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Karel Holomek: We cannot reconcile ourselves to segregation

23.3.2015 19:32, (ROMEA)
Karel Holomek  (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)
Karel Holomek (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)

The term "inclusive education" (inkluzívní vzdělávání) is turning up at a high frequency now and as a matter of course in all circles in the Czech Republic, both among experts and among lay people. We have all accepted it, whether we feel negatively or positively about it, without realizing that we have much more apposite, precise words already available in Czech for what we might mean when we use this phrase.  

Those words are včlenění (incorporation) or zahrnutí (inclusion/involvement). It sounds better, of course, to use a foreign expression, especially when doing so obscures the real sense of the term.

Please note that I am using the notion here of what we might take this expression to mean, not what it exactly, precisely does mean. I have a rather justified suspicion that we are each imagining that it means something else entirely.

Condemned to inclusion?

My suspicions were confirmed just a few days ago. I attended a conference entitled "inclusive education", taking place in a school that is segregated - it has only Romani pupils.

The conference was the culmination of a two-year project with the same name, i.e., "inclusive activity", and the teachers at this segregated school are convinced that they are implementing in practice an example that is worthy of being called an "inclusive education" program. Here I hasten to add my appreciation for the work of the teachers at this school and my respect for them - I have not the slightest doubt that these educators are doing good work in this situation.  

One teacher at the conference commented that:  "We have been condemned to inclusion!" This remark expresses both the core and the depth of this entire problem.  

The teacher was trying to say that it is possible, in a segregated school, to implement inclusive forms of education. Let's look in more detail at whether that is true or not.

The answer to this question is important. Segregation is a certain type of inequality, and a democratic society cannot be satisfied with it.

The elimination of this state of affairs is a problem that has lasted for years, if such elimination is even feasible. Frequently, and with justification, it is mentioned that the Czech schools have been censured for not being sufficiently motivating for pupils of other ethnicities (for example, Romani ones), that what is taught in them is the history of the state-creating majority society, and that members of minorities are forced to consume this historical line - which in and of itself is certainly not bad, on the contrary, it is necessary for minority members to know this history.    

Of course, we presume that another kind of education should somehow also be included in the schools. That would be education in an awareness of the participation of minorities in the history of the majority, perception of the larger overall context of that history, and the usefulness of such perception for the majority when it comes to understanding the feeling held by contemporary minority members that they have a rightful, unmistakable place in history.

Amendment to the Schools Act will not change the situation

This other kind of education does not exist to this day, not in any purely Czech school, because the coveted mixing of members of the majority and the minority is not happening. If the majority and miority do not mix, that education simply cannot be.  

A segregated Czech school lacks this element - it is, in a certain way, itself excluded in reverse, because minority members cannot share common instruction with majority members. This is an enormous handicap and undoubtedly a restriction on the instructional environment of every Czech school.

I will not conceal the fact that instruction in a segregated Roma school can be good in many other ways. However, this restriction of the environment, as I call it, is a handicap.  

In a Romani school, Romani pupils can cultivate a sense of pride and self-confidence about their own ancestry and the history of that ancestry - their native language might even be taught there, which is a fabulous opportunity, if unfortunately little-realized here. The handicap created by restricting the environment is different in a segregated Romani school than it is in a segregated - and yes, let's call it that - purely Czech school.    

If we are to hold a fair trial in this matter, then when it comes to the meaning of "inclusive education" in the mainstream, we must note that this handicap will occur not just in the segregated Romani school, but also in the Czech one. While the quality of that handicap may be the same, its quantity is different.

The Czech schools, compared to Romani schools, exist at a ratio of - (an estimated?) - 1000:1. Because of this, they constitute a society-wide problem, the consequences of which are absolutely fatal.  

The amendment to the Schools Act that has just been adopted by the Czech Government does not eliminate this handicap. It does not even begin to pave the way for the elimination of this handicap.

The special educators' lobby

Here it is high time to mention the totally negative role played by the special educators' lobby (which does not include many reasonable special educators), who consider themselves the only experts on this matter and consider everyone else to be harmful, stupid lay people, human rights activists and defenders, etc., - in short, people who understand nothing and are just harming the Czech schools. These educators are willing to concede that segregated schools are unequal, but they believe their elimination could only occur at the cost of the total liquidation of the Czech school system.  

What kind of democracy can be satisfied with such inequality? For the sake of completeness, let's now review what demands have been put on the table by Romani representatives.

Their aim can briefly be described as follows:  The presence of Romani pupils in the classrooms of Czech schools in such a way that they will be evident and obvious to all other pupils, i.e., two or three Romani pupils (or pupils of another ethnicity) for every 25 majority-society pupils. Nothing more, nothing less.  

Every Czech school could handle that easily, without difficulty. Indeed, the question at this juncture is:  Don't schools exist, generally speaking, to help all children overcome obstacles in their education - or do they exist to point out that this or that pupil might be holding the others back?

The strategy of the Romani integration program

In closing, I would like to mention several interesting observations from a recent session of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs, which met on 19 March. As is known, this Commission is comprised of representatives of civil society, most often Romani ones, and an equal number of representatives of ministries, usually deputy ministers.

During the debate about the actual options available for implementing the amendment to the Schools Act, the Deputy Education Minister was asked to describe the future reduction of segregation in the Czech school system, and he responded that he did not know the answer to that question, adding:  "It is necessary to change the way people think in the whole of society!" The chair of the Commission is the Czech Minister for Human Rights and Legislation, Jiří Dienstbier, and when he was asked whether it is possible to undertake inclusive education in a segregated school, he responded, quite resolutely:  "Inclusive education is impossible in a segregated school!"

Interesting:  Each individual, each minister, has a completely different opinion of this issue. How, then, can the inclusive education program be implemented without also becoming a total embarrassment?

This strategy is proof, among other things, of the quiet but uncompromising struggle that has long been underway between those who purely back programs to combat social exclusion among that rather substantial part of the Romani community who are excluded in particular, and those who back something else, i.e., a program to cultivate Romani identity. When voting on what stance the Commission would adopt with respect to the amendment to the Schools Act, it was argued that there should be additional wording in our resolution stating that this amendment is supposed to achieve equality among candidates for education, including Romani people.  

The addition was phrased like this:  "... and Roma, as members of the Romani nation". The explanation of one Commission member was that Romani people cannot be perceived solely as "asocials" - as the fight against the social exclusion of Roma tempts us to see them - but that there are also members of the Romani nation who are not necessarily at the bottom of society, who are educated people and intellectuals.    

Taking this fact into consideration and clearly naming it as such would basically influence the interpretation of how the amendment to the Schools Act is implemented with respect to Roma during the inclusive education process. Otherwise, it is as if the very word "Roma" were taboo.

I was pleasantly surprised that the entire Commission expressed its agreement with this addition without a single dissenting vote. This is a success on the front lines of the battle for equality in a democratic society, equality that is far from a matter of course in the Czech Republic.


Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

identita, Inkluzivní vzdělávání, Jiří Dienstbier, lidská práva



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