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. Severe gaps in levels of education harm both individuals and society as a whole. For this reason, TSA is supporting initiatives that increase educational achievements for disadvantaged pupils.
Roma youth, in particular, struggle to succeed in school, with only half finishing the eighth grade and approximately 15% graduating from secondary school. In fact, according to the World Bank, Bulgaria loses nearly $526 million annually because Roma are ill-prepared for work and therefore are 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, 15% 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 that 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 significant role regarding access to education, especially for pupils living in remote or rural areas with no secondary schools. Until recently, no support existed for these youths. To continue, they needed to first find sufficient financial resources to cover the cost of transportation as well as textbooks. To meet this need, TSA designed the “Equal Chance” program and, with the cooperation of 19 NGOs, has provided 1580 stipends to help students continue to attend school.