Amnesty International calls on Czech Republic to guarantee full education for all
As parents plan to register their children into the first grade of elementary schools across the Czech Republic, Amnesty International has delivered the results of its research on access to education here to the relevant ministries, along with a challenge to change the approach of the Czech educational system as a whole. AI is recommending freezing the registration of students into ‘practical’ elementary schools for the 2010/2011 school year. These schools are disproportionately attended by Romani children, often completely unjustifiably, as the schools are intended only for pupils with mild mental disabilities.
The most recent research on the issue commissioned by the Czech Education Ministry last year confirms a clear disproportion between the number of Romani and non-Romani pupils attending ‘practical’ schools. While as many as one-third of Romani children attend this category of schools, only 2 % of children from the majority society attend such schooling. The distribution of mild mental disability in an average population is approximately 4 %.
Amnesty International is not the only organization to draw attention to the systematic segregating practices of Czech schools with respect to Romani children. In addition to international institutions such as the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Roma Education Fund (REF), 13 Czech NGOs have added their voices to the issue and created the Together to School (Společně do školy) coalition, aimed at desegregating the Czech school system. The European Court for Human Rights verdict of three years ago, which recognized a complaint of discrimination in education filed by 18 Roma against the Czech state, was key to this call being raised on the domestic scene.
Since that decision, the Czech authorities have made an effort to adopt appropriate measures for gradually achieving the desegregation of Romani pupils. However, according to Amnesty International, which focused its research on changes in the approach to education, the measures have not gone far enough. “Abolishing these differences in education is still not a key element of education policy in the Czech Republic. In November, new measures aimed at including Romani children as part of instruction in mainstream schools were presented. However, the measures will not bring about rapid change without a better anchoring in the law. There is a need for measures that will have greater force and deeper impact,” said AI Director for Europe and Central Asia Nicola Duckworth.
According to Fotis Filippou, an AI researcher, the problem is double-edged: “Mainstream elementary schools are very often either not prepared or not willing to meet the needs of children from various cultural and social backgrounds, and they decide their school is not the appropriate educational institution for those who are different. On the other hand, there are the pedagogical-psychological counseling centers and their evaluation systems, the results of which are used to relocate children into the ‘practical’ schools. Prejudices also play a role here, as does the tendency to discriminate against these pupils. It is evident that discrimination and prejudice outweigh the interests of these children.”
Based on its research, AI has delivered a list of recommendations it considers key to Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb and Czech Deputy Education Minister Klára Laurenčíková. One is the recommendation mentioned above that no first-graders be registered into the ‘practical’ elementary schools for the 2010/2011 school year. At the same time, the organization says a comprehensive revision of the school system should be undertaken which would evaluate whether there is even a need for the ‘practical’ schools to exist. The report calls on the directors of ‘practical’ schools not to support the unnecessary registration of Romani children into their schools and instead to opt for collaborating with mainstream schools in their area.
AI also recommends support be provided for all children who need it during their inclusion into instruction and the development of their potential in mainstream elementary schools. The organization is appealing to mainstream school directors to take an interest in registering Romani pupils and supporting staff members who can influence the success rate of Romani children in mainstream schools. One such option which is still not being made sufficient use of, for example, is that of hiring teaching assistants. Last but not least, AI is emphasizing the necessity of anchoring a ban on segregation directly into Czech legislation.
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