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Kopicová: Results of school support for Roma will be visible in years to come

Prague, 26.11.2009 12:10, (ROMEA)

The Czech Education Ministry (MŠMT) has already allocated CZK 200 million from EU funds to support equal opportunities in education and is now preparing to allocate another CZK 800 million. In the years ahead, elementary schools will be able to access a total of CZK 4.5 billion for such purposes, Czech Education Minister Miroslava Kopicová told journalists yesterday, adding that the results of such support will obviously only become visible after several years.

Two years ago, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) charged the Czech Republic with introducing measures to prevent the discrimination of Romani pupils in schools. A representative of the Together to School (Společně do školy) coalition, comprised of 13 domestic, international and Roma NGOs supporting equal access to education, also presented at the press conference.

The court found that the Czech Republic had improperly assigned the 18 Romani plaintiffs into “special schools” between 1996 and 1999. The verdict said the Czech Republic had violated the article of the European Convention on Human Rights that bans discrimination as well as the article of the Protocol to the Convention on the right to education.

Kopicová said the ministry is preparing its National Action Plan for Inclusive Education, which will establish a system of measures to ensure socially disadvantaged children access education and will be introduced in January. She also intends to distribute methodological recommendations to counseling centers and schools on how to help these children.

"Discriminatory barriers and differential treatment of children from the Roma minority unfortunately persist,” Jan Stejskal of the Together to Schools (Společně do školy) coalition told ČTK. Stejskal welcomes the fact that the ministry perceives the problem of the assignment of Romani children into special education as one of its fundamental priorities.

Stejskal says some estimates of the number of children at risk of being improperly assigned to special education annually are as high as 10 000, but he believes the actual number to be three times that. He also emphasized that the culling of these pupils from mainstream elementary schools contributes to social exclusion to a great extent. "Primarily, the principle must be respected that children from the Roma minority have the right to equal treatment, to the same standard treatment as children from the Czech majority society,” he said.

Deputy Education Minister Klára Laurenčíková said the ministry will amend its ordinance on the education of pupils with special needs so as to define in more detail the social disadvantage faced by Romani children. This should prevent social disadvantage from continuing to be erroneously linked to intellectual or mental disability.

Laurenčíková said the ministry also will also amend its ordinance on counseling services at schools. Among other changes, the ordinance should ensure that parents will be informed in advance of the outcomes for their children of being assigned to special education.

One billion Czech crowns were allocated to schools in 2008 and 2009 for the direct support of projects developing equal opportunities in education and for the prevention of high-risk behavior at schools. However, the schools themselves will be determining how to use the upcoming CZK 4.5 billion. There is, therefore, no guarantee that the money will really be used for the integration of disadvantaged pupils instead of, for example, modernizing computer equipment.

The minister mentioned the results of a recent investigation of the diagnostic instruments used to test pupils from socially and culturally different environments as applied to Romani pupils. The aim of this investigation was to determine whether the diagnostic instruments used by the school counseling facilities to test pupils from “socio-culturally disadvantaging” environments, i.e., Romani and other children, are sufficiently “neutral”. According to the analysis, it could not be demonstrated that the specific instruments used during counseling and clinical practice with respect to members of minority groups in the population are discriminatory in nature or otherwise incorrect.

MŠMT intends to use the information produced by this analysis to design its National Action Plan for Support of Inclusive Education. Methodological recommendations are being designed with the aim of guaranteeing equal opportunities for the education of children and pupils with social disadvantage (including Romani children and pupils). Minister Kopicová says these will include measures aimed at assigning such children and pupils into mainstream elementary and nursery schools.

“Today the ‘special schools’ which were criticized by the Strasbourg verdict no longer exist in this country and have not for some time, but that does not mean the situation is ideal. In September, therefore, we held a conference on Overcoming Social Disadvantage in Education at which we presented the results of independent analyses performed by Ivan Gabal’s GAC company and People in Need. These map the situation of Romani children at schools in the neighborhoods of socially excluded localities in great detail, as well as the readiness of those schools to work with these children,” Kopicová said.

The Institute for Information in Education, which is managed by the ministry, also undertook an investigation to determine the number of Romani pupils educated according to various educational programs in the Czech Republic. “Until now, such data were not available, among other reasons because the political courage to collect it was lacking. However, without this data it is impossible to objectively evaluate the overall state of affairs and propose measures to benefit Romani pupils and help them be assigned into mainstream education more frequently,” Kopicová said.

The most important finding of this investigation was the information that almost one-third of all Romani pupils (26.7 %) attend schools that educate them according to the Framework Educational Program for Light Mental Retardation. Only 2.17 % of non-Romani pupils visit such schools.

“I deeply value the participation of the representatives of the Together to School coalition at today’s press conference. I believe that in the future we will collaborate much more intensively than we have to date on improving the education of all children from socially disadvantaging environments, not just the Roma,” Kopicová concluded.

Together to School

The Together to School coalition was created after the announcement of the verdict of the European Court for Human Rights in November 2007. It is comprised of 13 domestic, international and Roma NGOs: Amnesty International, Czech Helsinki Committee, European Dialogue, European Roma Rights Centre, IQ Roma Servis, League of Human Rights, Life Together, Open Society Fund Praha, Peacework Development Fund, People in Need, Roma Association Čačipen, Roma Center DROM, ROMODROM, Step by Step ČR, and Z§vůle práva. Z§vůle práva is the main coordinator of the project. The general aim of the coalition is to contribute to the desegregation of the Czech educational system and to help implement the principle of equal treatment for all children irrespective of their origin, skin color, or social position. The member organizations of the coalition perform analyses, educational projects, and research into discrimination in education.

Basic activities of MŠMT in the area of educating children from “socio-culturally disadvantaging environments”

After studying the ECHR verdict, MŠMT commissioned two basic analyses of the situation of socially disadvantaged pupils in the Czech school system: The “Educational Careers and Opportunities of Romani Pupils Attending Elementary Schools Near Excluded Roma Localities” (study performed by GAC, s. r. o.) and the “Analysis of the Individualized Approaches Taken by Pedagogues toward Pupils with Special Education Needs” (study performed by People in Need). Both studies were the very first to be performed on an extensive scale. Their conclusions show there are problems with the education of these children and that it is necessary to help them improve their success at school through targeted measures. On the other hand, the studies did not confirm the estimates of some non-profit organizations regarding the numbers of children from disadvantaged environments attending practical schools.

The main findings of these studies are: At schools in the neighborhoods of socially excluded localities the educational chances of non-Romani and Romani children are unequal. The chance that Romani pupils will graduate from elementary school at the same time as their peers is approximately half that of their non-Romani schoolmates. This slump primarily concerns the gradual transfers of Romani pupils to schools teaching according to the “special schools” program, i.e., the program for children with “light mental retardation”. The studies found that mainstream schools are attended by 72 % of Romani children and 92 % of non-Romani children, while schools for children with light mental disability are attended by almost one-third of all Romani children (as compared to 8 % of non-Romani children). An average of two out of 10 Romani girls and 2.4 out of 10 Romani boys leave mainstream education annually. The education system in the Czech Republic is, despite the ongoing transformation of special education, sill encumbered by a rather significant tendency to cull high numbers of children with special educational needs from mainstream education and assign them to special education designed primarily for persons with mental disability, including light mental disability (in practice, for every child who re-enters mainstream education from special education, 85 leave mainstream education for special education).

This year, another investigation was conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Information in Education which also confirmed the proportionally excessive number of Romani children educated in programs for children with light mental disability. This investigation found a total of 3.21 % of all children are being educated according to programs designed for children with light mental disability. Of the total non-Romani pupil population, 2.17 % are educated in such programs; of the total Romani pupil population, 26.7 % are educated in such programs.

Currently MŠMT is taking the following measures in accordance with the recommendations of the above-cited reports:

1) From EU funds, financing has been allocated and distributed for projects at schools, school counseling facilities, educational facilities, NNOs, etc, that support equal opportunities in education. During the first tender CZK 200 million was distributed, followed by CZK 800 million during the second tender; as part of the “EU money to schools” project (which will allocate CZK 4.5 billion to elementary schools), support for inclusive education is one of the key areas.

2) As of 1 July 2009, the nationwide project of Inclusive Education Centers was launched to create centers of support for pro-inclusive measures and strategies directly supporting schools in their work with disadvantaged children; project employees inform schools about existing support measures and options and collaborate with schools on establishing pro-inclusion strategies. The project covers all regions of the Czech Republic.

3) The Czech School Inspection Authority will follow the fulfillment of equal opportunities in education and will follow whether practical schools are reintegrating their pupils into mainstream education.

4) In the coming months, MŠMT will hold educational seminars focused on eliminating segregation in regions most at risk for it: Central Bohemia, Karlovy Vary, Moravia-Silesia, Olomouc, and Ústí.

5) MŠMT is working on modernizing the counseling system: Pro-inclusive standards for counseling centers are being developed, certification of counseling centers will be introduced, and the counseling centers will be equipped with new “culture-free” diagnostic instruments. Legislative changes are being designed which will establish support measures for socially disadvantaged children.

6) The amount of funding in the subsidy program supporting teaching assistants for socially disadvantaged pupils has been increased.

7) The action plan of early childhood education for children with “socio-cultural disadvantage” is being implemented, including support for the pre-school education of disadvantaged children.

8) Methodological recommendations are ready to be distributed to counseling centers and schools (to their directors) including the ethical principles of working with children from “socio-culturally disadvantaging environments”.

9) Currently, inter-ministerial meetings are being held on starting the transformation of the practical schools to serve only those children who are truly lightly mentally disabled (3 – 4 % of the population).

The long-term conceptual solution to this problem will take the form of the National Action Plan for Inclusive Education (Národní akční plán inkluzívní vzdělávání - NAPIV), which MŠMT will submit to the Czech government by the end of January 2010. NAPIV will institute comprehensive measures, primarily those changes necessary to guaranteeing inclusive education for socially disadvantaged children. The aim is to create inclusive schools providing conditions for children such that all – even though their capabilities may widely differ – are educated in an environment that optimally develops them in a common social group which is diverse in terms of performance. The purpose of inclusive schools is to break down unnecessary social barriers and deliver an education for all pupils corresponding to their needs as individuals.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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