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"Special education" teachers criticize Czech Government inclusion strategy

Prague, 26.10.2011 9:57, (ROMEA)

Last month the Czech Government approved its Inclusion Strategy 2011 - 2015. "Special education" teachers are rejecting the plan as unprofessional, "simplistic and tendentious". They say it will cost dozens of billions of crowns more to implement than have been allocated and that it will not be in the best interest of pupils.

Teachers from the "special schools" in particular are protesting the strategy, which is supposed to address problems in Romani ghettos. In addition to other measures, the Government's material counts on the gradual abolition of the "special schools", but teachers say this measure will not be in pupils' best interest. Jiří Pilař, chair of the Association of Special Education Pedagogues (Asociace speciálních pedagogů) told the Czech Press Agency yesterday that he has collected 1 000 signatures against the strategy from members since last Friday. The "special education" teachers want to deliver their declaration on the issue to Czech PM Petr Nečas (ODS - Civic Democrats) and Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš (VV - Public Affairs) next month.

"The proposal of many measures to support children from one group simultaneously suppresses the right to education and healthy development of other groups," the "special education" teachers say. They insist that children who are not "socially excluded" also need teachers' interest and support and disagree that children with a wide range of types of defects or disabilities should gradually be assigned into mainstream schools.

A disproportionate number of Romani pupils end up enrolled in the "practical schools" (previously called "special schools") not because they are intellectually disabled, but because they would fall behind at mainstream schools due to their poor family backgrounds. Pilař pointed out that the "special schools" are not solely attended by Romani pupils. The teachers also claim the mainstream schools are not prepared to enroll children with specific needs.

The Government's strategy, presented by Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, was prepared by the Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities. Agency director Martin Šimáček said the following yesterday about the teachers' complaints: "The 'practical schools' are a relic of the previous regime and exclude tens of thousands of children from mainstream education, which subsequently deprives them of future opportunities. At the same time, however, it is evident that teachers at many of the 'practical schools' have managed to develop effective methods for working with socially excluded children. In future, those teachers in particular should move into mainstream schools and perform that work with the children there who need it - they should make use of their valuable experience. For the time being we do not have enough teachers working in this way. It is a fact that the Czech elementary schools are not capable of suddenly taking hold of these thousands of children from one day to the next, and that is why the transfer of children is distributed over four years in the strategy. All of the measures in the strategy are non-discriminatory and support children with all of their educational needs. At the same time, however, it must be added that it is objectively the case that Romani children are the most-discriminated children in the Czech Republic and three out of 10 of them are, in most cases, unjustifiably enrolled in 'practical schools'. We must do something with this legacy and stem this ongoing practice. Czech Education Minister Dobeš unequivocally supported the Strategy's measures at the cabinet session."

The Strategy's education section is roughly 30 pages long and proposes changing the financing of schools so they can get more money for children from the ghettos. Children from socially deprived families should also get nursery school for free. Those who might have problems with learning in future will be obligated to attend nursery school. Children from the ghettos should also receive financial support to cover the costs of field trips, meals, school supplies, and transportation. The financial contributions are supposed to ensure these children are fully included and that their conditions are the same as everyone else's. The strategy also enumerates several dozen measures for improving education and employment, health, housing, regional development, security, social services, and the welfare distribution system.

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