Romani children have long been herded into “special” schools in the Czech Republic, drawing international attention and condemnation. A study by the British charity Equality shows that such students, supposedly incapable of normal academic achievement, have little difficulty adapting to mainstream curricula after immigrating to the United Kingdom.
The study, “From Segregation to Inclusion“, represents the first research analyzing the aptitude of Roma pupils that have emigrated from Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Equality interviewed 61 resettled Romani students, 85% of whom had been placed in special, practical or de facto segregated schools prior to emigration. Yet only 2-4% of pupils assessed were deemed to require special education needs, according to the report.
The study found little difference between the Roma children who had attended mainstream schools and those who were regarded in their former homelands as incapable of carrying out a normal course of studies. More importantly, researchers noted little to no difference between the attainment and potential of Czech and Slovak Roma children placed in special schools versus that of recently arrived non-Roma peers.
Logically, the report concluded that “the way that Roma children are currently educated in special or de facto segregated settings in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is not justified by their educational, social or cognitive abilities.”
An Overview of the Problem
Nearly a third of Romani children in the Czech Republic attend schools intended for students with “mild mental disabilities”, according to recent estimates by the Council of Europe’s Commission on Human Rights. This stands in glaring contrast to the 2% of the rest of the student population placed in such institutions.
This systemic discrimination toward Roma pupils gained exposure and notoriety following the European Court of Human Rights’ watershed ruling in D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic. The 2007 case, filed on behalf of 18 Romani students in Ostrava, highlighted the pattern of segregation pervasive in the Czech school system. According to the Court, the prejudicial effect of these practices constituted a violation of the protections against discrimination laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Focusing on the city of Ostrava, the Court found Romani students 27-times more likely to be placed in “special” schools than their non-Romani peers. These schools provided an inferior and limited curriculum and restricted secondary education options to vocational schools, blocking a path toward university education. Educational limitations naturally resulted in professional limitations upon completion of studies.
The scrutiny imposed upon the Czech government led to a series of superficial reforms that have done little to alleviate the problem. The “News Schools Act” did away with “special” schools and established “practical” schools in their stead.
Pupils in the new practical schools can now officially continue their studies in all types of secondary schools, including grammar schools (gymnázia), which offer the best path to university studies. But the curriculum provided in these recently re-branded institutions remains inferior and eerily reminiscent of their predecessors. Romani children who attend them are ill-equipped by their course of studies to meet the admissions requirements necessary for further education.
The situation of the Romani in the Czech Republic is tragic. Blame goes both ways. Those who point to massive unemployment, hesitancy to assimilate, and financial instability in the Romani community, along with the strain of disproportionate social welfare dependency are citing statistical realities. But the situation will continue to deteriorate and burden both populations until a realization of mutual interests is achieved.
What’s alarming is how early the exclusionary tactics begin. The notion that Romani children are intellectually inferior and should be segregated from the mainstream education system represents little more than bigotry. Education is at the heart of improving the Romani status in Czech society. To continue to cast children aside predetermines their role in society and guarantees the continuation of the aforementioned problems plaguing Czech society. For there to be any hope of improvement, reforms must go beyond the superficial measures that have sought to placate critics without ushering in legitimate change.
Injustice Renamed, Amnesty International
Litany of Failure: Pressure Mounts for Education Reform in Czech Republic, Open Society Foundations
Placing Roma Children in Special Schools Unsubstantiated, Radio Prague