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Educational discrimination against Romani children part of Czech unrest

Šluknov, 13.9.2011 16:13, (ROMEA)

Czech Television station ČT24 has posted an article to its website reporting on the connection between the current unrest in Šluknov district and discrimination against Romani people in the schools. Such discrimination has been linked for decades in the Czech Republic to the provision of special education.

The unrest in Šluknov region is rooted in the ongoing discrimination being practiced against Romani children at elementary schools there. For decades, the state has permitted intellectually healthy Romani children to be educated at schools for the intellectually disabled. After the practice was criticized, the state renamed the schools concerned, changing "special" ("zvláštní") schools into "practical" ("praktické") ones. Irremediable harm has been done to these children, because without a normal education, Romani people have no chance on the labor market. Among Romani residents of the residential hotel in Varnsdorf which police officers have been protecting from attack by non-Romani locals recently, only half of the local children currently attend mainstream schools.

A full 27 % of Romani children without intellectual disabilities are still attending the renamed "special" schools throughout the country. "Special schools are intended for the intellectually disabled. Tell me: Is it possible for such a high percentage of any population to be intellectually disabled?" asks Iveta Němečková, a special needs educator.

There are 400 ghettos total in the Czech Republic where an estimated 30 000 children live. Just like their parents when they were of pre-school age, many of these children have small vocabularies in Czech, may not yet know the words for colors or shapes (or may not distinguish colors), and may not yet grasp certain concepts. However, they are not intellectually backward, just socially deprived. They therefore have even more of a need for a normal education. "That's how they become familiar with the majority society, how they establish relationships with other children and start perceiving social norms and values in a natural way," said Klára Fischerová, a special needs educator working at the Lyčkovo náměstí Elementary School in Karlín.

In 2007, the Czech Republic lost a case at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found in favor of Romani citizens who complained they had been unjustifiably educated in special schools. The practice is continuing and has been criticized by the Czech School Inspectorate and the ombudsman.

Segregated education has a sad tradition of devastating impacts among the Roma. Those living in the ghettos today are often graduates of the days when special education was developed in full in Czechoslovakia during the 1970s. "A disproportionate percentage of the Romani population were educated in special schools, as many as 70 % of Romani children at the height of the practice," Němečková pointed out.

According to a World Bank study published last year, eight out of 10 Romani people currently of economically productive age have only ever completed an elementary education. If their children don't get a chance for a better education, they will end up on welfare. The situation is a vicious circle.

"It's not true that information has not been available about this, but for some reason there has never been interest at the highest levels, such as the Czech Education Ministry, or even in regional government. If we don't address this now, it will catch up to us in time," said Ivan Gabal, a sociologist and author of several pieces of research into the unequal position of Romani children.

The state already knows how to address the situation. One elementary school in Prague's Karlín neighborhood could serve as a model, where rich and successful people are neighbors with families living in existential deprivation and everyone sends their children to the same schools.

"The children are satisfied, that's important. We are the clients of these children and their parents, so we want to guarantee education for all," school director Jan Korda said. The Romani population of the school is 10 %, or two or three pupils in each class. Class 6.B also includes a girl of Vietnamese origin and a hearing-disabled boy. They live on the same street and attend the same class.

"We're all children and we should be friends, not be separated," said Anežka Novotná from class 6.B. Whether the situation will change in Šluknov district remains an open question.

Gwendolyn Albert, ceskatelevize.cz, http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/regiony/135955-za-problemy-na-sluknovsku-vezi-i-diskriminace-romskych-deti/, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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