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Czech EdMin: "Practical primary schools" will not be closed

Prague, 22.3.2013 15:19, (ROMEA)
Monika Šimůnková
Monika Šimůnková

Speaking today in the Senate, Czech Education Minister Petr Fiala said the "practical primary schools" will not be closed. Nevertheless, he said that because of a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights, it is essential to change the fact that some pupils end up in these schools only because they come from socially disadvantaged environments or even because of their ethnic background.

The minister was responding to a petition demanding the preservation of what once were called "special schools". "Under no circumstances do we intend to go from one extreme to another, to discard the time-tested practices of the Czech school system, or to start intruding onto something that has long functioned in our system and has a foundation here, i.e., the 'practical primary schools'," Fiala declared.

The petition to preserve the "practical primary schools" was created last year as a protest against the government's "Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion". It was signed by more than 76 300 people. According to the authors, the Strategy counted on closing the "practical primary schools" by 2015 and was adopted without taking the educational needs of pupils into account.

After more than three hours of discussion, the Senate has taken the side of the petition, saying the Strategy was not sufficiently discussed with experts, that it should have been reworked on the basis of a new public discussion, and that it should have been secured financially and materially. "The Government must provide the money and the people for this, not transfer the burden to regions and municipalities," said Senate Vice-Chair Zdeněk Škromach (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD).

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková objected to the claim that the Strategy, adopted in November 2011, was not discussed with experts. She also stated that the Strategy counts on the gradual transformation of many of the schools under discussion "into normal ones". Šimůnková said that once agreement is reached with the Education Ministry, the Strategy will be reworked to rectify in particular what the financing conditions are for the schools so as to make individual integration preferable to group integration.

According to the ombudsman, more than one-third of the pupils attending the "practical primary schools" are Romani children who should not be denied their right to a full-fledged education just because of their social background. That is also the intention of an Action Plan to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment that intends to make it more difficult to enroll socially disadvantaged children into the "practical primary schools", as they are intended primarily for children with light mental disability. Over the next two years preparatory classes set up at the "practical primary schools" are to be closed, as will so-called diagnostic stays in them.

Critics of the D.H. judgment say Romani children do not attend the "practical primary schools" because of their origins, but because they cannot handle normal instruction even with the aid of teaching assistants. Many have rejected the claim that the graduates of "practical primary schools" cannot later find employment as demagogic, insisting that some of them never even try to get jobs.

ČTK, adg, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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