Michal Mižigár: Inclusion is an opportunity for a better life
Last month we marked the ninth anniversary of the victorious "D.H." judgment at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in which 18 Romani people from Ostrava who had been unjustifiably reassigned to what were then called "special schools" saw justice done and defended their right to a quality education. I would like to share a story with you about why it is important for all children to have equal access to education.
My dear friend of many years, Bedřich, did not have the kind of good luck that I did. As a child, he was more lively than others during lower primary school, so the teacher invited his parents to school and convinced them that "special school" would be the best solution for their son.
Bedřich had no disabilities - he was a healthy child. His parents had attended "special school" under the previous regime, and they were not at all aware of the gravity of their decision, which closed the gates on a succesful life for their son.
Today Bedřich is 28, he has two children, and he is a very efficient person with excellent communications and organizational capabilities, good critical thinking skills, and fluent knowledge of three languages. Despite those qualities, he cannot find employment, I dare say because he is a Romani man in the Czech Republic, and unfortunately also a graduate of "special school".
His parents had no inkling that education would be significant for him. We don't even know why his teacher arrived at the conclusion she did, whether she wanted to get rid of a pupil who was making her uncomfortable and so "rewarded" him for that for the rest of his life, or whether there were other reasons that led to her decision of which we may never learn.
I admire Bedřich for never speaking ill of his teacher. We can see from his story, though, that not just Romani children, but all who come from socially exlcuded environments need aid in order to stand their ground in the environment of the Czech schools.
The failure of a pupil in school is not a sign of stupidity, but rather a sign that something in that pupil's life is not functioning, is not in order. Aid for these pupils is important because it will be returned back to all of society, which is created by all of us.
I regret that many generations of Romani pupils have never received a quality education. They did not get the chance to escape the vicious circle of their poverty, socially excluded environment, and stigmatized Romani identity, to successfully make their way into the labor market and integrate into society.
Unfortunately, most Romani people have been graduates of the "special schools". The hope of a better life and a better starting point for their children is still miles away from them.
I don't want to end this negatively - the consolation remains that during the last 10 years, the number of Romani people studying at secondary schools and universities has grown. It's not possible to discuss exact numbers, but speculation is that there are several hundred Romani secondary school students and dozens of college students.
That is why I would welcome data collection that would provide us with information about the actual situation of Roma in education. Then we could reflect on how to aid such pupils.
I am convinced that if Bedřich had attended school today, when inclusion has been launched, he would not have to be reassigned to "special school" and his life might look absolutely differently. We should all want equal conditions for all children and we should do the same for the rest of us - all of society!
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