Czech EdMin to research number of children educated as disabled
News server iDNES.cz reports that the Czech Education Ministry wants to find out how many pupils are being taught according to an educational program for children with "light brain dysfunction". The Czech Republic has long faced criticism that it enrolls large numbers of Romani pupils into what were once called the "special schools" who do not belong there. Better record-keeping is one step toward correcting the situation.
According to an amendment to a decree now under preparation, school directors will have to report to the ministry how many of their pupils are being taught according to an appendix to the Framework Educational Program regulating the education of pupils with "light mental disability". Experts have long warned that children without "light mental disability" are being instructed according to the appendix in the "practical primary schools". "That number can then be compared with statistics on the prevalence of 'light mental retardation' in the population, which is between 2 - 3 %," says Lenka Felcmanová of the Special Education Department, Faculty of Pedagogy, Charles University.
For the time being the ministry only knows how many pupils have been diagnosed with "light mental disability" (as of 30 September 2011 there were 18 453 such pupils). However, the ministry has no overview of the number of children being educated according to the educational program intended for such pupils. The numbers will not be identical, as there is no obligation to instruct disabled children according to the program. "Such children can be educated according to the normal educational program with an individual plan," said Patrik Kubas of the ministry's press department.
The draft decree is now undergoing the inter-ministerial commenting procedure and will take effect on 1 July at the latest. Schools will have to send the data to the ministry twice a year (by 31 March and by 30 September). "The data will be compiled anonymously, there will be no personal data involved," the ministry states in its submission report. Once the ministry knows the number of pupils being educated with the reduced curriculum, it wants to determine how many of them are Romani.
Former "special schools"
The "practical primary schools" are intended for pupils with "light mental retardation", which corresponds to an IQ between 50 and 70 points. Children with more profound forms of mental disability attend what are called "specialized schools" today.
The Czech Government's Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion 2011-2015 counts on closing all of the "practical primary schools", but their directors are opposed to this idea. The civic association Slovo 21 has also recently released a hip-hop video calling on Romani parents not to enroll their children into the former "special schools".
Ministry wants more monitoring of diagnoses of disability
The Czech Republic faces enormous criticism over the numbers of Romani people in the "practical primary schools". The issue is under scrutiny especially because of a judgment rendered by the European Court of Human Rights in 2007, which ruled in favor of several Romani families who complained of unequal access to education. The state subsequently pledged to prohibit unjustified enrollments of pupils into the former "special schools".
According to last year's findings from the Czech School Inspectorate, however, Romani children continue to comprise one-fourth of all children in the "practical primary schools". An investigation by the Czech ombudsman found they comprise as much as one-third of the pupils in such schools.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe recently called on the Czech Republic to improve the situation. The amendment to the decree described above is one of the first anti-segregation steps the ministry presented at the end of last November.
The ministry also intends to focus on the counseling centers that evaluate children for disability and on the diagnostic procedures they use. At these centers, sociocultural disadvantages are often mistaken for "light mental disability". The ministry intends to perform more monitoring of these centers, to create a registry of them, to introduce standards for them in the area of diagnostics, and to provide them with greater methodological assistance.
The numbers of children with "light mental retardation" differs rather significantly from region to region. These differences could be determined precisely by inconsistent diagnostics. According to ministry statistics, almost 4 % of the pupils in the Ústí Region have "light brain dysfunction", while only roughly 1.3 % of the pupils in Prague received such a diagnosis.
Last year the ministry said it would be correcting the tests used at the counseling centers, which frequently disadvantage pupils who have not acquired certain habits and knowledge from their home environments. Felcmanová said she also welcomes the ministry's intention to close preparatory classes and nursery schools that operate inside the "practical primary schools". "The risk that children in such pre-schools will subsequently continue their primary education at the same schools is rather high," she explained.
Improvements are also planned for raising awareness among parents deciding whether to enroll their children into a "practical primary school". Romani parents of agree with these enrollments for the most part and sometimes even request them. According to experts, children who attend these schools have less of a chance of achieving a high-quality education and employment in the future than other children do.
Better record-keeping with respect to pupils was recommended last year by Czech ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský, but the ministry is not planning to carry out his other recommendation, which was to introduce precise records of which schools today were previously called "special schools".
Since 2005 schools do not have to include the words "practical" or "specialized" in their names. It is not clear, therefore, how many of the former "special schools" in total there even are.
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