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Aspects of Charlin’s educational biography have been collected within a qualitative study considering challenges and conditions of successful educational pathways of Sinteza and Romnija (female Romani people) in Germany. But, to face discrimination in school and workplace is something also Charlin knows. Charlin is Sinteza, a woman, a mother, and belongs to the acknowledged national minority of Sinti and Romani in Germany. This article presents a qualitative, narrative-biographical interview conducted in 2018 that reveals her educational biography and builds the basis of a case analysis. In addition to that, the case of Charlin portrays a successful one referring to graduation and societal participation; it outlines various aspects to question: the importance of role models, the importance of discriminatory experiences and resilience, gender roles, and the appearance and invisibility of ethnic identity in different contexts.

Abstract

Aspects of Charlin’s educational biography have been collected within a qualitative study considering challenges and conditions of successful educational pathways of Sinteza and Romnija (female Romani people) in Germany. But, to face discrimination in school and workplace is something also Charlin knows. Charlin is Sinteza, a woman, a mother, and belongs to the acknowledged national minority of Sinti and Romani in Germany. This article presents a qualitative, narrative-biographical interview conducted in 2018 that reveals her educational biography and builds the basis of a case analysis. In addition to that, the case of Charlin portrays a successful one referring to graduation and societal participation; it outlines various aspects to question: the importance of role models, the importance of discriminatory experiences and resilience, gender roles, and the appearance and invisibility of ethnic identity in different contexts.

Introduction

Writing about educational biographies raises the question how to define education. Wilhelm von Humbodt’s concept of education seems to be appropriate to refer to. In his lifetime, when societal structures radically changed, he emphasized – besides acquisition of mathematical, linguistic, aesthetical, and historical knowledge – the importance of education as a process of personal growth. The competences of self-responsibility, power of judgment, or capacity for teamwork are essential for individual, community, and societal lives (BMBF, n.d.).

Today, we have to face new challenges, to mention just a few: climate change and increasing numbers of migrants (United Nations, 2017), increasing right-wing and conservative movements influencing societies and futures of national and supranational governance such as the European Union (Guibernau, 2010; Postelnicescu, 2016) or growing digitalization influencing and changing daily lives and human communication. The competence to adopt and create innovations is more important than ever. As a consequence, children should be supported to develop the mentioned competences to be able to shape their and our futures. This might be realized in formal (e.g., schools), non-formal (e.g., training programs), or informal (e.g. leisure time with friends) education settings (BMBF, n.d.).

This article is based on literature research and the narrative-biographical interview with Charlin analyzed with the method of qualitative case analyses including content analyses after social scientist Philipp Mayring (Mayring, 2002). Referring to this, the interviewee was requested to narrate her biography focusing her educational career by the impulse question: I am interested in educational biographies of Sinteza, please tell me more about your schooling career. This offered the chance that Charlin could emphasize turning points and important experiences herself referring to her educational biography. The material had been first analyzed as a case study (Mayring, 2002, pp. 41–44), which offered the opportunity to regard on biographical correlations analyzed on the layers of various areas of life referring also to complex historical backgrounds. Subsequently, given statements were structured in sense-units in a second analysis, which allowed a conceptional elaboration of categories and interpretative patterns that influenced Charlin’s educational biography and have been contextualized with literature and theoretical concepts (Mayring, 2002, p. 43). Charlin has been interviewed for an ongoing qualitative research study on educational biographies of Sinteza started in 2018.

Learning Through Enriching Experiences in Life

Charlin is a woman, a mother and Sinteza in her 30s, i.e., she belongs to the national recognized ethnic minority of Sinti and Roma (Romani people) in Germany. She finished secondary school, a hairstyling apprenticeship, and is currently living with her two children as a single mother. At present, she takes part in a qualification program for working as a Sinti advisor in schools aiming to support schooling of Sinti and Romani children.

Charlin’s educational biography reveals various layers of learning processes in formal and informal settings that shaped her personality and competences. Life itself seems to build the utmost wealth of experiences that made an impact on her learning and course of education. Severals aspects as various relocations, working experiences, the migratory background of her natural father, the relationship to her grandmother, and friendships could be worked out in this context.

In the early years of her childhood, she grew up in a large city with her younger brother and single mother in the same neighborhood as the family of her mother. Her natural father – whom she has infrequently seen during her childhood and is currently in good contact with him – was not of a Sinti family, but had a migratory background. An interethnical relationship had been unusual for that time. Marriages and partnerships are predominantly formed within Sinti communities, possibly due to occurring antiziganistic patterns over centuries, which are marked by exclusion, stigmatization, and persecution and therefore strengthen solidarity and community awareness even more within Sinti groups.

Retrospective Charlin remembers that the interculturality of her parents sometimes caused the feeling of belonging and not belonging. As a consequence, she developed the aspiration for being acknowledged and appreciated.

The time living in a patchwork family with a stepfather and two other siblings seemed to be a good one. Several relocations to other cities followed after her mother and stepfather had been split up.

This had been a challenge, but offered the chance to learn being flexible, get to know other people and being perceived and confronted with various thinking and behavior patterns in different sociocultural living contexts. Charlin also mentioned that, in regions where cultural and ethnic diversity commonly occurred, her ethnic descent had been less visible and important for interactions with others. This effect can be explained with sociologist Schutz concept of “thinking as usual,” which is created through daily life experiences and determines what is being received as usual (Schutz, 1972). For people living in sociocultural heterogen districts or regions, different backgrounds and conceptions of life seem to be usual. Intercultural competence, which refers to the ability of self-reflection as well as the recognition and acceptance of ambiguities (Foitzik, 2008), can be likely more developed within a range of various learning opportunities.

A stable and valuable fixpoint within changing living settings had been Charlin’s grandmother: “I knew I could always go to her. I have the image in mind of visiting her and lying down next to her under her blanket. That gave me comfort and the feeling of home.” Having her grandmother as a reference person, the author contributed that Charlin had been able to develop personal potentials. With a stable base in mind, her thirst of knowledge paved the way for openly trying out her creativity and several working fields.

Divergent and Contextual Experiences in School and Working Places

Referring to formal layers of Charlin’s learning processes, one could work out divergent aspects in the case analysis: contradictory school experiences referring to antiziganistic patterns as well as appreciative support of teachers and the ability of consciously deciding when and what for to learn.

In the city of her early childhood, Charlin went to a school where only Sinti children were taught. She remembers her primary and secondary school time as a positive one because teachers were eager to support her and recognized her potentials. Already this time, she seems to consciously decide when to use formal or informal learning setting during lessons: “I have been eager to learn and want to know more about what happened in the world. Therefore e.g. I wanted to understand the natural occurrence of thunderstorms and which factors causes such strong power. As a child I imagined being a scientist studying natural phenomenons. […] I was sitting in the first row in class and payed attention to the teachers lessons, if I wanted to learn. And if I wanted to have fun and talk to my friends I placed myself in the last row of school desks.” This statement reveals how early Charlin wanted to explore her environment and global correlated phenomenons. She had been able to question, to search for answers, to decide when to learn in order to satisfy her thirst of knowledge, or when to be a “rebel” rather enjoying her time with her friends during lessons. Latter offers not the opportunity to learn accumulated knowledge but rather being confronted with school rules and developing social competence.

Just a few months before graduating secondary school, Charlin’s mother split up with her stepfather and they moved to another large city in another federal state of Germany. This had an enormous impact on Charlin’s educational biography as she tells:

You have to know, I am a proud Sinteza. Where I grew up Sintis are proud of their descent. When I entered the classroom of my new school [after moving, added by the author], I have been directly asked ‘right or left’? I mean, the class had been divided: the conservatives sitting on the right side, the others on the left. […] ‘NEITHER of them!’, I answered. ‘I won’t subordinate to this scheme. I am Sinteza and proud of that.’ The teacher answered: ‘What do you have in mind? You won’t succeed anyway. Do you want to argue and be involved in a violent quarrel?’

The teacher didn’t support Charlin’s encouraged and upright positioning toward her new classmates. She rather told her to sit down and not to challenge a quarrel within the class. Simultaneously, she degraded Charlin by emphasizing that a young woman like her – having a migratory background and on top of that being a Sinteza – could never be able to graduate school successfully. The teacher openly used her dominant position and acted in a way that can be referred to institutional discrimination (Gomolla & Radkte, 2002). Never before did Charlin experience such an unappreciative situation in school. She had been accustomed to positive learning conditions in school and being supported by teachers. After this start in the new school setting, she rather learned at home, often skipped school and graduated not with as good marks as she had in her former school. This is an experience Charlin shares with other Roma men and women in Europe. According to a survey from 2018, “the number of Roma pupils who left education at the level of secondary school […] decreased – from 87% in 2011 to 68% in 2016.Experiences of direct discrimination in contact with schools, though, “has not changed since 2011 – totalling 14% in 2016” (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA], 2018, p. 11).
As a consequence of experience, Charlin became more cautious in which context she discloses the ethnic part of her identity and when to make herself visible as Sinteza. This strategy obviously had been a good one, which another example confirms:

I worked in different areas, e.g. gastronomy, tailor’s, beauty and body care. Sometimes I said that I am a Sinteza, sometimes not. Then I just said I have a migratory background due to my natural father, when I was asked about my outer appearance. Once, I worked at a petrol station and I had a gut instinct not to tell my coworkers that I am a Sinteza. One day they heard me talking in Romani language and I disclosed being a Sinteza after being asked. Then, on the day, when money was missing in the till, everyone blamed me straightaway.

The reported experience can be analyzed with the concept of antiziganism. Referring to End, antiziganistic patterns are passed on attitudes and practices based on prejudices against Romani people (End, Herold, & Robel, 2009). Those patterns function to stabilize social values and norms attributed to the dominant societal “we-group,” whereas simultaneously Romani people have been othered by blaming them to counteract those norms. Therefore, antiziganistic patterns mirror moral values of the dominant group using “the others” as a projection surface (Mecheril, 2004). Charlin became a victim of an othering process by antiziganistic patterns, because she had been accused of stealing. She objected this: “I quitted and started something new.

Resilient Lioness

Charlin’s biography reveals that she is a resilient person who knows how to overcome individual crisis: “I know how to start over with hardly anything – only a mattress and no cutlery.” She knows how to deal with challenges in her life. This competence might have been predominantly developed in informal settings. Due to the differing descent of her parents, she knows being inside and outside of a community at the same time. This background seems to be a challenging and enriching one. On one hand, she got to know positive sides of strong backing and solidarity within the community, which seemed to be restricting to her if this should have been connected with expectations. On the other hand, her descent influenced her for being open to experience herself in various places – apart from her family, where she got to know people with other cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, ties to her family remained and will remain strong.

As the oldest daughter, she early learned to take responsibility for her younger siblings and take on little tasks in housekeeping to help her single mother. Compared to her brother, expectations toward her differed, e.g., “when I achieved good grades in school, I rarely gained compliments. Either they expected me to achieve good grades or it wasn’t important to them. Compared to me, my brother always had been extolled.” Charlin has a strong relationship with her brother and is proud how he manages his life, but she wished to have gained similar acceptance for her efforts in school. Both examples depict different expectations due to gender roles in Charlin’s socialization.

In consideration of other already mentioned examples, Charlin faced different conditions in formal and informal educational settings. Those could be characterized – from an intersectional perspective – as multiple disadvantages due to ethnicity, class, and gender. Growing up as a Sinteza with a single mother meant being confronted with discrimination (e.g., school and work experience), meant not having much financial resources (single-parent family), and meant being expected to help in housekeeping (gender). Coincidentally, one could judge that the latter argument reveals an advantage for learning daily life tasks early.

Charlin’s greatest teacher had been the life itself. Because she reflects and scrutinizes her experiences she learned to take them as enriching ones. Charlin is charismatic, creative, and purposeful. Today, she is eager to live independently and to take further steps in formal education. She graduated school and successfully a vocational training. At present, she wants to absolve her Abitur, which allows her to study. This would open additional possibilities for societal participation and social advancement. With this intention, she acts as a role model not only for herself but also for her children, and beloving mother who would fight for societal positions of her family like a lioness.

Being Part or Apart?

The formal school system in Germany

Even though Charlin has developed competences through informal educational settings – such as social or intercultural competence or the ability to be flexible and creative – having a formal education by graduating school and a vocational training opens doors for her societal participation.

School graduation, certificates, and accumulated knowledge are still main door openers for participation in German society. In addition, the German school system had been under critique several times. It is said to be one of the most selective ones in the world (Munoz, 2006), which stabilizes power of the dominant societal groups and largely disadvantageous for children with migratory or minority background (Mecheril, 2004). For Sinti and Romani people in Germany, formal education and graduation are still severely connected with the Nazi regime during World War-II (Bruggemann, Hornberg, & Jonuz 2013; Hofmann & Ohidy, 2018). Recent studies reveal a rise of school graduation and successful formal educational biographies in Germany (Scherr & Sachs, 2017; Strauß, 2011) and throughout Europe (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA], 2018, p. 11). Nevertheless, Sinti and Romani children are still disadvantaged and outstandingly represented in special schools and less in grammar schools – compared to other sociocultural groups. Women seemed to be even more affected by disadvantages in formal education in Germany and the European Union (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA], 2011; Jonuz & Schuch, 2017). The latter study discloses family support and mentee–mentor relationships as meaningful supportive factors in formal educational biographies.

Charlin found support especially in her grandmother and two teachers. Without the interest of her teachers’ encouragement and assistance to unfold her potentials, she would not have had positive school experience. Besides that, Charlin states: “This shouldn’t sound pretentious, but I am intelligent. And without having had positive school experiences this potential would have been given away. I would have been degenerated.” The exemplary case of Charlin reveals a strong woman, mother, and Sinteza who goes her way and also takes new challenges on a formal educational level. Her eager to learn more and absolve her Abitur might even give her the function of being a role model within the community (Jonuz & Schuch, 2017).

Conclusions

Contextualizing Charlin’s educational biography brings the author to two final statements:

  1. 1.The responsibility to stand up and advocate for educational equity for Sinti and Romani people in Germany has to be taken. Besides first methods and material to carry out workshops consciously looking at antiziganistic patterns (Alte Feuerwache eV Kaubstraße, 2014), longstanding and successful mentoring programs like in Hamburg (Kressel, 2015), advisory guidelines exist, which depict steps that have to be taken to better formal educational and societal participation (EVZ, 2016; Rolly, 2012).
  2. 2.Going back to the arguments given in the first sentences of this article, we have to acknowledge the importance of non-formal and informal learning processes besides formal education. In times of changes, new societal and political challenges are occurring and longing for competences, such as self-responsibility, power of judgment, or creativity. Those competence become more important (BMBF, n.d.) and their development should be supported in school. In addition, we have to keep in mind that there are (Sinti and Romani) people like Charlin who developed a treasure of competence in informal (also self-learning) settings. These treasures have to be lifted and appreciated as they might be of importance by shaping future living and learning processes in increasing pluraistic societies.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Dr. Kozma Tamás and Prof. Dr. Katalin Forray for their support to this article, for their valuable encouraging support, and also thank the constructive and enriching comments of the peer reviewers. She would also like to thank Prof. Dr. Andrea Óhidy for her professional guidance and valuable support in the recent years and to all women who shared their stories with her.

About the Author

NH is currently working in a qualification program for Romani people to work as future education mentors in schools. She is writing her dissertation on Sintezza biographies and education. Since 2019, she and Andrea Óhidy edit the German section of the book series “Gypsy Studies – Cigány tanulmányok – Roma Studien.” Focusing cultural anthropology and pedagogy of migration, NH lectured at the Albert-Ludiwigs-Universität, the University of Education and at IES Abroad EU Center in Freiburg. In the years 2014–2018, she coordinated the mentoring program Mentor-Migration-SALAM for the university students and scholars of primary schools in Freiburg. This mentoring program introduces and reflects on topics such as globalization and migration, inter-cultural communication, diversity, and mechanisms of discrimination and provides assistance to mentee students through cooperative specialist consultancy. Mentor-Migration-SALAM received the State Teaching Award 2017 from the State of Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA]. (2018). A persisting concern: Anti-Gypsyism as a barrier to Roma inclusion. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/roma-

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foitzik, A. (2008). “Vergiss…, vergiss nie, …” Jugendhilfe im Einwanderungsland - ein Handbuch. Ergebnisse aus dem Projekt djela. Diakonische Jugendhilfe im Einwanderungsland [“Forget…, never forget, …” Youth care in a Country of immigration – A manual. Results from the Project djela. Diaconal youth care in a Country of Immigration]. Wurttemberg, Germany: Diakonisches Werk Wurttemberg.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Guibernau, M. (2010). Migration and the rise of the radical right. Social malaise and the failure of mainstream politics. Policy network . Retrieved from http://www.policy-network.net/publications_detail.aspx?ID=3690

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hofmann, N., & Ohidy, A. (2018). Mentoring-, counselling- and mediator models to improve the educational situation of Sinti and Roma in Germany. International Dialogues on Education: Past and Present IDE, 5(1). Retrieved from https://www.ide-journal.org/article/2018-volume-5-number-1-mentoring-counselling-and-mediator-models-to-improve-the-educational-situation-of-sinti-and-roma-in-germany/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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  • Kressel, T. (2015). Roma und Sinti Bildungsberater an Hamburger Schulen. Eine Bestandsaufnahme [Roma and Sinti educational advisors in schools in Hamburg. A stocktaking]. Hamburg, Germany: Landesinstitut fu¨r Lehrerbildung und Schulentwicklung [Federal Institution for Teacher Training and School Development].

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  • Mecheril, P. (2004). Einfuhrung in die Migrationspädagogik [Introduction to pedagogy of migration]. Weinheim, Germany/Basel, Switzerland: Beltz.

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Senior Editors

Founding Editor: Tamás Kozma (Debrecen University)

Editor-in-ChiefAnikó Fehérvári (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)

Assistant Editor: Eszter Bükki (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)

Associate editors: 
Karolina Eszter Kovács (Debrecen University)
Valéria Markos (Debrecen University)
Zsolt Kristóf (Debrecen University)

 

Editorial Board

  • Tamas Bereczkei (University of Pécs)
  • Mark Bray (University of Hong Kong)
  • John Brennan (London School of Economics)
  • Carmel Cefai (University of Malta)
  • Laszlo Csernoch (University of Debrecen)
  • Katalin R Forray (HERA Hungarian Educational Research Association)
  • Zsolt Demetrovics (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest)
  • Csaba Jancsak (University of Szeged)
  • Gabor Halasz (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest)
  • Stephen Heyneman (Vanderbilt University, Nashville)
  • Katalin Keri (University of Pecs)
  • Marek Kwiek (Poznan University)
  • Joanna Madalinska-Michalak (University of Warszawa)
  • John Morgan (Cardiff University)
  • Roberto Moscati (University of Milan-Bicocca)
  • Guy Neave (Twente University, Enschede)
  • Andrea Ohidy (University of Freiburg)
  • Bela Pukanszky (University of Szeged)
  • Gabriella Pusztai (University of Debrecen)
  • Peter Toth (HERA Hungarian Educational Research Association)
  • Juergen Schriewer (Humboldt University, Berlin)
  • Ulrich Teichler (University of Kassel)
  • Voldemar Tomusk (Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallin)
  • Horst Weishaupt (DIPF German Institute for International Educational Research, Frankfurt a.M)
  • Pavel Zgaga (University of Ljubljana)

 

Address of editorial office

Dr. Anikó Fehérvári
Institute of Education, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University
Address: 23-27. Kazinczy út 1075 Budapest, Hungary
E-mail: herj@ppk.elte.hu

2020  
CrossRef Documents 36
WoS Cites 10
Wos H-index 3
Days from submission to acceptance 127
Days from acceptance to publication 142
Acceptance Rate 53%

2019  
WoS
Cites
22
CrossRef
Documents
48

 

Hungarian Educational Research Journal
Publication Model Gold Open Access
Submission Fee none
Article Processing Charge none
Regional discounts on country of the funding agency  
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Hungarian Educational Research Journal
Language English
Size B5
Year of
Foundation
2011
Publication
Programme
2021 Volume 11
Volumes
per Year
1
Issues
per Year
4
Founder Magyar Nevelés- és Oktatáskutatók Egyesülete – Hungarian Educational Research Association
Founder's
Address
H-4010 Debrecen, Hungary Pf 17
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
Publisher's
Address
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Responsible
Publisher
Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 2064-2199 (Online)

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