Distinguished Guests and Friends,
It is my privilege to join you today at the closing event of the Ready Set Go! - Increasing Early Childhood Development Outcomes for Roma Children, a project financed by the Norway Grants.
This project has been successfully implemented by the Roma Education Fund Romania and its partners: Ruhama Foundation, Divers Association, the Centre for Education and Human Rights Association, and Justice and Brotherhood Association. I would like to congratulate the REF team and their colleagues for their achievements.
I am very pleased and proud that this project was carried out with the technical assistance of the World Bank. Thank you also to the WB wonderful and committed team.
And let me extend by gratitude to Norway for financing the WB involvement in this project. This is the only such WB-Norway TA that benefited from such financing, demonstrating its centrality and innovativeness.
Thanks you Mme. Ambassador and thank you for Norway’s involvement in the Roma and in the Education agenda.
I will get in a second to what the role of the WB has been but allow me to use the podium to highlight again and again the power of education and social inclusion.
Education is one of the most effective “equalizers” in society. Education can change individual destinies. Investing in early childhood development does increase the capacity of the young to better learn and respond to educational challenges in primary school but crucially, later, in their lives.
Children who have a better start in education, are less likely to drop out and they are more likely to continue their education to secondary education and beyond.
In the long run, more educated adults become better citizens, with better earning potential, and better ability to contribute to the progress of Romania in this case.
Let me also say a word about the role of REF and the centrality of the Roma Agenda.
We are aware that most Roma in the EU Member States live in deep poverty and face significantly worse opportunities than their non-Roma compatriots.
A recent World Bank report - The Diagnostics and Policy Advice for Supporting Roma Inclusion in Romania - examined the social and economic barriers Roma face throughout their entire lives.
We found that Roma exclusion is perpetuated over generations in a vicious circle. Inadequate education, lack of skills, and poor health hamper the Roma population’s access to earning opportunities. <Please consider that employee’s earnings increase an average of 10 percent for every year of education.>
This, in turn, results in insufficient resources to support the Roma children’s education and secure living conditions conducive to good health.
For example, 84 percent of Roma in Romania are at-risk-of-poverty, with about 90 percent of households facing severe material deprivation, in contrast to the national average of 32 percent.
At the same time the Roma population is young and growing in an otherwise ageing and shrinking Europe. Only 37% of Roma children between 3 and 6 years of age are enrolled in preschool compared to 63% of non-Roma students.
That is why a life-cycle approach to policy interventions is important to break the intergenerational cycle of Roma exclusion. And why investing in early childhood education yields high returns, particularly in the case of disadvantaged children.
Three things are needed for sustainable social inclusion: education, jobs, wellbeing
Education is a pillar of ending poverty and has the potential to change the society for the better in one generation. Access to assets, property rights and employment opportunities is a must to a sustainable future, particularly in the rural areas. And finally, well-being in the forms of accessible services like health, adequate housing, water and sanitation services, are needed.
This will break the cycles of exclusion and will increase the access to opportunities.
Let me move to the WB role in the Ready Set Go Project Sustainability
When we embarked on this project in mid-2015, our objective was to support the REF Romania to plan, manage, analyze data, monitor, and evaluate the Ready Set Go Project. We worked with REF throughout the Project’s life cycle and deployed hands-on support to implement and supervise the Ready Set Go Project. Our technical advice focused on monitoring outcomes of the project interventions and applying internationally recognized measuring instruments in terms of ECD outcomes.
REF today is better equipped to show that the Ready Set Go project had a considerable impact on kindergarten enrollment and attendance of participating children and has positively affected parental aspirations as regards their children’s education. It could show how children participating in the program had a higher increase in skills than their non-participating peers. Similarly, it could be demonstrated that reading with the child, as well as the number of reading materials and toys available at home are key components of the development of early skills.
The REF is one of the best placed institutions to advance the Roma education agenda. The WB is very pleased to see the success of REF and that they now have the chance to receive further financing from Norway Grants (REF applied for funding for six new projects under the European Social Investment Fund - Programming Period 2014-2020, including ECD components and addressing the needs of about 1,200 children.)
Let me conclude by bringing forward the words of a project beneficiary
She is not a scholar, in fact, she dropped out of school at the age of 14 because she could not afford to continue her education. She is a mother of four and she raises her children all by herself.
She is only 25, an age when others are just ending the first stages of their tertiary education. Still she realized the importance of early childhood development. Her name is Florina Măriunțelu and she says: “If we learn, we will be able to hold our heads up and look into the sun and smile. All the time.”
Her words are inspiring because they show Roma want the best for their children and families, just like we all do. But also in her words, she warns us that future efforts to emancipate the Roma must first address the needs at the bottom of the pyramid, to decrease and remove those factors that make it difficult for children to attend kindergarten and school in disadvantaged communities, and I quote Florina: “When I do not have food to give my child at school, I am ashamed. Others are eating, and my child is just looking. When this happens, it is tough, and I keep them at home. I cannot let my children go unfed at school. When we are at home I manage, I make some onions broth to fool the hunger, but I cannot send them to school with that in a jar.”
I hope that based on the results similar to those presented here, someday soon Florina’s words will be just a sad memory. Let me assure you that the World Bank will continue to support efforts to advance the Roma agenda and projects like Ready Set Go! I wish you a very fruitful conference!