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Ombudsman says discrimination of Romany children in Czech education system persists
07-06-2012 - Daniela Lazarova
The Czech government has in the past few years repeatedly been criticized by international bodies for discrimination of Romany children in the Czech education system. Now the Ombudsman’s office has confirmed what the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights have said all along – that the much criticized practice of sending Romany children to schools for children with learning, mental or physical disabilities persists on a broad scale.

The practice of sending Romany children to schools for children with learning, mental, or physical disabilities simply to save regular schools the effort of helping them to integrate has been around for years and post-89 governments right and left of centre have repeatedly promised to address the problem. In its latest reports to Brussels the Czech Education Ministry reported progress on the issue.

Now the Ombudsman’s Office has released the results of its own survey conducted at close to 70 schools for children with special needs and Ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský says the situation has not improved.

“There can be no question at all that some of the children studying at these schools should not be there. One third of students at these schools are Romanies which most certainly does not correspond to the minority’s representation in the population.”

Pavel Varvařovský Although Romanies make up less than 3 percent of the population, 900 of these schools’ 2,800 students are Romanies. The Ombudsman’s Office says the idea that Romanies would have such a high percentage of children with special needs is absurd and the survey results are proof that Romany children are still discriminated against on a broad scale. The only tangible change since a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which found the Czech Republic guilty of discriminating against Roma children by placing them in special schools for the mentally handicapped, appears to be that the term “special” schools, seen as derogatory, has been replaced by “practical” schools. Monika Šimunková is the government’s human rights commissioner.

“Clearly there is a great deal that needs to be done in this respect and we must make a bigger effort to eliminate this form of discrimination. This is a serious warning and the results of this study are not good.”

The report by the Ombudsman’s Office has left the Education Ministry with egg on its face. Jiří Nantl is Deputy Education Minister:

“We are getting conflicting reports about the situation. That will certainly motivate us to check-out the information we have at our disposal and do some monitoring of our own.”

Preventing regular schools from placing Romany first-graders in schools for children with special needs has not proved easy, with many teachers ranting against pressure from the government on the grounds that conditions in the classroom do not allow them to cope with the extra work involved in helping individual children. The fact that money was made available for special tuition and Romany assistants has not significantly improved the situation. However a study conducted in February of this year among Czech Roma children studying in Britain showed that their school results were just below average –even with the challenge of studying in English – and only two percent of those enrolled needed special attention which was provided in mainstream schools – ample evidence of the fact that problem does not lie with the Romany minority.



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