David Beňák on the Czech inclusive education debate, the invisible, and the unheard
Educating all children together is a basic, normal approach to education that must be the standard in the Czech Republic. It is a good standard to set ourselves.
I understand that the discussion about educating children together here is considered one that is exclusively the province of experts. In many Czech media outlets, the only people expressing their views about this are special educators, other kinds of educators, psychologists, etc.
How, then, is an ordinary person to understand this? I must admit (it would not be fair not to) that if a child is in a "special" class where there are only 10 pupils or less, and where the curriculum covered is not demanding, then that will certainly probably suit both that child and his parents at that time.
Let's answer the question, though, of why that should be. It suits parents who are frequently graduates of the special schools themselves, or of mainstream primary schools that they stopped attending before the 8th or 9th grade.
This kind of education, as we can read in some tabloids and other media outlets, is basically considered fine for these children, because if a child allegedly doesn't have what it takes for mainstream education, and is absolutely unable to enroll into such education, for whatever reason (psychological testing results, the anti-Gypsyism of the teacher or other children's parents), then thank God the child can at least go to some kind of school. If some of you who are reading this believe such an approach is absolutely fine, then stop reading now - unless you want to risk becoming angry.
Special schools have decimated the Romani community in the Czech Republic
My response to this situation is that it is not at all fine! This state of affairs functioned in both the former Czechoslovakia and subsequently in an independent Czech Republic and it has decimated the Romani community to a significant degree.
Moreover, this approach has de facto decimated any child who somehow has not corresponded performance-wise to the norms of schooling, both then and now. Of the current generation of Romani people who are of an economically productive age, more than half are unemployed, and the reason is not just because they are Romani people and "don't want to work", but because they are not at all competitive on the labor market precisely due to the fact that a large number of them have only a primary education from a "special school" or mainstream primary school.
This type of school produces people who are dependent on social welfare as adults. The Roma here have been beaten down because the Czech schools (with a few concrete exceptions - particular schools, specific teachers) have not managed to educate any children who are just a little bit different in the mainstream primary schools.
Romani origin is not a disability
Czech schools must rise to this challenge and know how to educate everyone they serve. That means they must educate them through modern approaches and methods that respect children's educational needs.
Undoubtedly it is appropriate to educate some children with similar types of disadvantaged health together in the same group and nobody would consider that wrong. Both experts and parents agree on that.
However, it is not possible to accept what used to be the standard and what, to a certain degree, still is the standard in many Czech schools, namely, the supposition that Romani origin qualifies as a type of disadvantaged health status. From both the Czech Republic and Slovakia we hear thousands of stories about how children and their parents have been convinced by educators that a "special school" is the best for them.
We are also hearing thousands of stories about bullying on the basis of ethnicity. There are thousands of stories about educators' well-intentioned advice and parents' decisions leading to lives of poverty and unemployment.
We are hearing stories telling us that it is absolutely normal for classes to be created that are attended just by Romani pupils. However, there are also many stories that are never heard and never seen.
The critics who say such things are not happening, who allege that nobody has ever approached Romani children in this way, cannot be considered competent to express expert views in this area. Such people are most likely to be the educators who have themselves contributed to these practices and still are perpetuating them.
Educating children together is about getting to know each other
Inclusive education is good and natural - an approach that helps bring people closer together, one that works. Personally, I know many experts who share this opinion with me.
Mutual recognition is the basis on which people are able to judge each other not according to their visible differences, but according to other qualities. This is not a cliché.
I believe each of us wishes that were the case for ourselves at least once a day - even in situations that are less important than a job interview, for example. However, I would be quite unhappy if readers were to come away from this with the opinion that everything is bad in the Czech schools.
That is not the case. Certainly there are teachers here who do their best every day to do their work as conscientiously as possible and who are admired for that by their colleagues, the parents of the children in their charge, and their pupils.
The same applies to entire schools and school counseling facilities. Despite these good examples, however, there still exists a considerable number of educators and schools who do not take this stance on education, who do not work conscientiously, and who are not admired.
There is no need to be concerned about educating everyone together. On the contrary, what we should be concerned about are those who believe educating everyone together will never result in anything good.
The author is a graduate in the study of pedagogy at Charles University, where he is a doctoral student in that field.
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