High schoolers in the Czech capital don't discuss minorities, poll finds they distrust media and politicians
Students at Prague's high schools do not much discuss minorities either among themselves or at school, and if the subject does come up, it is in the context of migration. Generally speaking, they do not trust the media even though it is their most frequent source of information.
The authorities whom high schoolers consider the most reliable are their parents, with politicians the least reliable. Those are the findings of a recent poll undertaken by the Anthropictures service for the Multicultural Center Prague.
Materials will be created on the basis of that poll to aid teachers during instruction. The research project involved 300 children attending five college preparatory high schools, two secondary vocational schools and one technical training institution.
Students were asked to role-play situations in which a new student - either a Romani person or a Syrian - joined their class. They completed questionnaires, were interviewed, and participated in focus groups where the discussions were observed by experts.
"This investigation, this poll, was implemented primarily as part of our projects and programs for teachers. It was basically meant to discover what these high school students believe," said Tereza Cajthamlová, who provides methodological guidance for the center's educational activities.
"The findings are meant to guide teachers in terms of how to teach about these issues. Without such instruction, there will be no progress in their understanding, they could just end up reading definitions in textbooks," Cajthamlová said.
The authors believe the research should not just contribute facts about how high school students generally think, but should also demonstrate their different ways of thinking and how they use narratives - how they see the world according to what kinds of storylines. According to Linda Kovářová of Anthropictures, the poll's findings demonstrate that students do not discuss the subject of minorities among themselves much and that it is not an important theme of their conversations.
When high schoolers do discuss minorities, it is in association with migrants. "They say the subject does not directly affect them," Kovářová said.
Most of the high schoolers were said to have done their best to express tolerant attitudes, but of the total set of positions and remarks expressed, about one-quarter were said to be categorized as discriminatory or stigmatizing. The students said they either do not know how to discuss the subject of migration at school with their teachers, do not want to discuss it, or reported that it is not a component of their instruction.
"Sometimes they mentioned perceiving inhibitions from their teachers when it came to discussing such subjects, they assume these are sensitive issues for the teachers," Kovářová said. In the role-playing scenes about accepting a new student, the high schoolers did not draw much of a distinction during their discussions between scenarios in which the newcomer was Romani and those in which the newcomer was Syrian.
"They tended to accept the new schoolmate with interest, maybe there was some reserve among some of them. Frequently they came forward with statements that the [new arrival] should share their values," Kovářová said.
The responses included remarks calling a Romani schoolmate "decent" and an "exception". The discussion about the Romani minority as a whole, however, was not positive.
The questionnaire part of the poll demonstrated that students find their parents the most reliable sources of information and politicians the least reliable. They also distrust the media and describe it as exaggerating, misleading, and the information it communicates as in need of verification.
Despite this distrust, high schoolers get most of their information from the media and said that verifying the information is such a demanding process that they don't do it that much. Most of the information they have about minorities comes exactly from the media.
The high schoolers said they perceived migration as natural - but just when it was discussed as an historical phenomenon in the distant past. Kovářová said that once the subject turned to today's waves of migration, many critical remarks appeared.
The research, according to the authors, also demonstrated that personal experience with a friend who is a migrant or from a minority reduces the degree of discriminatory, stigmatizing remarks made by a student. The children also displayed a strong tendency to accept both information and opinions from their parents.
The poll also involved students in leading some of the interviews and the situation role-playing as researchers themselves. "It was not easy, I had to set aside my own opinion, I had to listen, and I was not allowed to react as I normally would," said Viktorie Tomášková, a student from a teacher training high school.
Tomášková said that during the interviews she was surprised by the degree of hatred that was episodically expressed. She also said she herself was concerned, when interviewing a Romani student, about whether the questions she was asking might not somehow hurt the girl's feelings.
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