Czech School Inspectorate: Objections to counting Romani pupils in the schools are absurd pretexts
Yet another "head count of Romani children" has just been completed in the Czech Republic's primary schools. The tally was conducted at all primary schools and was designed to produce information about how many Romani children are attending "special" schools, whether the practice of segregated classes (or entire schools) is operating at "normal" schools and of so, to what degree.
This is data that will document the degree of discrimination experienced by Romani children in the Czech schools, a phenomenon for which experts the EU, NGOs and the UN have long criticized the country. However, the Association of Special Educators (Asociace speciálních pedagogů - ASP) and some principals are protesting the census, just as they protested a different effort two years ago.
"It's clear to everyone why they have a problem with it, what more is there to say?" said Deputy Central School Inspector Ondřej Andrys when asked by news server Romea.cz why some educators oppose the idea. "The methodology of the census is clear, its purpose is also clear, it harms no one... These protests are pretexts."
A dispute has long been underway over the future of the "practical" (previously called the "special" - zvláštní- schools). Specifically, the dispute has been about the form of inclusive education and whether children are to be educated together if possible.
On the one hand, some criticize the Czech schools over how many children are being unjustifiably excluded from mainstream education, as is indicated by the fact that the population of the "special" schools is approximately one-third Romani. Special educators, led by the ASP chair Jiří Pilař, are defending the tradition of the country's special schools and claim it is the best option for children who are handicapped in various ways.
Those educators are being joined by some principals and other teachers who are concerned that the schools are not prepared to educate most pupils together because they lack assistants, funds, and specialists. Some parents are also entering the game, refusing to allow the tempo of their children's education to be hampered by "slower" pupils.
Among the arguments against counting Romani children, it is constantly reiterated that the "definition" of Romani offered by the Czech School Inspectorate is inadequate - according to that definition, people are considered Romani who consider themselves Romani or who are perceived as Romani by most of those around them. Those opposed to this definition say it does not deal sufficiently with the conundrum of children from "mixed" marriages.
Some also argue that the process of counting Romani children is itself discriminatory and violates the obligation to protect personal data. "That's not what statistics are and everyone knows it, no personal data can be connected to these numbers, this is merely the number of Romani children in the classes, not the identification of specific children," says Andrys.
"The Human Rights Minister does not have a problem with this, most Romani people do not have a problem with it, and the office of the ombud doesn't have a problem with it. This cannot harm anyone, it can produce useful information. It's the Association of Special Educators that has a problem with it," the Deputy Central School Inspector says.
Next year the "inclusion" amendment to the Schools Act will take effect and will open up room for the common education of children. It is not yet clear what that transformation of the primary schools will look like.
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