Karel Holomek: Inclusive education nowhere in sight in the Czech Republic
The beginning of this school year has taken place with the enrollment of the largest number of first-graders in 20 years, as many as 115 000 children starting instruction. Unfortunately, this favorable development will not continue, according to the prognoses of experts on education.
A new element in this development of the number of children in the schools has also appeared, one that could foreshadow certain difficulties, to say nothing of indicating that the development of education and training in the Czech schools is just groping in the dark. I have in mind the inclusive education of children with special educational needs into mainstream education.
To be clear: This is the professional way of expressing the age-old fact that Romani children have been excluded from mainstream education, and it means nothing less than that these children have been excluded into segregated schools which, while they are nominally primary schools, decidedly are not mainstream. Those who claim otherwise don't know what they're talking about.
The new element is that a larger number of Romani children has turned up in the first-grade classes of the primary schools. This is due to badly-drafted legislation in the housing area and the unfortunate efforts of our municipalities, who are to blame for creating excluded localities - ghettos.
All of the Romani children in town are now being streamed into a single school in their catchment area. There they meet non-Romani pupils.
Many non-Romani parents have been disgusted by this fact. They have immediately enrolled their children in other schools.
On top of it all, the headlines are discussing this - not just in the Czech media, but throughout Europe: "Fleeing Romani pupils in the Czech schools", read one. Shame on them!
This is big. It shows there is something rather unhealthy going on in the Czech state.
That headline will forever be a black mark in the annals of the Czech school system for the year 2014. Moreover, these developments will only continue in the years to come.
Unlike ethnic Czech children (and it is not my intention to draw distinctions, but this is the only way to discuss this indisputable fact), there will continue to be more and more Romani children in the Czech schools in the future - there is probably nothing anyone can do about that. It would be good to realize this fact of demographic development and try to work with it.
Such a trend does not have to indicate a disaster, as many people today believe, but on the contrary indicates a change for the better, an enhancement. Teachers themselves are admitting that the reason non-Romani pupils are fleeing when Romani ones enroll is not the danger that the quality of instruction will deteriorate, but racism pure and simple - I could be more tolerant here and call this just a lack of tolerance caused by non-Romani parents' efforts to get their children into the best school in the first place, and a school with Romani pupils does not strike them as such a school.
We shouldn't have to emphasize that the presence of Romani children can be useful for non-Romani children because Romani children can provide their non-Romani peers with more awareness of a social nature, while Romani children can acquire from their non-Romani schoolmates the notion of setting the rules of a game and their own behavior, and ultimately may experience friendly attitudes from non-Romani people, something they still strongly miss. Imagine what a miracle it will be once such children who have been educated together enter society as adult individuals.
Understandably this will not be an easy, painless process. However, we aren't there yet, and under the current bad circumstances, we will not be there for some time.
We cannot presume that non-Romani parents will abandon their way of thinking and that, with difficulty, they will reconcile themselves to the unavoidable development of the presence of diverse children in the schools. The decision of parents to enroll their children into the school they have chosen for them is holy and inviolable.
What lies before us, to put it mildly, is a grim future of attempting to include Romani children in mainstream education, even with the intensive efforts of many NGOs to enforce such inclusion and to seek it out in practice. This development could take years, if it ever is pushed through at all, because we have a strong lobby against it as well as prejudice and stupidity on all sides.
What to do? As always, comprehensive solutions present themselves, not distinct, separate measures which will fail because they are isolated and not connected to one another.
For the time being no one has made much mention of these solutions in our country. The Czech schools are basically founded on the principal of exclusivity and selectivity and make it possible for children from families motivated to educate themselves (or who are sufficiently wealthy) to choose a selective school to attend.
This is a recipe for inequality, which degrades a democratic society and eventually will destroy it. All parents, after all, want their children to make it to college whether they have what it takes or not.
Currently, after completing the first half of their primary education, children here take entrance tests for academic high school and are tracked based on those results. In this way a primary school loses its "drivers", its best students.
This is the wrong approach. The same primary school education should be attended by all until both halves of it have been completed, and the work with gifted pupils, just like the work with those who fall behind, must completely change.
It's not hard to imagine what kind of behavioral miracles we could expect to see in children coming from wealthy backgrounds in such a system. In our current system these people are growing up as arrogant freaks.
It was somewhere in the education system that the rise of opinions despising poverty or people from "inferior" environments, which all children here identify as Romani, first began. Such opinions and perspectives are usually supported in ethnic Czech families and can be heard rather often in the barbershops and in the pubs.
This worldview is like a plague. Children, of course, only express what they hear at home.
The number of academic high schools in this country should be kept low, reserved only for pupils about whose capabilities there is no doubt. There should be more high-quality vocational schools that offer high school diplomas as well.
In the countries where the greatest successes in children's education have been recorded, those are the governing principles and everything is subordinated to them - the organization of education, the needs of personnel, and indeed, the flow of money. Is this what awaits the Czech Republic in the future?
No chance. We could have done this 10 years ago if our heads had been in the right place!
First published on Karel Holomek's blog.
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