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Roma NGO calls for change to rules on preschool access in Czech Republic

Mladá Boleslav, 26.5.2011 16:06, (ROMEA)

The Jekhetani Luma civic association is drawing attention to the fact that while the town of Mladá Boleslav has just announced it will be increasing the capacity of its nursery schools, many families have no hope of accessing them. The children of families who have long lived in the town but have their permanent residencies registered elsewhere will have no chance of attending the preschools. These families moved to the town for work not only from other parts of the Czech Republic, but also from abroad.

Instead of raising their standards of living, however, many of these families found themselves facing the bottom of the barrel. Even though both parents would like to work, the father is the one who ends up making a living for the whole family. The mother must stay home with the child or children, and if she can't register her child in nursery school, she ends up having to stay home even after her maternity leave is over. Because of high housing costs in the region, families often have a hard time surviving. Children remain at home who should be attending nursery school for at least the last year before their mandatory school attendance begins so as to acquire or strengthen the awareness and skills needed to handle the transition to school and get used to a regular regime and working in a collective.

This very often happens to the children of parents who are unable to systematically prepare their children at home for the transition to nursery school itself. Some of these children may even have been recommended for preschool by a Pedagogical-Psychological Counseling Center or their pediatrician. The Schools Act says all pre-schoolers, i.e., children in their last year prior to enrolling into elementary school, have the right to free education at a nursery school. However, this right depends on the parents having registered their permanent residency in that particular municipality.

Some clients of Jekhetani Luma have succeeded in acquiring permanent residency in the town. Even though there were only a few places left in the nursery schools, with the help of the education department of the town hall, they have managed to enroll their children in preschool.

However, other children are not enrolled and will have a much more difficult time making the transition to elementary school than the rest. As part of a project called "A New Chance for Roma Children" ("Nová šance pro romské děti"), Jekhetani Luma is offering free advice and assistance to parents whose children are not in preschool. Martina Brzobohatá, the project leader, says the organization can also introduce parents to the services offered by mothers' centers, but notes that those services are fee-based.

In addition to warning the public of this problem, Jekhetani Luma is also turning to the political leadership of Mladá Boleslav with the request that they change the criteria for the acceptance of children into nursery schools such that places in the schools be made available at least to preschoolers whom experts have recommended for enrollment. Registration for nursery school in the 2011/2012 school year has already closed and more children whom experts believe should be attending preschool will not be able to, but Jekhetani Luma believes this can be partially addressed by the town paying for these children to attend preschool education programs at the fee-based mothers' centers.

The project began in April 2010 and will run through the end of June in the Mladá Boleslav region. The aim of the project is to expand "social activation services for families with children" so as to facilitate support for equal access to education for Roma children and to transfer know-how about such services to other organizations. The target group is Roma parents of pre-school aged children who are to start mandatory school attendance in the next calendar year in the Mladá Boleslav and Mnichovo Hradiště regions, as well as organizations providing social services in other regions interested in providing services in support of equal access to education for Roma children. Both the lay and professional public have been involved in the process of expanding these specific services. As part of modifying social services standards to conform to the Law on Social Services, it will be possible even after the project has ended to activate, comprehensively support, and provide information to the Roma parents of pre-school aged children in accordance with the idea of desegregating the Czech schools, with funding from the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry.

For further information, please see (Czech only):

http://www.osf.cz/cz/programove-oblasti/lidska-prava/mensiny/aktuality

http://www.csicr.cz/cz/85126-zprava-z-kontrolni-cinnosti-v-byvalych-zvlastnich-skolach

http://spolecnedoskoly.cz/verejny-ochrance-prav-konstatuje-diskriminaci-romskych-deti/

http://spolecnedoskoly.cz/

This project is supported by the Open Society Foundation Prague (Nadace OSF Praha)

Gwendolyn Albert, Jekhetani Luma civic association, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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