In the period prior to preparing the policy note focus group discussions were organized with various actors participating in the integration process. We opted for focus group discussions as the time and financial resources available would not have made it possible to do surveys that could have been used for “measuring” the actors that we had regarded as important. The drawback of the conclusions drawn on the basis of these discussions is that we cannot formulate statistically significant conclusions based on a representative sample. The advantage, however, is that during half-structured discussions such aspects concerning integration may ‘come out’ that could have got lost while using a standardised questionnaire. Another great advantage of discussions is that the views based on the personal experiences of participants bring the theme of the integration of Roma children very close. Although the technical, physical conditions of a focus group, its organisation inevitably convey some kind of formal framework for the participants, the discussions could be guided in a way that the expected subjectivity of those present was manifest.
The discussions were conducted in so called homogeneous groups: parents, teachers, students, representatives of local governments, heads of special schools and members of expert panels assessing mental abilities, civil organizations, ministry officials responsible for Roma issues and representatives of the academic sphere. In order to fine-tone the suggestions formulated in these groups they were brought up again in a new, this time a mixed group (where persons from each of the previous eight target groups were present) to be discussed in the form of another focus group discussion.
In selecting participants it was an important aspect to ensure there the various regions of the country were represented. There were, however exceptions, partly in students’ groups and in other groups where the aspect of regionalism is invalid (e.g. representatives of ministries). In the cases of actors that are directly connected to school an important aspect was the type of school and the assumed ratio of Roma students among the students of the school.
Members of the focus groups were invited by OKI (National Institute of Public Education) but participation was entirely voluntary. Before the discussions we were continuously in touch with 10 to 12 persons to ensure participation. In the actual discussions, however, not everybody turned up, the lowest participation rate was that of the representatives of the academic sphere with only three persons being present (that is why this group was left out from this analysis). We will not give a detailed account of the discussion conducted with the ministry employees as the officials responsible for Roma issues were not able to present in due number owing to difficulties in fixing an appointment appropriate for everyone. (To ensure the anonymity of participants, their names will not be given.)
At the same time it has to be taken into consideration that participation was due to some degree of commitment, activity of those taking part in the discussions, therefore those present cannot be considered totally representative of the target group, therefore in some groups it can be suspected that picture given of integration is too positive. In this respect it can be said that it was the parents with the lowest degree of interest assertion that could not be present, among the teachers the actors of the extreme segregation cases were not present and similar absences could be identified in all groups. It also happened that participants with ‘multiple attachment’ could not stay in one particular role and did not formulate their opinions as representatives of one given focus group (it was the most striking in the case of a parent – working as an official responsible for Roma issues – who did not want to behave as a parent and wanted to channel the discussion into one discussing methodological issues.)
The discussions were conducted in a half-structured way: prior to each meeting a so-called scenario was outlined, which contained the most important issues planned for the discussions. At some points we did not keep to the planned outline of the interview but the central theme (integration) was discussed in all cases.
The analysis of the discussions started with coding, in which so-called thematic issues were identified, which were later contracted or narrowed down to main dimensions on the second level of analysis. In the following we will examine the group-specific dimensions and the themes of integration and segregation as discussed in the focus groups. In the following owing to lack of space only the summaries of the focus group discussions will be given.
2.1. Themes common in all discussions
Five themes could be identified that were discussed in more than one focus groups. They are as follows:
d) programmes aiming at school success of Roma students,
The category of ‘prejudices’ includes the themes of teacher and parent prejudices and that of school discrimination as well.
The category of ‘school-life’ involves criticism against general schools, the features of the ideal teachers and the variable of pedagogical methods.
The category ‘keeping contacts’ covers communication between students and teachers, teachers and parents, parents and parents, civil organizations and schools and local governments and Roma minority self-governments.
Programmes aiming at the school success of Roma students include not only programmes introduced by the schools but also the initiatives of local governments.
The dimension ‘Roma-image’ includes definitions for the Roma as an ethnic group as formulated in the focus groups, and the features relating to the whole ethnic group or to concrete, smaller groups as enlisted by participants.
Before presenting the main findings let us see which themes were discussed in the particular focus groups. (In the table + indicates that a theme was discussed.)
|Focus group actors||Prejudice||School-life||Keepingcontacts||Programmes aiming at school success of Roma students||‘Roma image’|
|Criticism of the general school||The ideal teacher||Pedagogical methods|
The analysis of the data given in the table reveals the following relationships:
- In the students’ focus-group discussion themes concerning school-life, the problem of prejudices as related to school life and an outline ‘Roma image’ were present. Students concentrate on the school itself, they do not touch upon issues of keeping contacts and various programmes aimed at increasing their school success. The topic of school-life is approached from an emotional standpoint and the extent of their teachers’ preparedness is also evaluated along the lines of how personal their relationship with them is.
- Parents do not deal with pedagogical, methodological issues. As it can be seen from the analysis of the discussion conducted with them they very much respect the teachers teaching their children and do not question either their professionalism or methodological skills. It is true, however that in the table above in the column ‘Criticism of the general school’ it is noted that this topic was mentioned but it is important to stress that the parents gave an account of negative personal or their families’ experiences connected not to the school their children attended but to other schools. When relating these experiences discrimination at school and prejudice from the part of teachers were stressed.
- The group of teachers was the only one that did not discuss prejudices in an explicit way. While discussing ‘catching up’ as the dominant topic of the discussion several comments were made implying prejudice. It is important to say that no criticism was expressed regarding the practice at general schools; and that teachers consider that Roma pupils and students’ school success can be increased by extra-curricular programmes. Lesson-based methodological innovations were not formulated. Pedagogical methodological issues were discussed not as a topic to be explore but as a part of the ‘catch up’ problem.
- In the discussion with representatives of local governments the participants did not cover the topic classified as ‘school life’. In our case the category ‘keeping contacts’ does not present the analysis of contacts between schools and local governments but the communication between local governments and local Roma minority self-governments. From the discussion it can be concluded that local governments as maintainers treat the schools much more as an institution to be finances and do not deal with the inner life of schools. Much more attention is focused on the external conditions and environment of the school rather than on its internal life.
- The discussion with the representatives of expert panels and special schools was built around the criticism of the teaching methods of ‘traditional’ general schools and the issues of keeping contacts with parents. The participants in this focus group as opposed to all the other participants regarded it important to stress that their institutions are built on tolerance for differences. As they were teachers of special schools this attitude can be considered natural. Analysing, however, the views of these participants on the ‘Roma image’ this stressed ‘inclusive’ attitude seems to be dissonant. Namely, the participants in this discussion commented the ‘features’ of Roma ethnicity that they found specific in the most detailed and most negative way. In the discussion they did not bring up the programmes aiming at increasing Roma students’ school success. As an explanation it can be said that these schools regard this activity as one of their basic tasks, their pedagogical activity is based on individual development thus they do not find it necessary to introduce extra group-programmes enhancing school success.
- The representatives of civil organisations covered all the topics in the table except the characteristics of the ideal teacher. The main topic of their discussion, however, was the analysis of pedagogical methodological issues. This is worth interpreting in the light of what we experienced in the discussion with the teachers. While in the focus group of teachers the participants did not make any critical comment on the practice at general schools and did not stress the necessity of renewing and developing the methods used in classes, in the view of the representatives of the civil sphere the key to the school success of pupils is the development of teachers’ work. Underlying all the programmes initiated by their organisations and aimed at enhancing school success there was the necessity of managing problems caused by the deficiencies of public education. The most striking difference between the attitudes of the two groups is that teachers intend to increase the achievement of Roma students by extra-curricular activities, individual development, catch-up programmes while the representatives of the civil sphere see the solution in developing teachers’ methodological and pedagogical knowledge and in in-service training.
2.2. Summary of the views on integration
While comparing all views on (successful/unsuccessful) integration of Roma students it can be said that arguments were focused around four major themes:
a) the role of the family (parents),
b) inner conditions at schools (teachers, educators, and the role of particular pedagogical methods),
c) local (settlement-level) contexts of schools,
d) specific features of the education system.
Let us see the features of the arguments of the individual focus groups. (In the table + is inserted into the appropriate columns.)
|Focus group actors||Family (parents)||Inner conditions of school||Local (settlement level) context of school||Particularities of the educational system|
From the summarized arguments it can be concluded that:
- Among the actors of those interested in the integration no group members stressed the roles of their own (except parents). The failure of integration seems to be attributable to external causes (from the aspects of the focus groups). As nobody blame themselves upward and downward averting mechanisms can also be met: pupils/students blame parents and teachers; teachers blame parents, representatives of special schools blame parents and the pupils/students themselves, etc. In this chain (matrix) of causes three elements are distinguished that could greatly enhance integration:
- appropriate pedagogical methods (in-service teacher training);
- liquidation of settlement level segregation;
- managing the phenomenon at system-level.
- Non-admittance of responsibility and averting responsibility is often accompanied by self-legitimating discourse. This is most striking concerning local government and ministry employees and the representatives of special education and the academic sphere.
- Success of integration can most be connected to the inner life of school. This is partly understandable as the extent of integration can naturally be seen within the school, on the other hand participants might mistakenly think that integration is the ‘inner issue’ of the school.
- Integration treated as an ‘inner issue’ of the school naturally does not exclude system approach but it can also be seen that this approach can least be experienced among the actors of the system taken in a narrow sense (civil organisations, ministry employees, representatives of the academic sphere).
- In parallel with the difficulties of system level intervention the various ways of local co-operation by which the local cases can be managed – are more highly valued. This raises the issue of how important system level dissemination of best management models.
- In realising integration the representatives of the civil organisations seemed to be the most active who (as we mentioned before) came up with a so-called integration package. Such an active presence of civil organisations can partly be explained by the fact that this activity of theirs is not cycle-dependant (as that of ministries or local governments) and partly by the fact that (despite the uncertain financial conditions of their existence) their scope of activities, innovative capacities have no administrative, bureaucratic boundaries.
- Summarising the comments on the integration per capita grant:
- most of the schools with a Roma majority are frustrated as they fear to lose previous financial support;
- local governments see a financial opportunity in it, which may cause a formal merge of schools with the aim of integration (grant),
- teachers remarked that the new additional grant was not appropriately communicated towards schools;
- promised methodological packages were not available;
- the additional grant was not appropriately prepared, consequently the actors see only a political act in it in many cases.
Main topics of focus-group discussions (and the frequency of their appearance)
|School – Parent – Family||14||Pedagogical methods||22||Integration-segregation||30|
|Integration||8||Cooperation, keeping contacts with parents||16||Financing||24|
|Role and place of kindergartens||5||Segregation - integration||12||Schools||16|
|The world outside school (e.g.making a living, prejudice)||5||The world outside school||11||Development plan, the role of local government||15|
|Further education||4||Keeping contact (with partners)||9||Competition/tender opportunities||12|
|Competitions/Tenders||9||National Roma Selfgovernment||8|
|’Catching up’ programs||7||Roma pupils||8|
|Individual abilities||2||Parent, family background||8|
|Further education||1||Characteristics of Romagroup||5|
|Special School||Civil Organizations||Ministries|
|Parents – Family – School||28||School success||13||Programs to help Romas||10|
|Characteristics of Roma pupils||20||Integration-segrega-tion||13||Contact with Nation-al Roma Self-government, ministries||8|
|Examination – test – decision||14||Financing||12||Integration||7|
|Integration-segregation (segregation inside school)||14||School – parent – National Roma Self-government||11||Training, inservice training||6|
|The world outside school||10||Special schools||8||Data collection, measurement||4|
|Teachers, educational methods||6||Data collection, measurement||6||Roma competitors||3|
|Special education||4||Methodology||6||Real roma image, Roma-non Roma coexistence||3|
|Proportion of Roma pupils||2||School Roma coordinator, teacher responsible for child protection||4|
|Further education||1||Percentage of Roma pupils||2|
|Strengthening identity, transferring values||2|
|Ideal teacher||12||Situation of Romology||15||Financing||15|
|Roma image||12||Educational content||14||Competitions/tenders, PHARE||10|
|Roma-non-Roma coexistence||9||Financing||14||Educational content, methodology||9|
|Conflict||8||Characteristics of the group of Roma||13||School||8|
|Roma-non Roma teacher comparison||7||Schools||9||Capital vs. the country||5|
|Previous schools||5||Partnerships||4||Continuity of educational policy, lack of communication||4|
|Prejudice||5||Labour-market||3||Local governments, involving National Roma Self-government||4|
|Percentage of Roma pupils||3||Foreign examples||3||Characteristics of Roma-group||3|
|Non-Roma pupils||2||Research||2||Ministry of Education||2|
|Forcing to become a 'private' student||2|
|School – parent rela-tions||2|