Romany children in the Czech Republic still face unequal access to education, says Amnesty International in a report which has just been released. Two years after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that placing Romany children in “special schools” was unlawful discrimination, Amnesty International went back to Ostrava where the court case was originally filed to see what had changed. While the Czech government has taken certain anti-discriminatory measures, the practice remains more or less the same, says Fotis Filippou, one of the authors of the report:
“They are still sent to schools for pupils with light mental disabilities now called practical schools, which remain in essence the same. They are still being segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools that often have lower education standards and they still face discrimination in mainstream schools when they study together with pupils from the majority population.
Why do the Czech authorities keep sending Romany children to schools with light mental disabilities?
“It is important to mention that segregation obviously is not official government policy. We are talking about the effective segregation and the situation as it happens in practice. The main problem is the fact that the mainstream schools are not ready and often are unwilling to provide support for pupils that might need it in the mainstream school. They don’t meet the needs of those children. So when those pupils start to fall behind, many teachers may think that the mainstream education is not appropriate for them.
“At the same time the assessment process that takes children to these schools is flawed and the tests used do not take into account the linguistic and cultural specificities of Romany children, Often they are also influenced by prejudice and discriminatory attitudes by staff conducting them. This may significantly lead to the segregation of a disproportionate number of Romany pupils.”
On the other hand it is often the parents that decide to send their children to special schools instead of schools for the mainstream population.
“It is true that Romany parents have to agree to place their children in one school or another. However, many Roma parents have no information about what the practical implications are of sending a child to a school or a class for children with light mental disabilities and this information is not provided to them by the authorities. At the same time, even when they do, they are often faced with a dilemma, which does not give them a real choice. They have to choose between mainstream schools, where their children are going to be ostracized and discriminated against and not provided with support, or practical schools, where their children may feel more comfortable, being among Romany peers, where they may receive more attention from their teachers but where they are going to receive lower-quality education.”
What can be done in practical terms to prevent further discrimination?
“In practical terms what should be done and what we are calling on the Czech government to do is to deepen the measures that were already taken in order to reverse discrimination and segregation in the Czech school system. We are asking the Czech government to freeze all placements of pupils in schools and classes for pupils with mild mental disabilities for the next school year.”
Pending a review of the need for such schools and curriculum we ask them to enforce by legislation the duty to desegregate education and to develop a comprehensive plan with yearly targets for the desegregation of the school system. We are also asking them to immediately take measures to provide support for all the pupils who need it in order to be able to participate in and to develop to their fullest potential within integrated mainstream schools.”
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