Romany by means of the Further Qualification of Culture Instructor and Specialist Qualification of Culture Instructor for Romanies introduced into the legislation on vocational schools. The bases of the syllabuses for these are currently being compiled by the National Board of Education. This qualification would help Romanies to obtain work with the municipalities as contact persons, cultural interpreters, school assistants and teachers of Romany.

The Ministry of Education has approved the Further Qualification and Specialist Qualification of Culture Instructor for Romanies as one of the qualifications referred to in the Act on Vocational Qualifications of 1997.

Adult education for the romany population 

Adult education for the Romany population in Finland has mainly been arranged by means provided under labour policy. Education tied to labour policy has been arranged both as vocational training and as guidance training. Guidance training has made it possible to fill gaps in previously inadequate basic education and has thereby improved the students’ chances of entering the job market. Nowadays, education relating to labour policy in Finland is arranged regionally rather than centrally, as was the case previously with, e.g., education for the Romany population. This means that a large number of people now have to share educational resources, and smaller groups are not always taken sufficiently into account.

Vocational training began being arranged for Romanies in 1979 fields which are close to their way of life, such as horsekeeping and trotting-race training, sewing the Romanies’ national dress and other handicrafts associated with Romany culture. Training in practical nursing has also been provided. Nowadays, training is oriented increasingly towards educational sectors which meet the requirements of modern society.

The goals of guidance training have been the completion of the syllabus of the comprehensive school, adequate basic studies for further and vocational training, and familiarisation with society’s structure and services. Guidance training has been found to be a good way of securing an adequate basic education and it will continue to be needed in future, too.

The Romanies’ own representatives are almost always involved in planning courses designed for Romanies. This procedure has been useful because it has allowed the Romanies’ own needs and the special features of their culture to be taken into account. This, in turn, has increased their motivation to take up training. Particularly good results have been obtained when the initiative for arranging training has originated with the Romanies themselves.

In 1995, the National Board of Education commissioned a survey into the educational needs of the Romany population. Two-thirds of the 200 people who responded expressed an interest in vocational training. The most popular sector was social welfare and health. As regards practical needs, it may be noted that it is precisely in the teaching, social and health care sectors that there is an acute need for Romany employees.

Special training includes the training project for Romanies known as Romako, which began on a trial basis in Uusimaa in 1996-1998, with, e.g., practical nurse and school assistant courses. The feedback from the trial has been so positive that, following administrative changes in Finland and the country’s accession to the EU, it was extended nation-wide and became known as Suomen Romako.

Suomen Romako is a job and training project designed for the Romany population. It has been granted funding for the period 3rd August 1999 - 31st December 2000 and is meant for Romanies aged 25-55 who are either long-term unemployed or have been displaced from the job market. The funding comes from the European Social Fund (40%) and Finland’s Labour Administration (60%). The administrative and practical side of the project is being dealt with by Tuusula Job Centre and the Tuusula Social Sector College. Training has so far been provided for 195 students in twelve localities.

Courses which have been laid on during Romako and Suomen Romako include

- Comprehensive school studies in four localities

-     Training equipping students for vocational training and work in           three localities

-     Part of the Vocational Qualification in Textiles and Clothing

- The Vocational Qualification in Youth and Leisure Instruction

- Training for the car sector

There have been individual training places in practical nurse’s, hairdresser’s, massage therapy, music therapy and musical drama studies.

The project has also allocated funds for supported employment, employment subsidy and apprentice contract training.

Both the educational establishments and the students have found the training laid on by Romako stimulating. The establishments consider that the Romanies have been highly motivated to study and develop themselves. The training has also facilitated the Romanies’ right to maintain and develop their language, since the curricula have also included instruction in the Romany language wherever possible. The students’ views indicate how important the training has become for them. They have felt that a profession enhances their identity both as individuals and as a group. They also want and are able through the profession to acquire economic independence.

Each year, the National Board of Education has also funded adult education for the Romany population at open colleges and folk high schools. The instruction provided by these colleges and schools is important especially for Romanies who have not completed the syllabus required under compulsory school attendance. Primarily, the instruction aims to teach the Romanies literacy and numeracy and to help them to complete the comprehensive school syllabuses in the various subjects. Study of the Romany language and culture has also been felt to be important. There has also been found to be a need for arranging courses in social studies for Romanies in their own areas of residence.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has an Advisory Committee on Romany Affairs which monitors the development of the Romanies’ opportunities for participating in society and their social conditions in order to promote equality and give statements on these subjects. The Advisory Committee also takes initiatives and makes proposals for improving the Romany population’s economic, educational and cultural circumstances and for promoting the recruitment of Romanies. The Advisory Committee also fosters the strengthening of the Romany language and culture. The Education Unit for the Romany Population is an expert member on the Advisory Committee and collaborates with it in all matters relating to education and training.

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