A strong economy requires a strong work-force, and Bulgaria’s future development and growth depends upon its ability to prepare its citizens for work and for life. Serious gaps in educational outcomes harm both individuals as well as society as a whole. For this reason, TSA is supporting initiatives that increase educational achievements for disadvantaged pupils.
Roma youth, in particular, are struggling to succeed in school. With only half finishing the eighth grade and approximately 15% graduating from secondary school17, this is a serious challenge with long-term repercussions. In fact, the World Bank has calculated that Bulgaria loses nearly 526 million annually because Roma are ill-prepared and therefore not able to successfully integrate into the labor market. Often the problems start early, with children who do not speak Bulgarian at home at particular risk of low literacy. Failure to establish basic literacy skills during the first few years of school creates barriers that reverberate throughout a child’s progression through school. In Bulgaria, fifteen percent of Roma youth aged 16+ are unable to read or write. Once in school, minority children may encounter a hostile or apathetic environment, with one-fourth of all teachers in Bulgaria stating that they believe Roma children should study in segregated schools and one-fifth convinced that children from different ethnic backgrounds have different abilities.
This is why TSA is investing in programs that work closely with teachers in more than 200 schools throughout the country to challenge limiting beliefs and to positively transform school environments. Cost barriers also play a serious role, especially for pupils living in remote or rural areas with no secondary schools. Until recently, no support existed for these youth. To continue, they needed to first find sufficient financial resources to cover both transportation as well as the cost of textbooks. To meet this need, TSA designed the “Equal Chance” program and, with the cooperation of 19 NGOs, has provided 1580 stipends to help youth continue.
TSA is prioritizing high school (secondary school) graduation, because we know that it has the power to make a profound impact on a young person’s later life outcomes, with Roma secondary school graduates earning 83% more than their non graduating peers. Equally important is our focus on leadership and positive role models. With only 1% of Bulgaria’s Roma graduating from the university, programs that support university preparation and graduation are needed. To create long-term, systemic change, it is important that Roma enter positions where they can act as role models, both for other young Roma as well as for society as a whole. TSA has also supported programs that encourage reciprocity and volunteerism. By engaging successful Roma in building solutions that bring positive change in their communities, we ensure longer-term engagement and greater sustainability of our work.