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NGOs call for action in the face of persisting discrimination of Romany children in schools
02-09-2009  Jan Richter

Two years after a breakthrough verdict by the European Court for Human Rights which denounced racial segregation in Czech schools, Romany children still face widespread discrimination. That’s the conclusion of a group of Czech NGOs that say the Czech Education Ministry has shown good will but has introduced few practical measures to improve the situation.

Kateřina Hrubá with Edita Stejskalová from NGO Z§vůle práva, photo: A group of Czech NGOs called Together to School has accused the country’s Education Ministry of inaction in the face of persisting discrimination of Romany children in Czech schools. Two years after the European Court for Human Rights ruled that placing Romany children in “special” schools or schools with special education programmes constitutes unlawful discrimination, the Together to School initiative points out that according to a survey carried out by the Education Ministry, the practice has not changed. Kateřina Hrubá is a lawyer for the Brno-based NGO Z§vůle práva.

“The situation in schools remains the same according to our experience directly in the field. In the first half of 2009, the Institute for Information on Education carried out a very important survey in Czech standard and practical schools, and the result shows that almost 27 percent of all Romany children attend practical elementary schools, while only two percent of non-Roma pupils attend these schools. We find these results very alarming.”

Although “special schools” as such were abolished in 2005, Romany children are often being placed in “practical schools” that follow syllabi designed for children with light mental disabilities. The NGOs blame standard elementary schools for failing to provide assistance to Romany children with special education needs, and instead transfer them to the “practical schools”. While the ministry has shown goodwill in dealing with the situation, non-governmental experts say little has been done in practical terms to stop discrimination. They would therefore like to address the issues with a series of measures.

“We would like to propose that the ministry launch an information campaign focused on the general public to draw attention to the importance of the issue of discrimination of Romany children. We would also like the current minister, Ms Kopicová, to state publicly that it is illegal to discriminate against Romany children and enrol them into practical schools, and to put a moratorium on the transfers of Romany children into practical schools.”

Apart from a moratorium on the transfer of Romany children to practical schools, a national information campaign and other measures, NGOs suggest the ministry outline an ethical code for psychologists who often choose to transfer Romany children to special programmes because it seems the simplest solution. The ministry acknowledges the seriousness of the situation but strongly denies accusations of inaction. Tomáš Bouška is the spokesman for the Czech Education Ministry.

“We have a section for social programmes here at the Education Ministry which has been functioning for no longer than one year. And in this one year, we have carried out an overwhelming list of attempts to change the situation which is painful, and we admit that it is painful.”

The list includes a national action plan to support inclusive education, a project of support centres, and a plan to improve counselling at schools. Mr Bouška says that these and other steps will be carried out, regardless of who takes over the ministry after the next elections.

Tomáš Bouška “These measures will be compulsory for the Czech Republic and will be implemented regardless of the political situation and of who will be in charge of the ministry. The Education Ministry will distribute to all counselling organisations and schools its recommendation with ethical principles for working with socially and culturally disadvantaged children. This will take place this month, in September 2009.”

The Education Ministry will take time to study the proposals and says it is ready to work with the Together to School initiative to eradicate discrimination of Romany children in schools. For their part, NGOs say that the problem is now so serious it requires a concerted effort on the part of all involved and top priority treatment.

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