The limited literacy skills of the Roma minority is a dire, enduring and pervasive issue that has a broad societal impact on this ethnic group. In the absence of the ability to read and to understand the meaning of written passages, many Roma children are deprived from the most basic educational opportunities that school has to offer and consequently, they lack the opportunity to access the means, goods and services that are essential for a dignified life. This is why research programs aimed to improve early literacy skills of Roma children are warranted to bridge the socio-economic divide between Roma and non-Roma.

The project Early literacy development of Roma children from Romania: Bridging the socio-economic divide (ELIRA 2.0) is a collaborative research project between Babeș-Bolyai University and University of Oslo (code EEA-RO-NO-2018-0026, contract 10/2019). The project lasts 48 months, beginning with June 2019, and ending with May 2023. ELIRA 2.0 is funded through EEA Grants 2014-2021. The total amount of the funding for ELIRA 2.0 is 7.029.821,79 RON. The Programme Operator of is The Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI).

ELIRA 2.0 is a natural continuation of the research project entitled Early Literacy Development of Roma Children in Romania: Predictors, literacy levels and enhancement strategies (ELIRA), funded through the same mechanism (EEA Grants), which was implemented between July 2014 until April 2017. The current project proposal aims to implement two studies that will address the following issues: First, we propose a field experimental study (a randomized control trial) that will measure the effects of an educational intervention program aimed to develop the language and literacy skills of Roma children and their peers. This experiment will target communities that include Roma children. The experiment will use randomization to distribute children into intervention and control groups and then compare the effects of the intervention program between the two groups. The results from this intervention study aim to support Romanian government taking appropriate measures to reform the early education programs of disadvantaged children (particularly Roma) and Norwegian government to address the situation of Roma in Norway. Second, the project will aim at continuing to follow longitudinally the Roma children assessed in ELIRA project in order to deepen the understanding of the key cognitive and socio-economic factors that contribute to successful and less successful school experiences of Roma children. The study will investigate how, which and to what extent variables measured at the beginning of 1st grade (Fall 2014) will predict the literacy and school engagement levels throughout middle school, up to 8th grade (Spring, 2022), thus becoming the first long-term longitudinal study reported on Roma population. The analysis will create statistical models that will help identify the characteristics of Roma children with successful school experience as well as those at risk of school drop-out. The quantitative analysis will also be accompanied by a qualitative study focused on socio-economic circumstances that lead to differentiated educational experiences of Roma children.

Undertaking these studies will help Romanian, Norwegian and international authorities to develop similar educational programs supported by research-based evidence that would break the poverty cycle of Roma children. Furthermore, the project will advance our knowledge about the reported poor literacy skills of Roma children. This multi-disciplinary research project will also strengthen and expand the existing collaboration between Romanian and Norwegian research institutions, by creating a consolidated network of expertise in the field of literacy development of Roma children.