Czech academic and education official discuss qualified estimates of Romani pupils
Speaking on the "Crossing the Line" (Přes čáru) program on the Radio Wave station of public broadcaster Czech Radio, Czech Deputy Education Minister Stanislav Štech has discussed the findings of last year's qualified estimates of the numbers of pupils of Romani origin in the Czech primary schools, numbers that are sometimes inaccurately referred to as a "head count". Anthropologist Dana Moree was also in the studio to analyze the problems of such a "head count" and the reasons for it.
Štech said that for many if not most school principals, the "head count" of Romani children is a topic they view with great skepticism. Allegedly the principals consider the count to be inaccurate, irrelevant to them, and strange, but apparently the vast majority of the more than 4 000 schools tasked with providing the qualified estimates have provided them to the ministry.
Last year was the first time the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport organized the data collection instead of the Czech School Inspectorate. "One matter is the stand taken by the principals, but another matter is the situation of whoever is supposed to estimate how many Romani people there are in a class. That is bothersome, complicated, and unpleasant. It is complicated to use words that a priori divide us. It's no wonder teachers don't like doing this," Moree said.
Both the academic and the official agree that qualified estimates of the number of Romani pupils in the schools are justifiable because they can be used for Government plans and strategies, such as those addressing social inclusion. Moree added that we need such estimates to see social trends and to be able to solve problems.
Are Romani children eight times more likely to be disabled than others? The math says no, but Czech practice says otherwise
Until recently, Romani children comprised approximately one-third of all pupils diagnosed with "mild mental disability" in the Czech Republic, with the average incidence of such a diagnosis throughout the entire population of schoolchildren at just 3 %. Štech has now presented the most recent findings for the qualified estimates of the number of Romani children who have been diagnosed with slight brain damage: "It is 12.5 % of them, which is a very slight decline compared to last year."
The education official said he believes this declining trend should be permanent and can be achieved gradually. "We have to realize that 86-87 % of Romani pupils are now being educated in the regular way in mainstream schools," Štech said.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Romani children in the Czech Republic have, compared to other children, eight times more "hope" of being labeled by educational assessors as having slight brain damage. Such a diagnosis is addressed by providing them with an education according to adjusted (reduced) plans, and that means there is a lower chance of such a student eventually qualifying for entrance into a high-quality institution of secondary or tertiary education.
Optimism in 10 or 15 years
Štech said the situation of Romani pupils in the primary schools cannot be changed from one day to the next. Over the next 10 or 15 years, however, something might improve, he believes.
According to the official, it is important to demonstrate that such difficulties stem from the economic and "sociocultural" conditions in which some Romani children, as well as children of other nationalities, live. He said he is of the opinion that it is important to demonstrate that this is a common problem: Many disadvantaged children from such localities have very similar difficulties at school.
Moree went even further: "Maybe we should begin asking how we can arrange for those who go through the Czech education system to be more comprehensively equipped for life. That includes the idea that if I am Romani, I am glad I am Romani and I don't have to experience shame at school because of my identity."
The anthropologist said it is also important for the education of Romani children to become a topic of common interest to the majority society and the Romani minority. She warned of a lack of Romani teachers in the schools and agreed with Štech that teachers in the Czech Republic generally lack any continuing education opportunities that would focus on new trends in different academic disciplines, pedagogy, and specific teaching methods.
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