Czech Republic: More than 40 % of Romani children do not attend preschool
A large proportion of children from socially excluded localities do not attend preschool, which has a fundamental influence on their lack of success in primary school. This increases the probability that these children will be recommended for placement into special education, newly termed the "practical schools", where their chances at education and at finding good jobs as adults come to an end.
"According to the Report on the State of the Romani Minority in the Czech Republic for 2013, which was discussed by the Government on Monday, more than 28 % of the pupils in the 'practical schools' are Romani, and in the Moravian-Silesian Region that number is as high as 36 %. Those schools are intended exclusively for children with light mental disability," says Robert Basch of the Open Society Fund Prague.
"Preschool education, which can equalize the initial handicaps of children coming from disadvantaged environments, is difficult for Romani children to access," Basch says. However, around 40 % of Romani children in the Czech Republic never attend preschool.
One solution is to work with Romani children directly in their homes and at parents' centers, which can partially substitute for state-run preschool facilities. Open Society Fund Prague is supporting such centers in four regions of the Czech Republic, including three such centers in the Ostrava area.
At the centers, children can perfect their language and speech skills, train their attention, fine motor skills and memory, and practice basic tasks such as using buttons and tying shoelaces. "Experience from programs abroad shows that the earlier such work begins with the family of a disadvantaged child, the better chances such children have of becoming integrated into mainstream education," explains Filip Rameš of Open Society Fund Prague.
"In order for aid to Romani children to succeed, it must also focus on their parents so they can manage to ensure their children enjoy conditions for healthy development and are not exposed to the risk of social exclusion in adulthood," Rameš says. This intervention method, moreover, is financially the most advantageous - the return on investment into education and training, according to Rameš, declines the older an investee is, which means the highest return on investment occurs with children under three.
These arguments were presented at a conference in Ostrava called "Starting in Time Means Starting Well!" (Začít včas znamená začít dobře!) which took place on 6 and 7 November. The event was exceptional in that it included expert representation from the local municipality, nonprofit organizations, parents and school administrators, featuring presentations on successful international and local early care projects.
The conference was an opportunity to find a solution for preventing the repetition of the discrimination of Romani children in the Czech schools, discrimination to which the current generation's parents were also exposed. The conference was held by Open Society Fund Prague in collaboration with Ostrava City Hall and the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion.
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