Serbian Presidency of the Roma Decade Organized International Conference Dedicated to Education

Belgrade, 2-3 June 2009


Background info

On June 1-2, 2009 the Serbian Presidency of the Roma Decade organized the international conference “The Right to Education for Every Child: Removing Barriers and Fostering Inclusion for Roma Children” in Belgrade, Serbia.

The conference was hosted by the Presidency of the Serbian Government and supported by UNICEF, the Roma Education Fund, Foundation for Open Society (FOS) Serbia and the World Bank, and has been the the first during the Roma Decade entirely dedicated to education. It brought together representatives of governments, Roma civil society, international agencies and education experts with the aim to share their experiences and chart out a new agenda on how to break down the barriers to quality education that Roma children currently face.

The Conference did not aim to merely describe the problems that Roma children are facing. In fact, there is already broad consensus on the nature of the barriers that must be overcome and most participants recognize that segregation in education is not only adverse for Roma children but for all children. Rather, the discussions focused on how to make progress in critical areas. Specifically, participants identified:
-what they know and what they do not know about the strategies that work in promoting inclusive education,
-the tactics for accelerating the successful approaches and
- the various ways to make action happen on a broad enough scale such that the effects will make a tangible difference. 
Conference participants have determined a common set of principles that form the basis of participants' commitment to remove barriers and foster inclusion:

-Recognition and respect for the rights of each and every child, including the belief that all children are entitled to develop to their full potential.
-Accountability from the countries in creating equal access to inclusive, quality education, which meets the needs of all children in an integrated setting.
-A growing understanding that the early years of child’s life are critical for later development; particularly realizing the need to target children aged 0-3 years through the rapid expansion of pre-schools and support services for the parents, especially within disadvantaged population groups.
-Increased consultation with and active involvement from the Roma community, parents and children themselves.
-The need to monitor discrimination, including educational segregation through appropriate mechanisms that ensure discrimination is challenged and addressed. 
-Recognition of the fact that a substantial collection of experiences that addresses education now exists in each of the Decade countries; thus the time for more ‘pilot projects’ has passed. What is now needed is systemic change and making sure that education systems become much more responsive to the needs of diverse children.  

Finally, participants agreed upon four actions: (1) Starting early; (2) Ending segregation in Education; (3) Ensuring supportive classrooms; and (4) Public Financing of inclusive education.