Promoter of status quo segregation believes the Czech state takes excellent care of Romani children
Jiří Pilař, chair of the Association of Special Educators (Asociace speciálních pedagogů - ASP) is a longtime defender of the "special schools" who has been fighting with the advocates promoting what he calls "inclusion at any price". He recently published a commentary on the educational news server Česká škola (Czech School) about the current state of his fight on behalf of the "practical schools" (previously called "special schools") and the recent amendment of the Schools Act.
Activists as blinded ideologues?
His perspective is important and interesting, for several reasons: Pilař represents the strong lobby of the "practical schools", which is influencing the decisions taken by the Czech Education Ministry. Unlike some experts who are promoting inclusion, he interprets the amended Schools Act as a compromise that means the "practical schools" will survive.
In his view, no big "revolution" will be taking place in the schools as a result of the legislative changes. What's more, he sees no reason for one.
Pilař's perspective should be a warning sign for everyone who has welcomed the amendment of the Schools Act as a decisive step toward inclusion. As an experienced debater and practitioner, he presents many numbers in his commentary that seem convincing and that frame the "activists" (who in his view are the Agency for Social Inclusion, the Czech Government Human Rights Council, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, and various nonprofit) as ideologues who reject facts and blindly strive to promote their ideas.
It is true that "activists" must take great care not to slip into ideology and must be able to make relevant arguments and hold their own in discussions. It is also true that they do not always succeed.
There is no doubt that public opinion among majority-society members is on the side of Pilař and is not being shaken by any "activist ideology". Let's take a closer look at the figures he presents.
In his article, Pilař writes the following: "The core of this problem is the obsessive notion of the activsts that Romani children are being unjustifiably assigned to the practical primary schools. They express these notions of theirs by slandering our state, addressing their slanders here to Brussels, there to Strasbourg, in order to gain a decent state subsidy for their activity as a result. They are not bothered in the slightest by the findings of the Czech School Inspectorate, which in 2009 undertook an investigation in 171 schools of 15 894 pupils... . From that number of pupils, the investigation found 110 without correct diagnoses, which is 0.69 % of the total number (there were only 29 Romani pupils without correct diagnoses, which is 0.18 % of the total number of pupils studied). The number of pupils enrolled without any proof that their legal representatives had consented to their enrollment was determined to be 179 pupils, which is the equivalent of 1.09 % of the total number of pupils studied. That means that 98.22 % of the pupils studied had been correctly assigned to those schools in accordance with the applicable legislation. Since then, there decidedly has not been an increase in the incorrect assignment of pupils...".
In other words, there are minor deficiencies here, but something of the kind exists in any system that is this big. The numbers, therefore, clearly demonstrate that the activists' complaints are odd, to say the least.
Is this true? No, such a conclusion is not as unequivocal as it might seem - and we don't have to question the numbers that Pilař presents to see that.
The problem is that many experts, for many years, have been calling for a change in the way children are diagnosed. They believe the existing method is insufficient because, among other things, it is "culturally conditioned", which means it a priori disadvantages Romani children, for example.
The claim that only 0.69 % of children were assigned to the practical schools "without the correct diagnosis" has little value in a situation where the diagnostic technique in and of itself is what is at issue. The data that only approximately 1 % of children have been enrolled into the practical schools "without any proof that their legal representatives had consented to their enrollment" is of similarly dubious value.
Yes, it's possible that 1 % is the number. However, the experiences of "activists" and the findings of experts and journalists clearly demonstrate that the parents of Romani children are manipulated by various circumstances into giving their consent with the reassignment of their children into the "practical schools", beginning with pressure during primary school enrollment and ending with their fear of bullying and their search for a calmer and more familiar environment for their children.
Sure, they consent, and the letter of the law is fulfilled. However, that does not mean such consent is not a result of discriminatory pressures.
Here we see that when a simple statistic runs up against its social context, its supposedly unique interpretation is shattered. Also, all of this does not mean that there is not a disproportionately high percentage of Romani children in the "practical schools", and in recent days we have once again been criticized by European Union bodies for that fact.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of"
Pilař, of course, presents another set of numbers in his article. They are based on a survey performed under the auspices of the former EU Commissioner Viviane Reding in 2012.
In his view, the findings of this survey received no media response (unlike the charges of discrimination). He writes: "Romani people in the Czech Republic enjoy the highest levels of education and labor market participation of the 11 European countries researched, according to this study (including France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, etc.) - although naturally not good levels (the sample was 22 000 people). The percentage of Romani people with a secondary education in our country reaches almost 30 % compared to an average of 15 % in the other countries. That leads to 40 % Romani employment in our country compared to 10 - 20 % Romani employment in the other countries studied, etc. From these data it follows that our state, on the contrary, is really doing its best to educate all of its pupils irrespective of race or skin color and that we definitely have nothing to be ashamed of."
These comparisons positively favor the Czech Republic and once again, there is no reason to doubt the numbers. Let's give them a different look, though.
The percentage of Romani people with secondary education in the Czech Republic is 30 %, and overall, of course, we are one of the countries with the biggest number of secondary students in Europe - approximately 75 % of the population. Also according to the study, 60 % of the Roma in the Czech Republic are unemployed - while overall, unemployment is currently around 7.5 %.
Doesn't that seem like a problem? Only 30 % of the Romani people in the Czech Republic get a secondary education - and they frequently attend secondary institutions that do not offer high school graduation examinations and or college preparation - compared to 75 % of the population as a whole.
Then we have the figure of 60 % Romani unemployment compared to 7.5 % overall unemployment. Maybe this problem is bigger in other places, but are these numbers any reason to be satisfied?
Have the "activists" lost?
According to Pilař, the recent amendment to the Schools Act tends toward the side of the "experts", who in his eyes are the champions of the "practical schools". "The final form [of the amendment] cannot completely satisfy anyone, but thank God for the compromise that was reached after numerous debates at the round tables with very sharp edges between the bureaucrats, experts, MPs and members of various nonprofits," he writes.
"Ultimately it is good that the text reflects more the opinions of the expert public than the wishes of various activists, whether they come from the commercial or the nonprofit sector," he states. He then continues: "I think the amendment to the Schools Act has one positive aspect, and that is that those who have not much succeeded with their lofty visions are beginning, at least partially, to take in some of the ideas that the experts have been communicating all this time. It is pleasant to see them taking some ideas up as their own that they were criticizing only recently."
As we said above, Pilař's interpretation is the opposite of the interpretation of those who champion inclusion. It is hard to say to what degree tactics are playing a role here, but one thing is evident: The fight over the form of the Czech school system persists, and the amendment to the Schools Act has decided nothing.
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