In Bulgaria we no longer talk about a demographic crisis. We talk about a demographic catastrophe.
We are facing a steep decline of the working age population – more serious than in any other country in the world (World Bank, 2013). According to a UN estimate, in 30 years our workforce will have decreased by about 40%.
At the same time 25% of all new labour market entrants in Bulgaria today are ethnically Roma, and this percentage is projected to rise in the coming years. They are our future physicians and nurses, engineers, teachers, builders, microbiologists. They are the future employees and managers at your company. Their professional and social skills will have a critical influence on the results of the Bulgarian economy and business in the coming years.
Moreover, nearly half of Roma children aged 3 to 5 remain excluded from the kindergarten system. By the time these children reach second grade, their educational achievement lag is already too large to overcome. One out of three Roma children does not even complete primary school (UNDP, 2006). Overall, 90% of Roma students drop out of school, and even those who manage to graduate are often barely literate with very little opportunity for career development.
These are tens of thousands of young people who are entering the labour market completely unprepared – not only without the necessary education, but also without the basic life and social skills they need to meet their employers’ requirements.
This is the new reality and we have to accept it.
We want a developed economy, but we have no workforce.
We want quality education, but a huge number of children enter and even graduate school without basic skills.
We want safety and public order, but a high number of people in poverty poses a threat to public order.
The question no longer is “Will we have to rely on the human capital of the Roma community?” The question is how much will we lose economically from the Roma exclusion and low qualification.
If we want to have educated specialists and sustainable economic and business development, we must immediately begin to provide adequate early childhood development to the “excluded” pre-schoolers (3-5 years of age), because their potential will form a rapidly increasing proportion of the country’s human capital.
“If a tree needs 100 years to grow, you should not waste even a day to plant it.”
(a Chinese proverb)
Some people say: “The Roma have an equal chance in this country to study and work, but they do not want – they prefer not to send their children to school and live on social welfare.” People who live in extreme poverty and exclusion most often lack the will and ability to change their lives.
This is what we call a “poverty trap”.
From birth, Roma children face the limitations of their social environment, an unhealthy diet, lack of rules and daily routines, lack of educational support, and poor health. The patriarchal norms in the community uphold the tradition of early marriage and teen pregnancy among girls, who often have limited access to health care, reproductive health awareness or parental capacity. Ultimately, due to poor schooling, life skills and self-esteem 4 out of 5 Roma fail to find a job and continue to live below the poverty line (UNICEF, 2007).
Education can change the future of vulnerable communities such as the Roma. However, all measures so far have been directed towards the institution, i.e. schools and kindergartens. The real problems lie elsewhere: in the social norms of the community, the insufficient competence of Roma parents, the lack of opportunity, low self-esteem, and distrust that greater efforts could ensure a much better future.
Today more than ever Bulgaria needs the implementation of a new model which can change the course of development of communities like the Roma’s, as well as create the necessary conditions for development in our economy and society.
Hesed offers such a development model.