Parents all over the world hope that their children and grandchildren will receive a better education and enjoy a higher quality of life than they experienced. Research conducted by a European Union (EU)-funded project has proven that this is often still more hope than reality, especially within several ethnic minority and migrant communities.
© Fotolia, 2012
In fact, according to findings in the study of Ethnic Differences in Education and Diverging Prospects for Urban Youth in an Enlarged Europe (Edumigrom), second- and third-generation migrants in long-standing EU Member States, and Roma communities in new member states, now often face worse social conditions than their parents did decades ago.
The project was led by Violetta Zentai, the director of the Center for Policy Studies at the Central European University in Budapest. The project, which examined disparities in educational access among minority and non-minority students, ran from March 2008 to February 2011. While initial research has ended, the following year has been a busy one for its researchers.
"One of the most important things has been the dissemination of our findings to a broader academic audience. We are working on the first draft of the manuscript of a book with the comparative results of the project," Zentai said.
Equal access to quality education is a high priority policy issue on the European level, Zentai said. Edumigrom researchers have received additional funding from Hungarian authorities for pursuing follow-up work in Hungary and increasing the dissemination effort. Edumigrom researchers have since revisited two of the schools involved in the original research in Hungary for tracing any major changes since the end of the research. Other country teams also conduct follow-up observations and advocacy work in their respective policies.
Minorities are very diverse throughout Europe and their citizens represent some of the most vulnerable parts of society. The overall shrinking labour market, the global economic crisis, growing xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments have all contributed to conditions that are less favourable to social inclusion than before. Roma in Central and Eastern Europe are the most disenfranchised, Zentai said, but there are many migrant groups that still suffer from discrimination in the school systems elsewhere in Europe.
The weak inclusion of ethnic minority groups in education is hurting their ability to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. According to the project's final report, "As the breaking-up of the data by social and ethnic backgrounds clearly shows, ethnicity plays a distinct role in students' evaluation: the clearer the signs of 'otherness', the gloomier the perspectives of students to catch up in assessed performance to their majority peers coming from similar socio-economic conditions.
"These trends suggest, among other things, that the entrance of "visibly" different young people from well-educated backgrounds into the competition for the truly good positions in society would entail an "unwanted" risk for the majority – and their relative devaluation actually serves to keep them away from making even an attempt at crossing the invisible ethnic boundaries."
Zentai said that EU funding "fundamentally" enabled their research endeavours. "It's possible to bring people and resources together for the smaller projects," she said, "but it would be almost impossible to pursue this kind of larger comparative projects without their assistance." The European Commission provided approximately three-fourths of Edumigrom's €1.7 million budget.