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Roma, Curriculum, and Textbooks: The Case of Greece

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DOI: 10.4236/ce.2017.810112    702 Downloads   1,249 Views  

ABSTRACT

The aim of this paper is to search out the educational problems that students of Roma origin confront, especially those coming from institutional arrangements and laws. Toward this end, we undertook a content analysis of all of the text-books currently used in Greek primary education. Our research showed that, despite their improvement, the “new” textbooks continue to treat Greeks as the center of interest in education. The weak presence of Roma in textbooks renders the imperative need for a curriculum which explores issues of social inequality and injustice; a curriculum which will set forth the problems, activities, and accomplishments of all portions of the population, independent of class, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation or special needs.

1. Introduction

The object of this paper is to investigate the educational problems that students of Roma origin confront, especially those coming from institutional arrangements and laws. More precisely, this study is based on research aimed at investigating the “image” of Roma presented in Greek curricula and textbooks.

Several different social groups living throughout continental Europe and America which share certain common historical and cultural elements are called Roma (Zachos, 2011a) . In almost every place they live in, Roma groups suffer discrimination and racism that leads inevitably to their marginalization and exclusion from normal social life (Zachos, 2012) . Their history, lower social status, and experience of discrimination and racism place Roma in a position similar to that of African Americans in the United States of America (Miskovic, 2009) .

Roma education is a distinct part of what is called intercultural education― the wider category of theoretical and research activity which has as its central concern the way education can confront issues arising from the presence in the same classroom of students from different cultural backgrounds. There have been many folkloric, musicological, historical, and linguistic studies of the life and activity of the Roma but there has been no corresponding research activity examining their education. The relevant research output is rather poor in comparison to the great wealth of existing research literature concerning the education of migrants and other minorities in Europe and North America (New & Merry, 2012) .

Any attempt to record the educational problems children of Roma origin face as well as any proposed solutions must, in our opinion, always begins from their lived everyday life and experience. Roma students’ schooling and more generally the schooling of all children from low socioeconomic backgrounds is affected by their economic and social status. Socioeconomic statuses, namely parental income and level of education (Schmid, 2001) , are crucial factors in students’ success or failure in school. There is a strong connection between educational success and economic disadvantage (Coley & Baker, 2013) . People living in poverty are more likely to not have adequate resources to support their children’s schooling (buying books, computers, additional private tutoring). They also lack comfortable housing, separate rooms for their children, proper nutrition, or even basic amenities such as running water and electricity. Roma often live in poor sanitary conditions, close to sources of air or sound pollution (Levinson, 2005) . Poverty often drives a portion of Roma children to have to work as well (Halkiotis, 2000) .

Furthermore, students coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds lack cognitive stimulation from their family and social experiences from their pre- school years which research has shown to be one of the most common causes of failure in school (Freeman, Brookhart, & Loadman, 1999) . These squalid living conditions diminish their interest in school (Politou, 1996) .

The educational and social integration of the members of Roma groups is also connected to the way in which local governments and societies have historically treated them. As we already mentioned, in most countries, for centuries Roma has faced discrimination and persecution and has lived in social exclusion. Furthermore, Roma groups’ and individuals’ contribution to socioeconomic life is not recognized and their culture is underestimated―a situation also reflected in formal education.

Historically, education has played a central role in the formation of national identity in western nation-states and the assimilation of ethnic/national/cultural minorities. Educational systems legitimate national culture and erase diversity (Gellner, 1983) . In order to accomplish this aim, official educational systems have ignored those portions of their populations whose members are distinguished from the “majority” group by features such as language, religion, manners and customs.

However, the past thirty years have seen the development of what has been called “identity politics”, which has pushed the education systems of a number of western countries to abandon the politics of assimilation and to seek the integration of students with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This new politics has brought with it changes to national curricula and consequently changes also to the everyday activities of educators.

The present paper belongs to a series of studies by the author (Zachos, 2007; 2011a; 2011b; 2012; 2014; 2017; Zachos & Panagiotidou, 2016) which attempt to examine the relationship of Roma groups living in Greece to the national education system. More specifically, the present study examines the way in which Roma groups are presented in the official curriculum and textbooks used in Greek primary education.

2. Roma and the Curriculum

A curriculum is a guide for lesson planning which includes general goals, course materials, the duration of studies, as well as descriptions of various other student activities (Flouris, 1983) . A curriculum does not simply define the knowledge which students will be required to possess but it also defines the educator’s activity during the educational process (Conell, 1992) . In other words, a curriculum is an organized way of teaching, a tool, which the educator uses in his/her everyday practice as a kind of professional compass that explains what he/she needs to do and when to do it (Vrettos & Kapsalis, 1999) .

The content and structure of the curriculum constitutes one of the most controversial issues in education. The basic questions of this discussion relate to: First, whether and to what extent there is knowledge which must be mastered by all students; second, who gets to choose what knowledge is included in the curriculum? If we assume that a common curriculum is necessary, then we will have to answer the following questions:

・ What knowledge is most valuable to whom and why?

・ Whose interests does it serve?

・ How can we organize knowledge so that is conveyed most effectively to every student?

・ Whether and to what degree curriculum should be differentiated to correspond to the variety of student interests and levels of motivation?

The body of knowledge finally covered by the curriculum is that which has recognition from political authority, the state. It is “official knowledge” (Apple, 1993) which helps the ruling class perpetuate its position of power and institutionalizes societal inequalities (McCarthy, 1994) . This is also why the content of the official national curricula is not acceptable to all who have an interest in the matter. There are serious objections to the image of the world presented in the curriculum and the specific cultural model it promotes. The most important objections are raised for the following reasons: 1) the curriculum ignores social conflicts and differences. 2) The curriculum tries to produce a common identity (common cultural models, convictions and values) (Beck, 1996) that devalues those of minority groups (Banks, 1975) . 3) Historical information about the various different ethnic groups is either entirely absent or present only in very limited form (North, 2006) . 4) There is no reference in the curriculum to the experiences of different peoples (Hickling-Hudson & Ahlquist, 2003) .

In Greece, there is central state control over the curriculum and school textbooks (Zambeta, 2000) . The school curriculum is uniform, national and compulsory; there are standard hours, content and textbooks dictated by the Ministry of Education for all levels of schooling (Ifanti, 2008) . We should note here that in the case of Greece, specific historical conditions engendered a framework which even today makes changing topics considered “national” by most politicians and reporters difficult (Zachos, 2009) . Indicative of this situation is how only a very small number of schools implemented the legislation giving them the ability to teach about the cultures of children from minority groups (Law 2413/1996). As a result, in Greece, as well as in other countries, cultural elements of Roma groups (language, culture, and history) remain absent from school curricula (Kyuchukov, 2000; Cudworth, 2008; Sykora et al., 2010) or are undervalued (Lloyd & Stead, 2002; Messing, 2008) or are distorted because the Roma are presented as a rebellious “tribe” which refuses to comply with the demands and commitments of modern life.

While in many countries mother-tongue education has already introduced to schools (Benson, 2004) , in Greece, no schools teach Romani (Tsiakalos, 2008) . This has great significance for whether Roma children succeed in the classroom or not since most are bilingual. Their native language is different from their school’s dominant language of instruction. According to the prevailing research (Cummins, 1999) , the teaching of a child’s mother tongue positively influences the development of the child’s linguistic competence and thus reinforces his/her ability to learn a second language. Additionally, the acceptance and recognition by the school of a key element of students’ culture, language, contributes to self-esteem and self-confidence (Cummins, 1999) .

However, we must note that the issue of Romani instruction in Greece is complex for the following reasons:

First, due to the fact that the Roma population is “extremely diverse” (Guy, 2009: p. 5) often speaking different languages (Zachos, 2011a) and dialects (Hatzisavidis, 2007) . Even if the Greek state were to decide to create a written Romani language which could be taught in schools where children of Roma origin attend, it would not sufficiently address the issue at hand since the problem of dialect would remain; we do not even know which dialect of Romani is most widely spoken in Greece because there are no official records.

Second, there are no educators who can teach Romani.

Third, the representatives of the Greek Roma Organizations have not yet declared the need for teaching the Romani language in Greek schools, and are generally opposed to any action will yield their status as Minority Groups (No name author, 2005; Dimitras, 2000; Rougheri, 1999) . This position is not as strange as it may seem if one considers the fact that in Greece, language defines who belongs to the Greek nation while non-Greek speakers are considered to be “others” (Mantouvalou, 2009) . Greek Roma Organizations want to avoid minority status and the stigma that accompanies it. Indicative of the situation is the case of the municipality of Iraklia in the prefecture of Serres which in 2001 was forced to leave the Panhellenic Intermunicipal Network for the Support of Greek Roma Citizens because a portion of its residents reacted against the appellation Roma used in the relevant texts and refused to accept “exchanging History for a handful of millions”―the money set aside for the residential establishment of the area’s Roma population (Stamatopoulos, 2001) . The only official request for teaching Romani in some Greek schools was made in Western Thrace by Xarchakos (2001) , a representative of the conservative party (New Democracy) in the European Parliament. However, this action is better understood as part of ongoing international antagonism between Greece and Turkey. Some human rights organizations which favor the political recognition of Roma’s minority status have also requested the teaching of Roma language and history.

3. School Textbooks in Greece

School textbooks are a means of instruction, key tools for teachers and students, since daily instructional practice relies on them, but also as a part of extracurricular activities. Textbooks in Greece are based on the curriculum and provided free-of-charge to all students attending public schools. They occupy a fundamental role in the educational process and their content determines with precision the order in which subjects are presented in the new curriculum (Koustourakis, 2007) . Furthermore, school textbooks exercise great influence on how students conceive of the natural and social world, especially in subjects such as history, language and geography where they can critically influence the way young students’ understanding.

School textbooks enjoy an authoritative status, not only as a literary form (the power of the written word) but also as the official version of reality (Hamilakis, 2003) . Textbook’s ability to instill certain attitudes, convey values, and models of behavior related to the emotional sphere of personality and to influence views, convictions, and choices as well as individual behavior, have not been a matter of indifference to researchers (Xochellis, 2008) .

A series of factors such as the reformulation of the international economic and political landscape, the orders of the European Union, the country’s economic growth, and the improvement of Greece’s relations with Turkey and Bulgaria all resulted in changes to the goals in the curriculum and school textbooks. So, in 2003 introduced a series of major changes to the curricula. The 2003 curricula, with some minor changes, are still valid today. Among the targets of the current curriculum are attempts to develop awareness of European identity and citizenry; rejection of one-dimensional cultural models and the necessity of combating the phenomena of xenophobia and racism (Pedagogical Institute, 2001a: p. 2) . The current curriculum stresses that “equality in education must be guaranteed for all students, especially those who belong to ‘minorities’” (Pedagogical Institute, 2001a: p. 3) . It also stresses the necessity of accepting cultural diversity, as well as the need for living together harmoniously in an environment of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity (Pedagogical Institute, 2001a: p. 4) . The need for peaceful coexistence between different people and respect for their cultures and traditions has been incorporated into the history curriculum (Pedagogical Institute, 2001b: p. 1-2) .

The authors of the textbooks that are now in use, which were written to implement the guidelines of the current curriculum, tried to introduce some multicultural elements. Thus, in these textbooks, there are pictures of children and adults of non-Greek nationalities/ethnicities and fairytales from other cultures. These changes were not met without reaction; the strongest prompting the withdrawal of the sixth-grade History book because of nationalist opposition (Zachos & Michailidou, 2014) .

4. Methodology

Our study had as its aim the investigation of a specific aspect of the way in which the Greek education system deals with members of Roma groups: Their “image” in the curriculum and in the textbooks. The basic question of our research concerned the frequency of appearance and the manner of presentation of Roma in school textbooks for students and teachers in Elementary School at all levels. Before beginning the study, we hypothesized that the presence of nationally, ethnically, and culturally different people and groups in Greek textbooks would be “visible to the naked eye”. We expected our hypothesis to be confirmed and especially in the case of Roma groups who occupy the unique position of having an historical presence in areas that today belong to the Greek state exceeding a thousand years (Zachos, 2007) .

Content analysis as a research method served the purpose of our study best. “Content analysis is any technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying specified characteristics of messages” (Holsti, 1969: p. 14) . The simplest form of content analysis is the counting of words (Krippendorf, 1980) , sentences, idioms, paragraphs, articles, or corresponding texts. Through analyzing patterns of these elements (words, phrases, etc), we can reveal underlying meanings and ideas (Bowen & Bowen, 2008) . We chose content analysis, because it includes both qualitative and quantitative elements: It counts words, but it also looks for their meaning.

Our research was conducted in April 2017. We examined one hundred and seventy-four (174) textbooks currently used in primary education (Table 1). The digital versions of books gave us the ability to analyze all the textbooks instead of relying on a “sample”. Textbooks were susceptible to examinations using keyword searches (Roma, Tsigganes, Gypsies).

Each word, sentence, phrase, paragraph, text or image related to Roma was a recording unit. The categories for analysis were:

4) Manner of description: How are the Roma portrayed and how their relations with members of the other ethnic groups in Greece described.

To ensure the reliability of our research (Intercoder Reliability), two coders were used whose investigation brought about results identical to our own.

5. Research Results

Table 1. Books we used.

More analytically: We found one hundred nine words that refer to the Roma. Those words that the authors of the school books use are Tsigganos Tsiggana, Tsigganiko (ninety-nine times) and Gypsy (ten times). The term Roma, a word used in the last forty years to describe this portion of the population, is totally absent from the school books.

In the first category, we included seven texts: 1) “Stories with Friends” Language Teaching, 5 g, SB, Vol. A, 77-78. 2) “The Little Heart” Literature Anthology, 5 & 6 g, SB, p. 136-138. 3) “Our Friends” Gypsies, Literature Anthology, 5 & 6 g, SB, p. 256-258. 4) “School for All”, Social and Political Education, 6 g, SB, p. 21-22. 5) “School for All”, Social and Political Education, 6 g, TB, p. 27-29. 6) “The Team”, Theatre in Education, 5 g, TB, p. 72-73. 7) Project in Intercultural Education, Theatre in Education, 5 g, TB, p. 200-201.

1) Three of those concerns the famous poem “O Dodekalogos toy Gyftou” (The Twelve Speeches of a Gypsy) written by Kostis Palamas Literature Anthology, 5 & 6 g, SB, p. 19 & 218 and Language Teaching, 5 g, TB, p. 43.

Manner of description: How are the Roma portrayed and how their relations with members of the other ethnic groups in Greece described.

Roma groups are a portion of Greek population that have financial and social problems. Thus, their children have special educational needs (Social and Political Education, 6 g, SB, p. 21). Some Roma individuals and groups are forced by work commitments to move to another city. As a result, their children face problems of attendance during the school year (Social and Political Education, 6 g, SB, p. 21-22) and they must separate from their friends (Language Teaching, 5 g [Vol. I], SB, p. 77-78).

But this is not the predominant depiction of the Roma in Greek school textbooks. The authors of textbooks do not deal with these problems. On the contrary, the authors of Greek primary school textbooks neglect not only Roma harsh living conditions, but also Greek-Roma history, activities and their overall contribution to the social and economic life of the country. It is characteristic that there is not a single reference to the Roma in the school history textbooks.

At this point, we would like to highlight two issues concerning the way most writers of Greek primary school textbooks seem to treat Roma. First, it seems that for most of them (the writers) Roma are persons with an identity that overshadowing their individual status. Characteristically, in “Stories with friends” (Language Teaching, 5 g, SB, Vol. 1, p. 77-78) even though the texts deal with the story of the friendship of two children, the readers of the textbooks are informed of only one of their names, that of “our own” child (the Greek, Dimitris) while the girl is described only as the Gypsy girl.

Second, in most textbooks, the name Gypsy & Tsigganos/a is not written with capital initial letter. It should be noted that in the Greek language the first letter of names indicating ethnic origin must to be written in capital letter. Most books’ writers have even been misinterpreted the way the poet K. Palamas wrote the title of his poem “O Dodekalogos toy Giftou” (The Ten speeches of a Gypsy man), writing gifto, with small initial letter of the word, while the poet himself had written it in capital letters in the original edition.

6. Discussion

The weak presence of individuals and groups known as Roma in the school textbooks leads us to conclude that the Greek nation continues to be the sole center of interest in the Greek education system (Therianos, Katsikas, & Fatourou, 2008) . It seems that in the case of Greek Roma groups, the declarations of accepting “otherness” and respecting cultural and linguistic diversity do not correspond to the reality of everyday life in schools (Zachos, 2014) . The current legislation (Law 2413/1996, art. 34) makes possible intercultural schools (schools where students of different educational, societal, and cultural backgrounds attend), but also intercultural classes or sections in public schools which would adapt the curriculum to the educational and cultural needs of their students. Despite this legislation, the curriculum has still not been enriched with additional or alternative lessons designed to accomplishing its aim (Mitakidou, Tressou, & Daniillidou, 2009) . Additionally, the educational material still has no relevance to the life of the Roma (Wilding, 2008) , while the rigid school regulations constitute additional obstacles (Tsioumis, 2003) to the educational aspirations of children of Roma origin.

Hence, the linguistic, cultural, and educational characteristics of students of Roma origins fail to be explored, studied, or constructively utilized by a primary school curriculum that remains mono-cultural and ethnocentrically oriented (Papapetrou & Vlachadi, 2006) .

As our research has shown, in spite of improvements, the school textbooks which were produced according to the curriculum’s specifications and subjected to strict examination by scientific committees continue to perpetuate the dominant stereotypes of Roma. Stereotypes still exist as a coherent rather than contradictory body of thought and have played an important role in shaping the debate over the need for the education of the Roma (Carter, 2002) . These stereotypes are major obstacles to the educational and social inclusion of students of Roma origins, since they maintain the negative mood towards them. So, according to the stereotype of “nomadism”, which persists, albeit in weakened form, Roma are wanderers by choice. Hence, as it is supposedly not in Roma’s nature to reside permanently in the same location, they do not require government housing measures which would address one of their community’s basic needs. The romantic and exotic image of Roma is maintained and reinforced, enhancing the “stereotype that the Roma do not wish to be like or near civilized people”. As a result, Roma are viewed as an insubordinate “race”, the members of which, free from commitments and conventions, fail to adjust to institutions and activities that require a minimal amount of discipline and focus. Even educated Greeks, like other Europeans, tend to believe that Romani children are less educable than their own children (Chronaki, 2005) , while the opinion of a single individual of Roma origins that “knowledge means trouble” (Vasiliadou & Pavli-Korre 1996) has been reproduced in many academic papers as a characteristic feature of the relationship of Roma to education.

In order to combat these stereotypes, prejudices, and racism, we believe that it is imperative that a pluralistic, multicultural curriculum be introduced which will give schools the possibility of moving beyond the formal yearly celebrations of diversity―a curriculum which is connected to everyday life and responds to the current needs of students (No name author, 1956: p. 55) . A curriculum which promotes pluralism in its choice of sources so that students obtain a global rather than ethnocentric perspective of culture (Banks, 1975) . Children learn better when they build on a familiar cultural basis which allows them to add new knowledge and experiences to already existing obtained structures (Bergeron, 2008) . On this note, we must stress that such a curriculum must be relevant to the whole student body of a country and not only “different” students (e.g. Roma) children. This curriculum must highlight the role that these groups played not only in their local communities but also in the wider national community.

7. Conclusion

Our research showed that Greek Roma groups remain nearly invisible in current school textbooks. The texts referred to or presented are few and reflect negative stereotypes and prejudices. Roma image school textbooks are promoting the one which corresponds to the folkloric stereotypes of these individuals and groups (exotic men and women that are moving from place to place and always dance and sing).

Our research findings are important because they show that the promotion of peaceful coexistence of different national/ethnic/cultural groups―a stated goal of Greek educational policy―remains incomplete. When the history and the contribution of a portion of the population to the economic, social, and cultural life of a country are ignored, it sends a message to the members of that group and to other “different” groups, groups that have some different cultural elements from the majority of the population, that exactly those elements that distinguish them are problematic and should be erased.

In our opinion, the Greek state must intervene and take initiative in combating stereotypes, prejudices, and racism, and education can play an important role in this struggle since schools and educators can influence not only their students but also local communities. They must however be equipped with suitable tools. To deal with issues arising from societal differences, a curriculum must be developed that confronts head-on issues of societal inequality and injustice; it must show the problems, activities, and accomplishments of all portions of the population, independent of class, ethnic/national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and special needs or abilities.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

Zachos, D. (2017) Roma, Curriculum, and Textbooks: The Case of Greece. Creative Education, 8, 1656-1672. doi: 10.4236/ce.2017.810112.

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