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Czech nonprofits say government ignores discrimination of Roma pupils

Prague, 9.11.2010 18:18, (ROMEA)

The "Together to Schools" association of 15 domestic and international nonprofit organizations is claiming that neither the Czech Government nor the Education Ministry are addressing discrimination against Roma pupils. The current approach could result in further lawsuits against the Czech Republic at the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR). In 2007, that court ruled that the Czech Republic had violated the right to education of18 Roma children by unjustifiably assigning them to "special schools". Tomorrow, Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš (Public Affairs) will present the government with an evaluation of the measures taken to date to support young Roma. However, it is said to be too early for concrete results to have developed in this area.

"We will work with clients who are considering suing the Czech Republic once again," Jan Stejskal of Together to School told journalists today. However, such lawsuits are said to be only in the preparation stages at present.

Activists criticize Education Minister Dobeš for "permanently cutting almost half of the positions in the department devoted to systematic corrections of illegal practices." Department director Viktor Hartoš and ministerial adviser Klára Laurenčíková have also recently resigned over the ministry's avoidance of the Roma issue.

Together to Schools also disapproves of the ministry postponing government discussion of proposed amendments to two decrees regulating special needs education and the operation of educational psychological counseling centers at schools. The Education Ministry's plan to make the disbursal of welfare contingent upon regular school attendance is also said to be ineffective. "Attendance alone does not guarantee greater success in school," nonprofit representatives warned. Moreover, repressive measures are said to promote an anti-Roma climate at schools.

The nonprofits also criticize the approach taken by the government of Czech PM Petr Nečas (ODS). When the Education Minister told the press he would like to make the last year of nursery school compulsory for all, the PM opposed the idea on principle, even though it is widely acknowledged that children from poor social environments who attend nursery school manage to adjust to mainstream education much better.

The Council of Europe, which is supervising implementation of the ECtHR judgment, is also not satisfied by the Czech Republic's regular reports on measures to reduce discrimination against Roma pupils. The Education Minister was supposed to have prepared a report with examples of concrete improvements, such as statistics on how many Roma previously attended special needs education and how many are attending today. However, the ministry report says that since the plan for inclusion of socially disadvantaged children was only approved this past March, the results will not be visible until approximately 2014.

Experts say higher levels of academic achievement and improved social inclusion for Roma can be achieved not only by employing teaching assistants and using special materials, but also by making sure teachers are themselves well-educated on how to work with troubled children. According to a World Bank report from 2009, the high unemployment rate and low salaries of Roma workers deprive the state coffers of at least CZK 16 billion annually.

Education Ministry statistics show that two out of every 100 non-Roma children attend "practical" elementary schools today, but 30 out of 100 Roma children attend such schools. The backward approach of the ministry to this issue has previously been criticized by Amnesty International.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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