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Commentary: Roma children will be kept separate in the schools

Prague, 5.6.2011 14:56, (ROMEA)
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Are we to develop an education system in this country that is inclusive, or selective? In other words, are Roma children to be educated separately, or in the same classes and schools as non-Roma children?

This question now faces and has faced many of the world's societies. Many people, myself included, believe the old regime was a rather detestable dictatorship. The fact that some years ago its representatives publicly criticized segregation in education and in life generally should not lead us to conclude they were wrong to resist apartheid, or even that they were lying. Simply put, in this (and in some other matters) they were right.

Problem #1 in the Republic of South Africa 25 years ago was apartheid – in the schools as well. The entire world, from the President of the United States to the Queen of England to the UN , wished the South Africans luck. They overcame apartheid.

I too as a student at the start of the 1960s admired the Baptist preacher Martin Luther King. Through his efforts to have black and white children educated together, he helped me get rid of my left-wing distaste, if not loathing, for the United States. Luckily, US troops protected the buses transporting the children of white opponents of segregation, who traveled daily to schools in the black ghettos to integrate the classes. Otherwise they would have been shot at by racists. Contact is the basis of human culture, and this succeeded thanks to the joint effort of the federal powers of the USA and civil society.

Segregation persists in the Czech Republic. As many as 50 experts have now left the Working Groups at the Education Ministry meant to design the education of children, both Romani children and those disadvantaged in other ways (such as because of a health condition), according to the March 2009 National Action Plan for Inclusive Education. The resigning experts include nonprofits such as Amnesty International and People in Need, experts from universities and from the Czech Government Agency for Inclusion in Roma Localities, and experts from the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs.

Why have they resigned? They are convinced that inclusive education is just an empty slogan under the existing leadership of the Education Ministry. They have written a letter stating that the Czech Republic is garnering international criticism because of its segregation of children - not just Roma children, but also children with disabilities - into "special schools" (today called practical schools).

There is also the November 2007 judgment of the Council of Europe's European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found indirect discrimination of Roma children in education after analyzing the case of a special school in Ostrava. Nevertheless, the Government is not taking care of this and the ministry is not implementing the tasks it inherited from the previous administration.

Jiří Pilař, chair of the Association of Special Needs Pedagogues (Asociace speciálních pedagogů), is a member of the TOP 09 party and its education commission, and it is he who is leading the ministry not to take those steps. His association includes special needs pedagogues who do not want to be retrained. After the reforms, there will not be many members of this profession, but today they comprise a powerful lobby claiming that Roma children are best off in their hands, in the undemanding practical schools, where the special needs pedagogues will protect them from white children attacking them and from the incompetence of ordinary teachers. Pilař has also written that Roma people do not care about education - and after all, non-Roma parents don't want their children to attend classes with Roma children, do they?

Gwendolyn Albert, Petr Uhl, Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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