Prejudice hinders progression for Travellers
In 2009, An Bord Snip Nua recommended the phasing out of the 33 Traveller Training Centres nationally.
Apart from the cost-cutting issues, the rationale given for this decision was the low rate of 'progression' from the Centres to the workforce and mainstream further education.
The object of the TEACH Report (Traveller Education and Adults: Crisis, Challenge and Change published today) is to investigate why progession rates for Travellers are so low.
We found from the perspective of Travellers interviewed, the main obstacle to progression was prejudice within the settled community. Fear of losing welfare payments, particularly medical cards, was also a constraint on their willingness to take up full-time work.
However, we also found a number of cultural elements were clashing directly with the settled model of progression. These factors included nomadism, Traveller gender roles and extended family obligations.
Most importantly, we found while the age 15-19 period is critical for settled teenagers in laying the foundations for progression into work and further education, it is also the critical period for progression in Traveller culture. However, Traveller progression is based almost entirely on marriage, which signals entry into adulthood and is linked to status and income generation.
Traveller teens find it almost impossible to combine these two models of progression and tend to leave school and marry during this period. Therefore, despite high rates of Traveller enrolment at primary level, in 2007-2008, just 102 Travellers completed the Leaving Certificate out of a total Traveller population of 22,239.
Within Department of Education policy, there is a tendency to characterise Travellers as a disadvantaged group rather than a culturally different group. As a result, the Department appears blind to the costs of progression for Travellers.
In our research, we found over half these Travellers had hidden their identity from co-workers and fellow students for fear of 'becoming a target'. Some had gone to college, done work placements and gone on holidays with fellow students without ever telling them about their identity. In situations that their Traveller identity was exposed, the reactions of settled friends and co-workers were extremely negative.
Finally, we found a number of Travellers who had engaged in progression became quite isolated. They continued to experience anti-Traveller prejudice on a frequent basis, yet were viewed by their own families as having assimilated or 'become a country person'.
If the Department is serious about the goal of Traveller progression, policies have to be re-visited. Firstly, the cultural difference of Travellers needs to be taken more seriously so service providers recognise the costs of progression for Travellers. Secondly, the attitudes of the settled community have to change. It is not fair to ask Travellers to integrate into Irish society and then reject those who turn up in the workplace or sit beside you in a lecture.
Lastly, for the many adult Travellers who associate education with bullying, stigma and prejudice, there needs to be dedicated programmes and services within the VEC system which meet their needs and respect their distinct cultural values.