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Romani students discuss Czech schools at American Center

Prague, 24.8.2011 16:51, (ROMEA)

Romani college students met with experts from the Together to School Coalition (Společně do školy) at the American Center in Prague on 22 August and discussed changes to the Czech school system, including obstacles to and problems during university study. Organizers will be presenting the outcome of the meeting as a challenge to the Czech PM and Education Minister, Anna Pechová of Romodrom told journalists.

Pechová did not want to reveal the contents of the challenge yet and said she would present the results to the press in about a month. She did say that students at the meeting spoke of the problems they have encountered during their college study and what they would warn their successors about.

Renata Berkyová, a Romani Studies student, told the Czech Press Agency that Romani students at universities primarily choose to study the humanities, social studies, or fields related to social work. Very few of them study chemistry, the natural sciences, or technical fields.

"We agreed that for Romani pupils or students the school and study environment is decidedly the most important factor," Tomáš Ščuka, a student at the Police Academy, said. In his view, Romani Studies and the social sciences are environments where Romani students feel safe. "They are concerned about what the environment is like in the field of study. This could be due to various factors. It could be discrimination, which does still exist in the academy, it could be the social situation of the individual student, or it could be the response of those around the student," Ščuka said.

Berkyová said Romani students are attracted to focusing on social affairs because they want to make an effort to help their community. She said she had personally never encountered discrimination in Romani Studies. "My experience was the opposite. At elementary and middle school I was considered exotic, but here I represent something that the others have an opportunity to research," she said. She said about 12 - 15 people a year choose Romani studies at Charles University in Prague, about one-third of them of Romani origin.

Organizers of the meeting say there are no statistics being kept on how many Romani people are currently studying at college in the Czech Republic. It is generally claimed that about 2 % of Roman people have a college education, far fewer than the majority population. Organizers of the meeting say the problem is primarily in the education received (or not) during the preschool period and at the start of elementary school, when many Romani children end up in "special schools" for the intellectually disabled even though they do not belong there on the basis of their intellect. "It's not possible to make it to college after 'special school'," Daniel Stano said.

Those attending did not want to comment on recent events in Nový Bor or Rumburk, where police say several Romani assailants have allegedly committed racially motivated violence. The atmosphere between the Romani community and long-term majority residents of the region has become exacerbated as a result. Pechová said the issue was not addressed at the meeting due to time constraints.

Berkyová said she is not in favor of opinions based on ethnicity or of drawing distinctions between "non-Roma" and Roma. "I condemn anything that does not conform to the laws of the Czech Republic," she emphasized.

Together to School (Společně do školy) is a coalition of NGOs who have come together for the purpose of seeing through the implementation of a groundbreaking judgment of the European Court for Human Rights. In November 2007, the Court found that Romani children were being discriminated against in education; the Czech Republic must fulfill the judgment. The more general aim of the coalition, whose member organizations conduct analyses and research and implement educational projects, is to contribute to desegregating the Czech education system and to assist in applying the principle of equal opportunity for all children irrespective of their origin, skin color, or social position.

The following non-governmental, non-profit foundations and organizations are members of the coalition: European Roma Rights Centre, Step by Step Czech Republic, Open Society Foundation Prague, DROM, IQ Roma Servis, ROMODROM, Czech Helsinki Committee, Life Together (Vzájemné soužití), League of Human Rights (Liga lidských práv), Romani Association Čačipen (Romské sdružení Čačipen), Slovo 21, SPOLEČNĚ – JEKHETANE (TOGETHER), LIGA, Envi, Equality, and Z§vůle práva.

František Bikár, ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, brf, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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