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Commentary: Who is the real expert here?

7.4.2015 1:57
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Agency for Social Inclusion at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Agency for Social Inclusion at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.

In an article published 27 March by the Česká škola (Czech School) website, Jiří Pilař endeavors to interpret the recently-adopted amendment to the Schools Act. Actually he does not present any arguments in his piece, but simply practices division and spite, first creating and then shoring up an antagonism between "activists" and "experts", both "groups" of his own making.  

In response to current trends in education, Pilař himself has gradually changed from being a harsh opponent of inclusion during his public performances to a mild, prudent defender of it (although it is hard to say how serious he is). As he cautiously says, he is not for inclusion at any price.

Seven years ago, Pilař was still a department director at the Czech Education Ministry, and for the 13 years before he left that position, the segregated education of children with special educational needs intensified (both in the "practical primary" and the "special" schools), and during the curricular reforms, the education programs for the unreformed former "special schools" were legalized through the creation of an Appendix for educating children with "mild mental disability". A mere three years ago, decrees adopted by the ministry still permitted such a school to enroll as many 25 % of its pupils from the ranks of children without such a diagnosis for education according to that same Appendix.

For decades, Romani children have been diagnosed with "mild mental disability" in the Czech Republic as much as 10 times more frequently than children from other population groups. Today Pilař, naturally, is exploiting the fact that experienced specialists teach in these "practiacl primary" and "special" schools, and these people are losing the sense of certainty, given the unmoderated public discussion of these issues, that anyone actually cares about their painstaking work with the children whom they teach.

Pilař is posing as the defender of these specialists, an "expert" who will protect them from the pests attacking them from Britain, Brussels, Finland and Strasbourg, from the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and from Czech nonprofit organizations, all of whom he collectively, pejoratively terms "activists". He is also exploiting the fact that, in the Czech Republic, there is a general distaste for learning from good practices from elsewhere, and he laughs at the educational achievement results for children with special needs abroad (most often in Britain) and in the minority of Czech schools that have decided to apply modern methods of instruction and to support children with special educational needs in mainstream, unsegregated settings.    

He is insulting both the practices and the results achieved by these very progressive educators and specialists from the educational counseling centers (whom he seems to not include among the experts?) even though they have excellent results to show for their work with children with special educational needs who are individually integrated among their peers, to the benefit of both groups. Pilař also contributed to establishing the Special Educators' Association (ASP) in order to publicly declare the unity of the professional community of specialists against the uninitiated "activists".  

By so doing, he has been concealing the fact that even among specialists there is a wide variety of opinions about how to educate children with special educational needs. In his public appearances, Pilař has cleverly surfed the current wave of antigypsyism in the Czech Republic and frequently reduced the deficiencies of the education now given to children with special educational needs to the problem of educating Romani children.

He is helping to spark hysteria among the pedagogical community (and among parents) regarding the common education of majority-society children together with Romani minority children. Here his ignorance of the situation in excluded localities is evident - he is unable to formulate even the basic support measures necessary to introduce for children from such places so they might overcome the handicaps connected with their backgrounds and fulfill their educational potential.  

Pilař also carefully chooses which statistics to use. For example, he does not discuss the fact that the Czech Republic is the EU Member State whose education system most frequently reproduces socioeconomic status inter-generationally.

He also does not discuss the fact that Czech pupils, almost without respite, have been scoring worse and worse results in the international PISA evaluation of academic achievement, and that the comparison of Czech achievement with that of pupils from other countries in key areas such as literacy is very depressing. On the contrary, he has falsely claimed more than once that the Czech School Inspectorate (ČŠI) found in 2009 that only 110 pupils without the correct diagnoses were attending one of 171 schools intended for pupils with "mild mental disability".  

That [particular ČŠI report actually states that "a total of 5 052 pupils without any diagnosed special educational needs were assigned [to schools for the disabled]. Of the overall number of pupils, only 68.2 % had a diagnosis of mild mental disability, of whom, according to school directors and guidance counselors, 35 % are Romani pupils with mild mental disability."

This is not, therefore, about mere dozens of cases, but about thousands of children who were never diagnosed by a school counseling facility and who were enrolled into schools for pupils with mental disabilities without any expert evaluation of their educational needs. During the 2009/2010 school year, pupils with "mild mental disability" comprised less than half of all the pupils attending such schools, even though these schools are intended solely for that target group.  

The practice of enrolling children without any assessment whatsoever into schools for children living with mental disabiltiies was covered until 2011 by an illegal provision of a decree that was designed by Pilař during his time as a department director at the ministry. That decree stated that in order to augment the number of children attending schools for disabled pupils, such schools could enroll as many as 25 % of their pupils from the non-disabled population.  

It was easier to enroll a child without a mental disability into a school for the mentally disabled, because, unlike a mentally disabled child, the non-disabled child did not need an expert assessment, according to the decree. If a school did not have enough children with disabilities to open, it could augment that state of affairs by enrolling healthy children, unfortunately, most frequently children whose parents were unable to evaluate the impact of their education at the "practical primary school" on their future prospects.  

Since 2011, that illegal provision in the decree has no longer applied, and it is no longer possible to accept a child without a disability into a school for pupils with mental disability. Here I would like to note that during my career I have personally attended dozens of meetings at primary schools in the towns of Poběžovice, Jáchymov, Krnov, Krásná Lípa and many other places in the Czech Republic where educators work intensively with children who have social handicaps and other kinds of handicaps, and I have also visited the Willow Tree School in the London neighborhood of Ealing, as well as schools in Sweden and the USA, and I also worked as a teaching assistant in the British town of Dover, and in all of these places, without exception, I have essentially been able to observe very interesting teaching methods for how to support a child who may have scored below average in the collective, who may have objective problems, who comes from a bad family background, or who has an intellectual deficiency.

It has never been easy, but everywhere that the main information about a particular child is not his or her diagnosis, but a description of his or her needs, it has worked to seek measures to meet those needs and to essentially implement those needs, without exception, by keeping the child with his or her peers (to use today's terminology, through individual integration). Compared to this approach, we have Pilař, who comes to important meetings with a sewn-together booklet of his proposal for altering the educational programs in the Czech Republic and who, with a straight face, proposes on behalf of the authorial collective Bernardová, Drbout, and Pilař the creation of a program "for children with long-term failures in the educational program."    

In his presentations of this notion, he describes under what circumstances a child may be expelled from a collective and once again legally segregated. The recently-amended Schools Act, however, is now aiming at the individualized support of children.  

In and of itself this amendment will correct nothing, but it gives counseling centers and schools a good basis for seeking the individual measures made to order for a child who objectively needs more support. Pilař is not concerned about this, though.  

His most recent article is about defending the amendment as some sort of victory of "experts" over "activists". In so doing, he unwittingly tells us what he really thinks of the discussion of these changes in the Czech education system.

First published by Česká škola. Creative Commons License. Content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 Czech 
Republic. Reprinted with the kind consent of http://www.ceskaskola.cz

Martin Šimáček, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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praktické školy, speciální školy, Vzdělávání, zákon



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