Karel Holomek: Czech MP in charge of education amendment is unqualified
Recently I have tried not to comment on Romani affairs, as I have the feeling it could be perceived as an obsession. However, I must respond to a recent article by Martin Shab (Varování: romské děti nejsou zvláštní - "Warning: Romani children aren't special").
The piece was published on Wednesday, 15 October in Lidové noviny, I do not mean my respose as a cricism of the author of that article, because he was just describing the actual situation in it.
First of all: Romani children are genuinely special, because if they weren't, we wouldn't be bothering with any of this. As a random piece of evidence for that claim I will just mention that most of them speak a different mother tongue.
Their language is completely different from the one spoken by all of their fellow pupils. What is at issue here is that an amendment to the Schools Act is once again being prepared in Parliament that is supposed to facilitate and increase the inclusion of Romani pupils into mainstream education.
I can't really explain what the concept of "mainstream" education is, but in short, this is about Romani children getting into the so-called "good" schools easily, without impediments. That is also now being called "inclusive education".
The amendment is supposed to be a response to a critical letter from the EU emphasizing that the Czech Republic has not changed its discriminatory policy in this regard, not even after a verdict from the European Court of Human Rights agreed in 2007 with 18 Romani people from Ostrava who complained about the practice. In the proposed amendment, what is at issue is a claim about the rules for reassigning children into the "practical primary schools" that are intended for children with light mental disability.
The amendment says (I am quoting): "The assessment of a mentally disabled child or pupil for the purposes of this law shall always be based on an evaluation of the child's or pupil's adaptive and intellectual capacity in the context of the child's or pupil's development and the child's or pupil's cultural and social environment." However, a clause phrased like that will only help Romani children who are not suffering from mental disability to once again be sent to the "practical" or "special" schools.
Don't tell me it won't - I make this claim on the basis of at least 20 years of experience! Czech MP Alena Bohdalová, the rapporteur on the law for the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), is now telling us things about this amendment that are making me angry, because we are still continually discussing the same matters that were already proven erroneous many years ago when we raised identical objections to the Schools Act while it was being drafted.
We were unsuccessful back then! Once again, we are hearing people saying the following: "I reject the thesis that Romani children were assigned to the special schools just because they are Romani."
It is, however, evident that this is what has been going on and that this is still going on - I insist on this once again, and many other people insist along with me. Or we hear claims like this: "When they started school and simply couldn't handle it, they were reassigned, on the basis of an examination, to the practical schools. Are there a lot of them there? That is the result of how their population lives."
Such a claim, Madame MP, smacks of more than just a hint of racism, isn't that true? Then there's this quote: "A share of the blame is also borne by the insensitive intervention of the communist regime, which violently forced Romani people at the end of the 1950s to change their lifestyle. They were forced to transition from their traditional traveling to being permanently settled. ...education is not one of their preferred life aims."
Here, too, Madame MP, you are wide of the mark. The majority of Romani people now living on the former territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire have been settled since the time of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780).
The reiteration of such clichéd opinon is enough to prove that this MP should be disqualified from serving as rapporteur on this law. She lacks the necessary education in this field and she is out of touch with the environment and the people it concerns - she does not have sufficient knowledge of that environment.
This fact is typical of our politicians: They make decisions without ever learning from those affected or from those who are qualified. I am really curious to see which Romani people will be allowed to express their views in the discussion of this amendment.
I know that in the squabbling over this amendment the main voice has been that of Jiří Pilař, the boss of the special educators' lobby, who has been playing the role of the main obstacle to progress on this issue for 20 years already. Did MP Bohdalová ever contact the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, which has been officially designated by the Government as a producer of analyses on Romani affairs, when it came to this amendment?
The Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs will have the opportunity to express itself on this law at its next regular session on 23 October. Will anyone responsible for these decisions even take note of its opinion?!
First published on the author's blog.
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