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Czech Radio: Inclusive education could cure Czechs' racial prejudice

Prague, 18.12.2013 22:06, (ROMEA)
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

For six years the Czech Republic has been under fire from international critics about the education it provides young Roma. In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights gave the Czech Republic the message that it had violated the right to education of 18 Romani children by unjustifiably assigning them to attend "special schools".

From 1999-2005, the "special schools" had populations that were as much as 70 % Romani. Those numbers have gradually been reduced to the current level of 28 % Romani.

"This is still a high number that shows significant inequality in society," says Klára Laurenčíková, the chair of the Czech Professional Association for Inclusive Education (ČOSIV). "The situation in education reflects the balance in society, and it's a vicious circle. Until we adults perceive diversity as natural, we will fear the unknown and stereotypes will persist. Common education is therefore the way to heal society of its prejudices regarding ethnic minorities."    

The Education Ministry provides support for inclusive education to the tune of roughly CZK 20 million annually, primarily for development programs, but not every school knows about this money or has the capacity to develop special projects. "We need a systemic change so the finances reach every single child wherever he or she is," Laurenčíková admonishes, and she has a solution to offer as well. 

"We have not yet created services for early and timely childhood care that would educate parents so they can learn how to develop their children. In developed countries these services function brilliantly, and children then have a very good chance of succeeding at a classical primary school," Laurenčíková said.

Jana Smetanová, the director of a primary school in the Czech town of Pardubice, warns of a fundamental obstacle preventing the inclusion of all "handicapped" children into a mainstream collective, and that is the money needed to hire more professionals. "In the regular schools we do not know how to teach children with special educational needs because we are not special education teachers. We have 25 - 30 children in the classroom and many of them have developmental learning disorders, and if we are supposed to include a mentally retarded pupil among them who can't handle the material, the teacher cannot pay attention to that student in such a way that will benefit all of the children."

Laurenčíková confirms there is a problem with the poor distribution of financing for the needed supports. "Currently most of the financing is received by the specialized schools, and it's not easy to educate such children in mainstream schools because they don't get as much money as the specialized schools do," the ČOSIV chair explains.  

Only a few schools with visionary directors who see a great benefit in heterogeneous classrooms have set out on the demanding path of applying for grants for special education projects. Laurenčíková says directors need to be more courageous and resist prejudices and stereotypes about their pupils.  

Inclusive education places far greater demands on teachers, who have to seek out creative forms of instruction. Teachers make great use of working with children in small groups in the collective in which the stronger students model social competences and the weaker ones learn from them.

"The problem is also in the bad set-up of instruction for educators, who are not prepared to work with heterogeneous classrooms. We need to change that and intensify support for the existing educators," Laurenčíková says.

The primary school in Poběžovice, for example, knows how to work with "handicapped" children. The school works with autistic children as well. 

Such services cost CZK 1 million annually, which the school raises through various grants. "We are breaking through with the notion that difference can enrich us instead of highlighting what people can't do," says school director Vladimír Foist when asked to explain his main motivation. 

"Children commute to our school from this town and 26 surrounding villages. We do our best not to distinguish between ethnic groups, but roughly 25 % of the children are from socially excluded communities that are not just Romani," Foist said.

The fundamental role of parents is confirmed by this school, which has given inclusive education a green light. The magic ingredient as to why this school succeeds with including Romani children and others into mainstream instruction is its counseling center and individual plans. 

"Roughly 40 % of the children are in that system, which requires sophisticated connections between the counseling center and the assistants aiding the teachers. An important task of the school is to lead its environment toward one where pupils manage to help one another and be tolerant. That is our fundamental task," Foist says.

Parents are the central point of the system. They support their children, send them to school, and can be proud of them.

The Czech School Inspection Authority has conducted several censuses of Romani children attending the former "special schools" and has also mentioned the important role played by parents. "Sometimes parents request that their child remain in a 'specialized school' even if he or she has never been diagnosed with light mental disability," says Deputy Central School Inspector Ondřej Andrys. 

To include Romani children into mainstream instruction is easier in a smaller town where people know one another. Eliška Ferková, the school's Romani assistant, also visits families in Poběžovice to convince them education is a necessity.   

"I explain to parents what the psychologist or teaching assistants do, basically. It's very demanding, psychologically, because you really cannot talk about this with some parents. The advantage is that they know me from the neighborhood and they trust me more than other people, so they eventually send their children to school or go meet with their teachers," Ferková says. 

Roughly 100 Romani students are enrolled at Czech universities. One of them is Miroslav Sivák, whose parents motivated and supported him in his studies even though they themselves only completed their primary educations.

"My parents saw how hard life is with only a primary education. They instilled me with the understnading that unless I study, I will also have a hard life," Sivák says, who is now in his sixth year of medical school. 

"Parents are definitely one of the problems if they don't motivate their children to study. They don't consider education necessary because they believe no one will ever accept them anyway. Racial discrimination plays a role too," the successful student says.

Since 2007 a lot has changed. The former "special schools" are now called the "practical" and the "specialized" schools, which are intended mainly for "handicapped" children.

Young Romani children, however, continue to disproportionately attend these schools, albeit to a lesser degree than previously. "Most children born in excluded localities do not go through preschool education and do not receive timely support during first grade to make up for being behind. When they reach third grade, the teacher has to address what to do with a child who is not keeping up, and then child downs the short road into a 'specialized school'," Laurenčíková says when asked how children most frequently end up in the "practical" or "specialized" schools, adding that there are also cases where "practical schools" enroll children directly into the first grade.

Czech Radio Plus, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Inkluzivní vzdělávání, Vzdělávání, zrovnoprávnění, Czech Republic



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