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September 21, 2020



Commentary: How to end "school apartheid" in Slovakia?

3.5.2015 1:43
Filming the documentary series
Filming the documentary series "The Birdies" ("Ptáčata"). (PHOTO: Kamila Zlatušková)

Vlado Rafael, an expert on education who is the director of the Eduroma project, says in an interview with news server Aktuálně.sk that the courts have already ruled against a school for segregating Romani children in Slovakia. The verdict was a breakthrough - three years ago the court prohibited the school in the town of Šarišské Michaľany from segregating Romani children away from others.    

Several experts had compared the school to the apartheid system in the Republic of South Africa because it had separate staircases for Romani and "white" children, separate classes, a "black" courtyard and a "white" one, a special cafeteria for the Romani children, etc. After the verdict was handed down, the director claimed those arrangements were not about segregation and that everyone involved was trying to make sure the children were doing the best they could.  

"I think that in our country the schools have resigned themselves when it comes to their higher function - they shouldn't just be educating people, they should also be integrating them and nurturing them to develop new interpersonal relationships," Rafael says. "The schools frequently are unaware that segregation from the first grade onward introduces segregation into the entire locality. It creates anonymity. It's easier to commit petty crime, for example, on the basis of anonymity. That's why we're against segregation. That's why we want schools to nurture a new generation of children in integrated classrooms who will know each other's names. Anonymity will die out."  

At the end of the interview, Rafael admits that while that particular school has managed to overcome segregation, there is a new risk threatening the Slovak schools in general. Separate classrooms within schools are no longer the issue - now the issue is entirely separate schools.

Schools only for "whites"

The same risks apply to the Czech Republic as well. News server Aktuálně.cz has reported on the situation in one school  that was named by Amnesty International in its recent critical report about discrimination in the Czech schools.

The effort to integrate Romani and "white" children there has run into the negative position on integration taken by some "white" parents. "This year, after enrollment, 89 first-graders in our catchment area left our school. I daresay 90 % of them were non-Romani. The parents just looked around and told themselves there were too many Roma here," explains school director Jana Foltýnová.  

Her school first gained attention roughly six years ago. At that time the "white" parents sent around a petition that read:  "We ask that you create two first grade classes such that the Romani children will be on their own and the non-Romani children will be on their own. We warn you that if there are more than three Romani children in our children's first grade class (the kind of integration you described to us on the phone) we will move our children to the Zemědělská Primary School. We know that school is gloomy and gray, we know it won't offer the children the kind of service you do, but it does have one advantage. It is well-known that the director there does not enroll Roma out of principle! We are in an area of the country where we must live with [the Roma], and that's why we don't want our children to go to school with them starting in first grade."  

The weekly RESPEKT reported on the situation at that school in detail in November 2009. The director did not succumb to the pressure, those parents enrolled their children elsewhere, and that is how a purely Romani first grade class was created.

A Czech television documentary serial ("The Birdies" - Ptáčata) was then created about these children, who became segregated because of pressure from the majority society. It seems that even six years later the situation has not changed at all - a large number of "white" parents still object to integration here. 

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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