The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of the Federal Republic of Germany awarded EUR 2,373,950 to the Roma Education Fund (REF) in late 2016. Administered by KfW Development Bank and implemented by the Roma Education Fund Representative Office in the Republic of Serbia, this grant seeks to link graduation from high school with skills training for Roma entering the Serbian labor market. It has three strands: supporting secondary school education for Roma youth, supporting employability of graduates of the REF secondary school program and promoting the re-integration of Serbian Roma returnees from Germany into Serbian society. “Improved Education and Integration Opportunities for Roma in Serbia” will operate in Serbia over 30 months.
With one of four new labor market entries of Roma origin, and a positive forecast for economic growth of 2.3% through 2017, Serbia must create an educated, skilled labor force to contribute to its modernization. Providing up-to-date, quality vocational education and training (VET) that will qualify Roma students in their last two years of high school for employment in Serbia’s rapidly restructuring economy is a priority. Steps to retrain recent Roma graduates who have attended substandard schools or even dropped out, as well as addressing how to properly re-integrate Serbian Roma returnees from the European Union in Serbia’s education system and labor market, also require substantial resources if school and trade qualifications are to be seen as a real, attractive economic outcome for Roma high school students.
At the signing of the contract between the two parties on November 23, 2016, Markus Aschendorf, KfW Head of the Division for the Development of the Financial Sector in Southeast Europe and Turkey, emphasized the role of the Fund: “We see the support to the improvement of the situation of Roma as a very important part of our work in Serbia. We are glad to work with a partner like REF to address together this issue in an adequate way. It’s a very promising approach to make a comprehensive combination of education leading to employment.”
The Roma Education Fund has a decade of experience of successfully developing a spectrum of education projects that assist Roma to graduate from each educational level. Last year in Serbia, the Fund’s nationwide secondary scholarship program graduated 97 Roma students from a pool of 500 who were supported in the 2015-2016 school year. Another 112 graduated in the previous academic year.
REF Executive Director Nadir Redzepi wrote recently of the strong commitment necessary to bring about sustainable change and better learning outcomes for Roma children: “The education of children is compulsory and it is also the responsibility of the school system, a duty that obliges, in particular schools, teachers and parents, to ensure that all children realize their potential.”
This new German government-supported project focuses on three practical strands for Roma 15-25-year-olds in Serbia: (1) contributing to the pool of funding that provides secondary school scholarships to Roma students currently enrolled in high school (2) building professional and job-related life skills of Roma students to help them enter the Serbian labor market, (3) helping repatriated Roma who may need assistance enrolling in school, extra educational support to master the Serbian language, as well as the acquisition of professional and life skills. Through providing a mechanism for the full inclusion of Roma in the Serbian education system and subsequent labor market, the Fund will also develop a national policy approach for the children of Roma returnees, as local evidence suggests that few children of Roma returnees have managed to enroll in Serbia’s schools and have stopped their education.
Among its program in Serbia, the Roma Education Fund piloted and then scaled up a scholarship program targeting Roma high school students over ten years. These scholarships are proven to mitigate the socio-economic pressures compounded in everyday obstacles that heavily contribute to Roma students leaving school without the necessary skills or qualifications to compete on the labor market. Incrementally, the Fund has seen the number of Roma high school students graduating under its scholarship program multiply. Tutoring and mentoring also form part of this package to Roma high school students, with many volunteers joining in this effort to catalyze social inclusion within the dynamic of education leading to integration and success in the workplace.
This unique opportunity supported by KfW on behalf of German government is part of broader German development policy and a coalition of actors working together to support disadvantaged groups and provide economic opportunities through social development investments in Serbia and across the Western Balkans, and for which the Roma Education Fund has been selected to address Roma employment issues based on its transparent and innovative programs.
For the REF KfW fact sheet, please click here.
Roma Education Fund Representative Office in the Republic of Serbia
Romski Obrazovni Fond
11000 Belgrade, Serbia
tel: 00 381 11 240 1911, ext. 253 and 254