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ERRC against testing pupils as it could intensify Romani segregation

Prague, 27.3.2012 20:00, (ROMEA)

Speaking to journalists in Prague yesterday, Marek Szilvási of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) said the organization is opposed to the planned blanket testing of fifth and ninth-grade pupils in the Czech Republic. The ERRC believes this testing could be used to intensify the segregation of Romani schoolchildren.

The organization has long criticized the Czech Republic over the fact that many Romani children end up in "practical" or "special" schools even though they are not intellectually disabled. Blanket testing of fifth and ninth-graders will start in 2014. It was the idea of Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš (Public Affairs - VV), who recently resigned.

"The ministry is planning to establish a ranking of schools according to the test results of their fifth and ninth-graders. Financing will flow to the schools according to their position in the ranking," Szilvási said. The ERRC believes that many schools will not be interested in teaching weaker pupils because their relatively poorer results could eventually cost the schools money. Instead of including all children in mainstream education, pressure could arise to shift any under-performing children into "special schools", according to ERRC representatives.

Research has shown that the academic achievement of Romani children is lower on average than that of other children. At the start of their education, their poor knowledge of Czech is often a barrier, as is the fact that they come from a different cultural environment with different habits and that their families are financially poor. Szilvási said some Romani children may not succeed on the planned tests, especially if they have recently been reassigned into mainstream education from the "special schools". Romani children's relatively poor results may also be due to the fact that they have little motivation to continue their studies. "We are of the opinion that the regional schooling reform will reduce the motivation of educational psychologists and teachers to work with Romani pupils even further," the ERRC representative said.

The first attempt at testing pupils took place at the end of last year. The vast majority of participating children passed the tests. Fifth-graders had the greatest problems with English, with roughly one-third scoring less than 30 % on the test. The next general test should take place this May and June, and a third will take place one year from now. In the future, in addition to testing the children's knowledge, a test of the school's atmosphere will also be performed. Szilvási said the ERRC and other organizations recently called on the Czech Government to "do something" about the testing.

The ERRC believes it is also a problem in the Czech Republic that there is a lack of data on the ethnicity of schoolchildren assigned to the "special schools". Recently, the effort of the ombudsman and his staff to acquire such data by counting Romani children directly in the schools sparked a wave of displeasure among the public.ERRC representatives said there will never be progress on Romani educational achievement without affirmative action. Disadvantaged children should be able to attend nursery school for free in order to prepare for elementary school. If a schoolchild's family does not have money, pupils should receive support to be able to participate in school field trips or buy lunch at school, Szilvási said.

Last fall the Government approved its Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion (Strategie boje proti sociálnímu vyloučení). According to that document, schools should receive more money for children residing in ghettos and the authorities will be able to mandate nursery school attendance for Romani preschoolers as well as provide pupils with financial contributions toward their field trips, meals, supplies and transportation. The "practical schools" should be gradually transformed into mainstream schools.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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