Czech Republic: Roma say they want English, not Romanes in schools
A proposal by MPs from the TOP 09 party in the Czech Republic for primary school instruction to be partially conducted in Romanes with Romani children is considered dubious by many Romani people. Czech MP Anna Putnová put forward the idea, saying that teaching some subjects in Romanes would make it easier for children from Romani families to transition into the "Czech" schools.
"I don't know what led those people to this idea, my children don't speak Romanes at all," says 43-year-old Zoltán Kuru, who has been active in Romani initiatives in the Náchod area (East Bohemia). Kuru claims that other Romani children in his neighborhood don't speak Romanes either, although they might understand it.
Today's Romani grandparents and parents might still use Romanes at home from time to time. Be that as it may, Kuru says his own daughter now speaks English and Flemish.
The Kuru family lived in Belgium several years ago and his daughter learned those foreign languages at school there. "I consider this proposal to be absurd. Instead of Romanes, they should be adding classes in English or German to the schools, for everyone. Romani people, who have such a hard time finding work here, would definitely welcome that more," says Kuru, who makes his living in Náchod as a construction worker while his daughter works in Great Britain thanks to her languages.
Putnová, however, believes many Romani children do not even understand simple sentences in Czech after enrolling in primary school. "That's what the educators with whom I consulted this proposal tell me," the MP says.
The TOP 09 MP claims her idea has gained support from the party's program council and that legislators will advocate for the Education Ministry to produce a pilot study during which partial instruction in Romanes would be tested at some schools. Miroslav Zima of the Romani association DROM in Brno, however, cannot imagine who would be found teach in Romanes in the schools, or how.
"Romani people from various groups don't understand one another's languages well, for example, we don't understand the Olah Roma well," Zima said. He believes there are very few families who speak more Romanes than Czech in the country and that those who do are probably living in excluded localities, for example, in the Jesenicko area of Moravia.
"Many Romani people can speak with other Romani people abroad thanks to their Romanes, but they still prefer English," Zima added. However, Štefan Gorol of the Czech-Roma Society in Nový Bor (northwest Bohemia) said he would welcome two hours of Romanes daily in the primary schools.
"Romani people should not forget their language, which is mixing with Czech more and more," Gorol emphasized. A hundred kilometers away in the East Bohemian town of Josefov, Rudolf Polák, who owns a construction firm that mainly employs Romani people, said he would approve of elective Romanes classes, which some schools already offer.
"We may be ethnic Roma, but we are Czechs," says Polák, who leads the Soužití (Coexistence) association, which helps Romani children beginning in the primary schools. "We lead [the Romani children] toward Czech."
Gabriela Hrabaňová, who has worked as a Romani adviser at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, would rather see more Romani assistants in the primary schools. Such assistants could help children who have problems with Czech by explaining material to them in Romanes.
"The number of such assistants has fallen significantly. According to the new regulations, teaching assistants must be college-educated, and not many Romani people have a college education," Hrabaňová warns.
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