Czech Republic: Experts say amendment increases risk that Romani children will be segregated
Part of an amendment to the School Act that has already been approved by the lower house during a first reading is now a topic of criticism by experts, people from nonprofit organizations, and some journalists. As news server Romea.cz has previously reported, the Czech Education Ministry is not admitting to any misconduct.
The criticism does not concern the amendment as a whole, as it has some positive aspects, according to an analysis by the EDUin association. In addition to warning that the amendment will close some preschool facilities, including the outdoor (forest) nursery schools, the wording of paragraph 16 is the main bone of contention.
Critics say that paragraph could facilitate a new influx of children into separate schools designed to instruct pupils with mental disability. While a child's mental disability would have to be assessed prior to such enrollment, the proposed wording of the law is open to more than one interpretation.
"The vague formulation of the provision means it has more than one meaning - it allows for a customized interpretation of the assessor's opinion. If someone were to challenge the assessor's judgment, the law could not be relied on for backup," says the EDUin association, an organization involved in inclusive education and the education of pupils with special needs, which is demanding that the amendment be corrected.
The wording of section 16a, paragraph 5 of the amendment is formulated as follows (our translation):
16a) Advisory assistance by school counseling facilities
(5) If the assistance of a school counseling facility depends on assessing a child's, pupil's or student's state of health, the school counseling facility shall ensure that background materials for the outputs of such advisory assistance are provided in accordance with the principles of medical science.
Amendment represents greater risk of segregation
"Even though the Education Ministry submitted this amendment with the intention of correcting the systemic misconduct of the Czech education system as represented by the famous 'D.H.' judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 2007, the proposed legislation still poses the risk that the practice of enrolling children into the practical schools just because they are from disadvantaged backgrounds will not be stopped. Its vague provisions, which can be read in more than one way, smack of an effort to address this problem only formally," says Zdeněk Slejška, the director of EDUin.
The Czech Professional Society for Inclusive Education (Česká odborná společnost pro inkluzivní vzdělávání - ČOSIV) has also assessed that part of the amendment negatively: "The adoption of this legislation would facilitate the generation of a diagnosis of mental disability for pupils whose IQs are 70 or higher. Expanding the diagnostic category of mental disability to include difficulties that are unrelated to intellectual capacity will have a serious impact on the educational prospects of the pupils so diagnosed and on their future options for asserting themselves on the labor market."
Neglected children do not belong in education for the mentally disabled
"For a long time it was customary to enroll children into the practical schools not because they were disabled, but because they were neglected, to put it simply. A large number of those children were of Romani origin. Their common problems were mostly that they could not speak the Czech language well enough, that they didn't have standard hygiene habits, and that they couldn't handle the school rules. All of this makes them a 'difficulty' that an ordinary primary school doesn't know what to do with. When such children attends school, they fall behind in absolutely everything to do with school very quickly. Such children can't keep up and they are then allowed to fall into a vacuum where they become completely dispossessed. Statistics show that the practical schools lead nowhere, not to further education and not to jobs. However, when mandatory school attendance ends, the education system washes its hands of these people and, with relief, passes the baton to the Labor Ministry," Bohumil Kartous of EDUin has written to news server iHNED.cz.
In the year 2011 this practice was somewhat curtailed by a ministerial decree. However, according to the feedback from circles of experts involved in the field, the current amendment to the School Act is reintroducing this risk.
"Unfortunately, I can't think of a better comparison than that of fouling one's own nest. We are so sensitive to the 'freeloaders' who are dependent on our welfare structures, and at the same time we are vehemently doing our best to educate yet another generation of people who will find no other opportunity here, plain and simple. Even if we were to restrict discussion of this to the economic level alone, which is so overused in all social questions, then this behavior is also absurd and incomprehensible from an economic standpoint. The money invested into properly educating a neglected child will probably be returned to the state several times over if that person, as an adult, gets a job and doesn't break the law," Kartous says.
Systematic violation of the rights of Romani children
Czech Education Minister Marcel Chládek is now facing pressure from the European Commission. Brussels has asked the Czech Republic to provide information regarding the alleged discrimination of Romani children in the Czech education system, consisting primarily of the disproportionate enrollment of Romani pupils into the practical and specialized schools.
Prague has two months in which to respond to the Commission, which will then decide how to proceed based on the information provided. The country could end up before the EU Court of Justice.
Commission spokesperson Joshua Salsby noted that the need for greater inclusion of both Romani children and socially disadvantaged children, primarily in the early grades of school, had been mentioned in recommendations made this year to all Member States by the Commission. "Discrimination in the schools on the basis of ethnic origin is a serious matter banned by European law," Salsby said.
"Amnesty International has been documenting the systematic violation of the rights of Romani children to access education in the Czech schools for years. Enrollment into practical schools denies these children their right to a quality education, limits their future choice of employment and keeps them in the vicious circle of exclusion and marginalization. Despite this, the government has not managed to adopt effective measures to address and correct this situation," said Mark Martin, director of Amnesty International in the Czech Republic.
On its website the Education Ministry refers the Commission to actions taken by the previous government. In a press release, the ministry insists that the current government is devoting exceptional attention to ensuring equal access to education for all children, pupils and students.
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