Czech ombud warns Education Ministry against perpetuating segregation
The Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombud) Anna Šabatová disagrees with the Czech Education's proposal that children be permitted to spend their mandatory final year of preschool in what are called preparatory classes. She is concerned that this could lead to such children being segregated from others from the very start of their educational careers.
The Czech Education Ministry is counting on this option in an amendment to the Schools Act that recently went through the legislative commenting procedure. Czech Education Minister Marcel Chládek (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) said today that he disagrees with the ombud and that she is not sufficiently familiar with the amendment.
Šabatová hopes to succeed in changing the provision and has filed a substantial comment about it. "It's very dangerous to set this up to run along two separate lines, because that means two tracks will be created that will then never come together," she warned during a panel discussion today on the topic of equal access to education.
"It is evident from the ombud's words that she is not sufficiently familiar with the issue, because under no circumstances do the preparatory classes segregate anyone. The ombud should also know that this amendment to the Schools Act, which has already been signed by the President, opens the preparatory classes up to all children," the minister said in a statement provided to the Czech News Agency by the ministry's press department.
Chládek said this was "not the first time the ombud has discussed the field of education without basing her remarks in sufficient expertise." Šabatová, however, says that in practice, preparatory classes are primarily created as part of the "practical schools" or primary schools attended by a significant proportion of Romani community members.
Czech Deputy Education Minister Jaroslav Fidrmuc has objected to this claim, saying that preparatory classes have a proven track record and that in the future they will not be intended only for socially disadvantaged children. "There have been very good experiences with them, mainly for children who have delayed the start of their mandatory schooling. Those children need to progress beyond nursery school and in the preparatory class they basically already have one foot in primary school," he said.
Šabatová is convinced that it is appropriate for all children to attend their mandatory year of preschool education together in the nursery schools. An exception would be made for those who are being home-schooled, an option which should be facilitated for preschool just as it is now being facilitated for first grade.
"This is a unique opportunity to jump-start the education of everyone together," she said. The Education Ministry is counting on introducing the mandatory year of preschool education as of September 2017.
The ministry is expecting the move will help children, especially those from less stimulating family environments, get a chance to catch up with their peers before entering the first grade. The introduction of the measure would also reduce the number of children postponing mandatory school attendance.
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