The state is “inadaptable”, not the children
Jiří Pilař’s article in the 8 March edition of Lidové noviny (“The ministry’s dangerous eintopf”) is a prime example of professional incompetence and a lack of personal self-reflection. In his piece, Pilař “forgot” to mention that he managed the Czech Education Ministry department in question for more than a decade, and therefore the long-term intentional denial of these problems and the failure to solve them unequivocally dates from the time of his watch. That goes both for the education of Romani children in the special schools, which resulted in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruling against the Czech Republic, and for the high number of children in institutional care, for which the Czech Republic has long been internationally criticized.
Pilař criticizes the drafters of the National Action Plan for Inclusive Education of being insufficiently erudite. However, leading Czech special needs educators from the top five universities in this country and experts with years of practical experience participated in its design.
In my opinion, it is primarily Pilař who has failed as an expert. His greatest professional failure has been to raise the “specter of inclusion”. Every country trying to uphold children’s rights to have their educational needs properly evaluated has had to face similar “expert” warnings from those who advocate segregation. If the Czech Education Ministry has decided to correct a situation in which a wheelchair-bound child of above-average intelligence cannot attend regular school purely due to deficient infrastructure, a situation in which parents view special schools not as one possible option, but as their only choice because there is no way to force regular elementary schools to expand their offerings for special needs children (which, by the way, is the direct result of decrees approved on Pilař’s watch), then any effort to change this situation should be viewed as unequivocally positive.
The Austrian example
The incorrectness of the view that inclusion is a “specter” has been proven in neighboring Austria, where as a result of school reforms and support for inclusion, the number of children educated in special schools has been reduced by as much as 30 %. This was not a result of forcing special schools to close, but a result of supporting regular schools to work with special needs children. During this time, the demand for special needs educators at regular schools rose by approximately 20 %. Special needs educators’ concerns about job losses – which Pilař is so gladly keeping alive here – turned out to be completely unjustified.
Traces of Pilař’s “expertise” are also obvious in the institutional care sector, where for some time an interest in investing into building repair has won out over any interest in investing into human potential and improving the quality of the programs provided. When Pilař refers to the absence of early childhood care for the socially disadvantaged, he is certainly right – he had 10 years to develop such care on his watch and failed to do so. He also failed to introduce a care system for those who leave institutions after reaching legal adulthood.
Lastly, it is simply unbelievable that Pilař, a special needs educator, has repeatedly used the term “inadaptable” in his piece. That particular term (unanpassungfahig) was used in Nazi Germany to label all those who were later liquidated in the concentration camps.
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