Czech Republic: Experts believe schools will not open to the disadvantaged or to Romani children
Czech society is divided, elitist, incapable of achieving consensus and intolerant. It is not likely that even the best-intended attempts at reforming the primary schools will succeed any time soon.
Inclusion - i.e., the opening of the schools to disadvantaged children - will not happen. Or if it does, it will definitely not happen on the scale politicians are talking about.
These are not the opinions of activists, pro-Romani or otherwise, but a summary of the debates ongoing today among leading experts and pedagogues on this issue that were held as part of the regular round tables convened by the groups EDUin and the Permanent Conference of Education Associations (SKAV). We will return to these topics of discussion in our future reporting, but today we will focus on the answers experts gave to these questions posed by news server Romea.cz: "Are you personally genuinely convinced that we are seriously now on the brink of inclusion, on the threshold of reform? Are you genuinely convinced the situation will improve?"
Věra Pokorná, pedagogue and psychologist, Docent of the Faculty of Education, Charles University in Prague, founder of the COGITO company: We are not on the brink of change. What the President believes about including disadvantaged children in the schools is believed by many people here. The only way to change this is to work with the public. How many people here in our country believe inclusion is good not just for disadvantaged children, but is equally good for the healthy, "normal" children? How many believe it is a necessary prerequiste for all of society to be healthy?
Jan Širůček, psychologist teaching at Masaryk University in Brno: I can tell you my recent experience as the father of a school-aged child. The mother of one of my child's fellow pupils spoke with me about how horrible it was that her gifted child had to attend the same class as the slower ones. She was at least sufficiently educated herself that she did not directly mention skin color - she was talking about talent. Our society is, unfortunately, very backward when it comes to how open we are capable of being about such things.
Jana Zapletalová, psychologist, previously the longtime director of the Institute of Educational Psychological Counseling, today Deputy Director of the National Institute for Education: Our society is greatly divided, it is governed by elitism, and we are unable to reach consensus among ourselves. That leads us to define one another, to measure one another, to try to excel each other. I am concerned that we are heading in the opposite direction than that of inclusion and openness.
Pavlína Basslerová, special needs educator, long-time director of a special needs school, chair of the Association of Special Education Center Workers: I am not so completely sceptical. I think tolerance is growing in our society. During the 1980s, as a teacher, I traveled with handicapped children to a lake to spend two weeks every year. Always, after some time there, another vacationer would come up to us and announce that the other people wanted us to leave, because they were there on their well-earned vacations after working hard, and they didn't want to be disturbed by having to look at cripples. Today that probably would not happen. However, it is true that the proposal of reforms is a step in the right direction - and if it's not supported by sufficient financing, it will just be one more wasted opportunity.
Olga Doležalová, teacher at the Na Beránku Primary School in Prague: Our society is too focused on performance. Until that changes, the approach taken by the schools won't change - the schools will be afraid to enroll disadvantaged children, because the schools compete with each other and measure each other. We are not yet on the brink of change or on the threshold of inclusion.
Jan Černý, director of People in Need's Social Integration Program: Recently many social workers responded to an interview that was given about the Romani quintuplets' family. They said the interviewee should never have dared talk about them, that what she said was nonsense, they stood up for the family she had attacked. I believe something similar will happen at the level of the special schools, and that will be a signal that something is seriously changing. The pedagogues need to speak up against remarks that discriminate against and insult children. Change will be here when they defend those children and stand up for them.
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