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Romany language not taught in Czech schools due to lack of interest, teachers and textbooks

Prague, 6.2.2011 15:20, (ROMEA)

The Czech Press Agency is reporting that the Romany language is not being taught in the Czech schools and that the Roma themselves have no interest in it. Those are the results of a survey the agency conducted among experts on Roma issues. The Czech Education Ministry is facilitating the instruction of the Romany language as an elective, a measure intended to familiarize pupils with Roma culture. However, last year a wave of opposition to such courses took place, with people signing a petition against it on the Facebook social networking site.

If enough children self-identifying as Roma could be found in one classroom, they would have the right to be educated in their mother tongue. "The Roma minority is not active in this direction locally. A Committee on Minorities would have to be set up in that specific municipality, that is one of the conditions for instruction to take place in a minority language," Jana Holíková of the Czech Education Ministry said when asked to describe the main obstacles to instruction in the Romany language. "Not enough pupils are enrolling in Romany language as an elective," she said. The language can only be taught as an elective at elementary or middle schools if at least seven pupils enroll.

Instruction in the Romany language is not monitored in the statistics compiled by the Institute for Information in Education, and experts at the Museum of Roma Culture and the Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs were not aware of any such courses being offered in the schools. "I do not know of anyone taking steps in that direction," Jan Stejskal of the nonprofit coalition Together to School, which focuses on Roma education, told the Czech Press Agency.

Schools can draw funds for instruction of the Romany language from several of the ministry's subsidy programs intended for support to disadvantaged pupils or for multicultural education, as several million crowns have been set aside for these purposes annually. "It is interesting that this option has existed since 2005 and no one has ever taken advantage of it," Holíková said, adding that apparently no one has developed a methodology or textbook that would serve the particular age category of elementary school pupils. Qualified instructors of the language are often lacking. Romany language teachers at the Museum of Roma Culture say no school has ever approached them for their services.

When the options for elective Romany language instruction were reported by the media last year, a wave of opposition to them spread through the public. More than 12 000 people joined a Facebook social networking group entitled "We don't want the Romany language and the history of the Roma culture taught at schools" ("Nechceme, aby se na školách vyučovala romština a dějiny romské kultury").

According to the ministry's original plans, the Romany language was to have been instructed mainly at schools with a predominance of Roma pupils. Some Roma children begin school unable to speak Czech properly, as their families speak a mixture of Czech and Romany. Due to their socially deprived backgrounds, as many as 30 % of Roma children end up being instructed in "special schools".

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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