Czech President's erroneous remarks about school inclusion criticized by experts
Speaking at the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday, 23 October, Czech President Zeman expressed his support for the Government's draft budget, but not unequivocally. He repeatedly criticized what he characterized as "high" expenditures involved with inclusion in the schools, during which he presented incorrect, misleading "data".
Education experts have objected to Zeman's misstatements. The President told the lower house that "In the Education Ministry's methodological instructions on inclusion I found a sentence saying that a disabled child and his pedagogical assistant must be separated from the other children by a screen. I do not have the feeling that a screen would be an appropriate instrument for socializing included children, on the contrary, they would be in danger of bullying."
News server iDNES.cz reviewed the materials that Zeman referred to and found no such mention of the use of screens in the ministerial instructions. The President probably drew his disinformation from an article by a supporter of his, a former member of the "Citizens Rights Party" (SPO), published by the tabloid news server Parlamentní Listy.
Whether that actually was the source of the President's disinformation is unknown, because his office has not issued a statement on the matter. Experts on education have confirmed that the President's claims were in error.
"I have never heard of anything like that, I know the option of a screen is listed in the support measures catalog, but the President received distorted information," said Martin Odehnal, chair of the Association of Special Needs Teachers, whose words were echoed to iDNES.cz by Radek Sárközi, president of the Pedagogical Chamber association. Klára Laurenčíková, chair of the Czech Society for Inclusive Education, said that screens are used only in special cases.
"In the special schools, children with autism usually have their own separate workplace within the framework of the system of structured learning. That is standard equipment for children living with that disability. However, screens are decidedly not used for children living with other kinds of disabilities. That would be the same as if somebody were to allege that all people living with a disability or a chronic disease must communicate with each other using sign language," Laurenčíková objected.
Zeman also cast doubt on inclusion as an investment. "Please allow me to remind us that, for example, the regions lack CZK 4 billion [EUR 154 million] for repairs to second and third-class roads, which is an investment expenditure beyond any doubt. Is inclusion an investment - for example, an investment into people? Please allow me to express my doubts," Zeman told the lower house.
The education experts disagree with Zeman on that criticism of inclusion as well. "If the President believes it is a good idea not to pay for an electronic magnifying glass for a visually-impaired pupil, or not to pay for a wheelchair lift or ramp for pupils in wheelchairs just to save the state money, that is his opinion and he certainly has a right to it. Nevertheless, a civilized society supports everybody living with any kind of disability, especially vulnerable groups like children and senior citizens," Laurenčíková told iDNES.cz.
She also pointed out that the President's argumentation is misleading. He was including costs for support measures that are offered both in mainstream and special schools as if they were the cost of inclusion into the mainstream only.
"What the President is imprecisely labeling the cost of inclusion into the mainstream schools is actually the cost of all the support measures delivered to all children, pupils and students living with disabilities, from nursery school through higher technical school, in both the mainstream and the special schools," Laurenčíková said.
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