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Czech Education Ministry to support equal opportunities in education

Prague, 21.9.2012 22:37, (ROMEA)

Yesterday a panel discussion took place in the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague on the questions of ensuring equal access to education for children in the Czech Republic and the situation of Romani children being disproportionately represented in the "special schools". Czech Radio reports that Klára Laurenčíková, chair of the Czech Professional Society for Inclusive Education (Česká odborná společnost pro inkluzivní vzdělávání) participated in the discussion; the society acknowledges that not every child in the Czech Republic does enjoy equal access to education in practice.

The discussion was convened by Czech Education Minister Petr Fiala, Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský. Its aim was to assist in eliminating discrimination against children and creating an education system that ensures equal access to education for all. Representatives of NGOs, professional associations and schools participated.

"The main conclusion of today's debate was that the Education Ministry clearly expressed that it will really support equal opportunities in education, that this topic is a priority for the new management of the ministry, and that it will truly concern itself intensively with how to push the entire Czech education system forward so its quality improves. One criteria for assessing quality will be that the education system becomes more fair and more open,"said Laurenčíková, who is a former Deputy Education Minister.

Laurenčíková believes this is not an empty promise on the part of the ministry, but a clear obligation. The ministry presented specific steps which should mean that the system will genuinely start to change.

"The Deputy Minister mentioned that the ministry is preparing to change the financing of schools established by regional authorities, the financing of primary schools in general, and preschool education so that if a particular child needs a greater degree of support in future, the schools will be entitled to financing for that child. The schools should have the financing they need for this specific support, whether that be assistants, tutoring, or some sort of special technology," Laurenčíková said. "My understanding is that the Education Minister has calculated that the current system for financing schools established by regional authorities does not conform to expectations and that he will design a reform of that financing such that it will be more effective in future, precisely with respect to the needs of disadvantaged children."

Laurenčíková admitted that while formally, from the point of view of the law, every child in the Czech Republic has an equal right to education, that is not the case in practice. In the case of Romani children, most of them do not receive early childhood care and quality preschool preparations. She believes there is more than one cause for this state of affairs.

"It is really the case that the School Act declares that every school essentially is legally obligated to offer a quality education to all children in its catchment area, but the reality, unfortunately, is different. There are several reasons for this," Laurenčíková continued, saying that it is necessary to prepare teachers to provide individual support in education, to change the educational guidance and financing systems, and to focus more on diagnostics that describe what individual children need.

Many intellectually healthy Romani children in the Czech Republic are still being enrolled into the "practical primary schools" intended for children who are "lightly mentally disabled". Five years ago, a European Court for Human Rights judgment was handed down in Strasbourg which established that such procedures mean Romani children are being discriminated against in their access to education in the Czech Republic. "The objective fact that [Romani children] are not prepared for school has been confused with mental disability," Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said at yesterday's panel discussion.

The enrollments into the "practical primary schools" occur because mainstream schools have an aversion to Romani pupils and are unwilling to enroll them because of pressure from majority-society parents - and sometimes even pressure from Romani parents who believe the "practical primary schools" are the best for their offspring. Greater involvement of teachers' aides and teaching assistants in the mainstream schools could help the situation. Yesterday Šimůnková expressed her appreciation of the current leadership of the Czech Education Ministry, which she said is "moving forward on this matter".

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, fk, Czech Radio, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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