30 000 excluded children in Czech Republic at risk of segregated education
As many as 30 000 children live in excluded localities in the Czech Republic, as a result of which they are more likely to be educated at "special schools" or institutionalized. New Education Ministry decrees could improve the situation, but the ministry is not actively advocating measures to support disadvantaged children, according to the participants in a conference today in Prague on including Roma children in mainstream education. The conference is part of the World Roma Festival Khamoro.
"There are 80 000 people living in excluded localities and an estimated 30 000 of them are children," said Martin Šimáček, head of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities. Of that number, about half are elementary school pupils and 10 000 are of pre-school age. Approximately half of all institutionalized children come from the ghettos. Many children from deprived social environments also end up in the practical schools (previously called "special schools"), specifically, 27 % of all young Roma.
Experts criticize the fact that Roma children are often enrolled in these schools unjustifiably, as the schools are intended only for pupils with light mental disability. "Children without light mental disability will not be enrolled at any of the practical schools," promised Renata Ježková, the bureaucrat in charge of the issue at the Czech Education Ministry, at today's conference.
According to new decrees, parents will have to sign an informed consent form before their child is enrolled in a practical school. The form will be available in the Romanes language and in picture-book form. Roma parents often try to enroll their children into these schools so they will be "among their own" and not face the risk of bullying or rejection. However, these parents do not realize this choice will make it all but impossible for their children to go on to higher education.
Roma activists also criticize the low number of teaching assistants available to help troubled children during instruction and with preparation for school. Ježková says there are currently around 500 assistants in the system and that their support is needed not only by children from the ghettos, but by pupils with learning disorders or disabilities. The Czech Education Ministry annually allocates CZK 75 million for the assistants and the total inclusion budget is CZK 110 million. Ježková says there is no plan to increase such funding next year.
A 2009 World Bank report found that high unemployment and low wages among Roma people deprive the Czech state coffers of up to CZK 16 billion annually. In 2007 the European Court for Human Rights ruled that the Czech Republic had violated the right to education of 18 Roma plaintiffs by unjustifiably permitting their enrollment into the "special schools".
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