Global Racial Inequality Keeps Children Away From School

Around the world, children from ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities are being left behind in the quest for universal education, according to Lauren Feeney, multimedia producer for PBS’s documentary television series, Wide Angle.   Feeney explains that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets for international development agreed to at the turn of the millennium, call for universal primary education by 2015.  While some progress has been made towards that goal in the last decade — today, nearly 90 percent of children are enrolled in primary school, compared to 85 percent in 2000.

Even as that is a victory to celebrate, there remain 75 million children are still out of school; and of those, the majority are children from racial and ethnic minority groups.  Although the U.N. doesn’t track progress based on racial or ethnic criteria, but a new report from Minority Rights Group International estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of out of school children are from minority and indigenous populations.

This kind of racial inequality exists around the globe, in Latin America, in Australia, in Africa, in India and in Europe.  As Joe wrote here recently, the treatment of Roma in Europe is one that is steeped in racism that few are willing to face.  Indeed, speaking out about their treatment prompted crowds to boo pop-icon Madonna for speaking out in support of them.  When it comes to the treatment of the Roma, and how Roma children are doing meeting the Millennium Development Goals, it’s difficult to tell.   Fenney writes that most reports on the Millennium Development Goals don’t bother to track progress in highly developed countries such as those in the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007. But Snjezana Bokulic, the Minority Rights Group International program officer for Europe, says that conditions for the Roma minority are “comparable to sub-Saharan Africa,” so, while European countries are likely to surpass most of the goals, “a segment of the population will be left out.” As for the goal of universal primary education, only 31 percent of Roma in Romania complete primary school, and Roma comprise between 2 and 10 percent of the population (depending on who’s counting), so the goal is unlikely to be met. “It’s an issue of mathematics,” says Bokulic.

Extrapolating from the non-data-collection on Roma in Europe, I assume that these reports are not being collected on indigenous and racial/ethnic minority groups here in the U.S. either.  That would be a worthy research project for someone to do is find out what percentage of indigenous and migrant workers children are enrolled in school.

In a rather striking example of what happens when you fail to take into account intersections of race, class and gender, the Millennium Development Goals include a specific provision calling for an end to gender disparity at all levels of education, but there is no similar targeting of disparity based on racial or ethnic difference. One observer from the Minority Rights Group calls this a “glaring omission.”  Maurice Bryan, who contributed the chapter on Latin America to the Minority Rights Group International report, says that no one realized it at the time, and goes on to say this:

“People didn’t used to think that you should pay special attention to women but once they realized that it was necessary, there has been progress on the gender gap. Now the racial gap is the new kid on the block.”

I found that a remarkable quote.  While it’s pointless to try and say which is “more” or “less” necessary – it’s both and – I was just found it interesting that at least according to Millennium Goals the idea of addressing of gender is more established than the idea of addressing racism and inequality.  If it’s still the case that 50-70 percent of the world’s children who are not in school are from ethnic or indigenous populations, then it seems long overdue to start addressing this form of inequality.

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