Czech adviser to Education Minister: Segregation is unacceptable, unethical - and undefined in Czech law
Mgr. Klára Laurenčíková is a Czech activist, educator, former Deputy Education Minister and Green Party politician. She is currently working as an adviser to the Czech Education Minister.
She is a graduate of the Pedagogical Faculty of Charles University in Prague, Department of Special Education. She specializes primarily in the policy of including disadvantaged groups into mainstream society, relations with Czech citizens of Romani nationality, and the issues of domestic violence, the equal opportunities and equal rights of men and women, and child welfare.
Q: Do you know of any cases of segregation in the schools recently?
A: Yes, at this moment I have information about several cases. One concerns a school to which other schools in the area are sending Romani children - this has been documented. When Romani parents go to the other schools to enroll their children, they are even directly recommended by those other schools, during the registration process, to enroll their children in the other school instead. Such behavior is absolutely immoral and unacceptable. All children have the same right to attend the primary school in their catchment area. Should the Romani children manage to enroll in that school, it is unethical to segregate them into a separate class.
Q: The instructors and principals at these schools [that segregate] frequently claim that this separation of the children is not taking place on an ethnic basis, but according to the degree of capability the children have already achieved, or according to whether the children have attended preschool.
A: I also consider that unacceptable. Paragraph 16 of the amended Schools Act, which will take effect in September 2016, does not make it possible to separate children with so-called special needs from others. The law calls for the creation of heterogeneous children's collectives. In cases where children need a particular type of support, many research studies undertaken both here in the Czech Republic and internationally are available that demonstrate that it is more appropriate for such children to be in a mixed collective. All children unequivocally profit from being educated together. They learn to collaborate with each other, to seek solutions to problems together, and they develop their social skills overall. This experience is key to their preparedness for life in a diverse society where each person has a contribution to make and a place. Inclusive education is also closely connected to competitiveness and economic stability.
Q: How does the law basically define segregation? What are its main symptoms?
A: Czech legislation unfortunately does not provide a definition of segregation. We can find an example of its definition in legislation on education in Hungary or Romania. In the Slovak Schools Act, a ban on segregation has been introduced in the paragraph that outlines the basic principles of education and training, but of course without any more detailed specification as to what is considered segregation.
Q: How would you briefly summarize the development and history to date of the segregational practices and tendencies in the Czech schools?
A: Prior to 1989, segregation in education was a very significant phenomenon, especially in relation to children with disabilities, who were almost exclusively educated in "special needs schools" ("speciální školy"). The vast majority of Romani children were also educated in what were then called "special schools" ("zvláštní školy"). Let's recall that what was achieved by these schools was not a primary education, but merely the basics of education. Anyone who wanted to acquire a primary education had to augment what had been achieved in the "special needs" or "special" schools. Since 1989 there has been an evident attempt here aiming to change this, and that attempt is resulting in an effort to achieve systemic changes aiming at developing inclusive education, which the Czech Republic has been required to introduce, among other things, by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. What is interesting is that the creation of the Convention was initiated by citizens living with disabilities themselves, and the requirements it presents can therefore be perceived as the requirements of those whom it most concerns. Despite this, we continue to encounter the generalizing opinion that the segregated education of certain groups of children, including Romani children, is in order, and that it is not desirable to change anything about it.
Q: What steps are to be undertaken in such cases?
A: If a school intentionally creates a class where only Romani pupils are being educated, whoever discovers such a case should contact the Czech School Inspection Authority and report it. This situation should be changed by the newly-prepared decree on the amended Schools Act. The draft version of that decree partially restricts the option of creating such classes by establishing the maximum proportion of children in need of support measures that can be educated in the same class in a mainstream school. At this moment, the situation is such that the justifications given for these ethnically homogeneous classes, which are helped by referring to an alleged need for a special type of support for these pupils, frequently do not reflect the actual state of affairs. Not all Romani children need special support, far from it, and conversely, special support for instruction is not needed only by Romani children - far from it. In any event it will be necessary to wait for the final form of this decree to be promulgated.
Q: Has anyone ever been legally held to account for such cases?
A: Given that the Czech legal order does not define segregation in education (or in any other area of life), no such case in the Czech Republic, according to my information, has ever been addressed by the courts.
Q: Is there any precedent that might deter such attempts?
A: In Slovakia, for example, there was a rather extensively publicized scandal about this, and school principals striving to provide a quality education should, therefore, be aware that such a procedure is unacceptable from an ethical point of view.
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