Open Society Institute Roma Education Initiative (REI) Learns What Works 2001-2004

Open Society Institute Roma Education Initiative (REI) Learns What Works 2001-2004

Open Society Institute’s Roma Education Initiatives


Learning from Experience

For more than a decade, the Open Society Institute (OSI) and its network of national foundations, funded by George Soros, have carried out initiatives to improve education outcomes for Roma children and young people. Investment in these projects, in the past five years, has ranged between US$3-7 million annually and has engaged Roma populations spanning Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Research, monitoring, and implementation reviews have provided the lessons of experience over many years of practice.

What have we learned?

  • Roma parents value education and want their children to be educated, but not if it risks their physical and emotional well being in a hostile school environment.
  • Roma children, if given access to high quality education, and high expectations from their teachers, can be as successful in school as their non-Roma peers.
  • In the current climate, absent political will and a legal framework, it is not realistic to believe that projects could be implemented on a large scale relying only on funding the efforts of local NGOs.

What doesn't work?

  • initiatives that put educators in the role of law enforcement officials, in the absence of a legal framework or a set or regulations that mandates change in the education system
  • short term, isolated projects that don't have a strategy of continuum or a comprehensive approach
  • programs that are not given sufficient time to make the deep institutional changes in the education system that are necessary in each community
  • strategies that ignore the needs and rights of the Roma community and which do not recognize the rights of parents as the first educators of their children
  • efforts that do not provide, appropriate, high quality technical assistance to change the way teachers teach and the way they think about students of a different ethnic group

What is necessary for Roma children to succeed in school?

  • political will and a legal framework that enforces implementation of national policies and sanctions the practice of continuing segregation
  • support of and active collaboration with local authorities and school administrators; entering schools and integrating children without these local actors is not possible
  • close cooperation with the Roma community and families, and respect for the aspirations they have for their children
  • comprehensive, community-based approaches and support services that "carry" the child from 0-18, from the time their mothers are pregnant until completion of technical school or secondary school and then university
  • education programs that are culturally appropriate and meet multi-faceted needs of Roma children, in or out of school
  • teacher training on child-centered pedagogy, bi-lingual education, anti-bias education and on-going mentoring for teachers and school administrators in schools with Roma or mixed student population
  • appropriate technical assistance to facilitate all of the above including monitoring and evaluation
  • long-term involvement; projects need a minimum of three years of implementation

Some of the major OSI network initiatives on Roma education include:

Roma Education Initiative (REI) funds multi-year, country-level initiatives promoting successful integration of Roma children from pre-school to secondary school. REI projects link good practice and policy and build national and regional alliances for improvement of education for Roma children and youth. REI places an emphasis on desegregation of Roma children, empowerment of Roma parents and NGOs and training on child-centered pedagogical practice offered to teachers and school administrators in integrated schools.

Roma Special Schools Project a 3-year project in 4 countries, proving that Roma children misplaced in special schools or special (remedial) classes can catch up and be placed into mainstream schools, if given access to high quality education by well prepared teachers.

The Step by Step Program, a high quality early childhood education program for ages 0-10 that introduces child-centered teaching methods and supports community and family involvement in pre-school and primary school.

Mentoring and Tutoring Program of Soros Foundations for secondary school Roma students to successfully complete their entrance examinations for university.

The Roma Memorial University Scholarship Program offers scholarships for eligible Romani students at Central or East European universities.

Romaversitas is a mentoring initiative for Roma students enrolled in their first year of university that also provides a support network.

In addition to these region-wide programs, the national Soros foundations have supported many locally created initiatives by and for Roma communities.

These OSI investments have put important national initiatives in motion, created strong local bases of capacity and cross-border cooperation networks, with both Roma and education NGOs now highly competent to expand their work. This capacity is available and ready to work on new projects.

For further information about OSI’s Roma education initiatives and networks of implementation capacity, visit or contact:

Elizabeth LorantChristina McDonald

DirectorProgram Manager

Children & Youth ProgramsRoma Education Initiative

Open Society Institute – New YorkEducation Support Program

400 West 59th StreetOpen Society Institute – Budapest

New York, NY 10019Oktober 6. utca 12

USABudapest, Hungary