Former Czech EdMin to become Education Ombud, defends segregation
The new position of Education Ombud in the Czech Republic will be taken up by former Czech Education Minister Eduard Zeman in mid-September. In an interview for Czech Radio regarding Roma access to education, Zeman said he considers the country's "practical schools" to be uniquely Czech and sees nothing wrong with them.
Zeman also claimed Romani people are better off in the Czech Republic than they are in other countries. Klára Bílá, spokesperson for Czech Education Minister Marcel Chládek (Czech Social Democrats), said the Education Ombud position will be a part-time one that will be institutionally independent of the ministry.
The powers of the position are not yet clarified, but Zeman will reportedly be following the model of the Public Defender of Rights in reviewing complaints that cannot be handled by the Czech Social Inspectorate concerning the problems of parents, school founders, students and teachers and their relations to one another. Zeman had the opportunity to publicly present some of his opinions related to his new position in the Czech Radio interview.
One topic touched on was that of the "practical schools" for pupils with intellectual disabilities into which Romani children are often enrolled even without a diagnosis of any such disability. When asked whether the Czech school system has been making an error, and if so, whether he as ombud would attempt to correct it, Zeman said he was not of the opinion that the Roma in the Czech Republic are significantly worse-off than in other states.
"Special schools are definitely, let's say, a Czech specialty, but I don't believe they are completely bad," he said. Representatives of nonprofits involved in education have objected to Zeman becoming the Education Ombud because of that opinion.
Michal Miko of the Slovo 21 civic association told news server Romea.cz that "I have participated in several research projects for international organizations such as the European Roma Rights Center or the Roma Education Fund. That research clearly found that in the transformation of the special schools into the practical schools, no fundamental changes have been made as far as the disproportionate assignment of Romani children to them, and there are also several other domestic pieces of research on this issue produced by experts from the Office of the Public Defender of Rights or Amnesty International. How would Mr Zeman address the more than 10 000 potential complaints from the parents of children who were unjustifiably assigned to the practical schools? That's the data produced by the Czech School Inspection Authority over the past three years on this issue."
Concerns over Zeman's future work as Education Ombud are shared by Lucie Fremlová, an independent consultant and doctoral student at the University of Brighton: "Yesterday's statement by the incoming Education Ombud for Radiožurnál is alarming, not only because the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the matter of D.H. and others versus the Czech Republic remains unfulfilled almost seven years after it was handed down, but also because the Czech Government submitted a report on 28 April on the fulfillment of that judgment to the court and the ministry has published its 2020 Education Strategy, and equal access to education is listed there as a key priority. The fact that Minister Chládek has appointed a person as Education Ombud who does not share those convictions confirms our concerns regarding the amendment to paragraph 16 of the School Act that has been submitted, namely, that it will just be a cosmetic change on paper that will not lead to any real change."
Chládek proposed the idea of establishing the position of an Education Ombud after many serious complaints were filed with the ministry that neither his office nor the Czech School Inspectorate has the capacity to handle. The main task of the Education Ombud will be addressing such problems and thoroughly investigating alleged wrongdoing in the schools.
"However, it will also be an advisory body to parents, pupils, students, and last but not least, teachers. The Education Ombud will also fulfill the role of a mediator between education facilities, education professionals, and the ministry," the ministry spokesperson said.
"Eduard Zeman is a person with education experience who also has valuable experience from his previous position as Education Minister, which is an ideal combination for performing the role of ombud," the ministry spokesperson said. Zeman was Education Minister from 1998 to 2002; he then became a member of the Citizens' Rights Party for Zeman (Strana práv občanů Zemanovci - SPOZ), which also included among its members Miroslav Šlouf, a former leading functionary with the Socialist Youth Union and a former Communist Party MP prior to 1989, who, as the chair of the Prague cell of the SPOZ, has been linked to Martin Nejedlý, a controversial representative of the Russian oil company Lukoil.
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