The Czech Government is really bizarre when it comes to Roma school desegregation. It did not prepare any announcement for the fifth anniversary of the DH judgement ( on November 13), when the human rights community did expect some government measures to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgement. For its policies of segregating Roma children by redirecting them towards special schools for mentally disabled, the Czech Government was widely criticised by the human rights community, most recently during the fifth anniversary of the DH judgement. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner was astonished by the inaction of the Czech Government to implement the DH decision and to desegregate the education system.
However, two weeks after the anniversary of DH that attracted the attention of the human rights community once again to the school segregation in the country, the Czech Government decided to announce its intentions to address the issue. According to the Prague Monitor, citing Czech News Agency CTK, on November 17 the Czech Ministry of Education announced its plans to tackle Roma school segregation. The intended measures will aim at preventing placement of children from socially-disadvantaged groups into practical schools by more frequent testing of pupils and data collection on ethnicity.
Through this statement, the Ministry of Education recognises that the amendment of the education law in 2005 lead only to a renaming of the “special schools” for mentally disabled into “practical schools”. It also proves that it never had the intention to desegregate the schools but rather to cover up for the shame of maintaining an ethnically segregated school system.
The announced measures seems to follow the same logic. Instead of closing down the whole practical school system and integrate all children into mainstream schools, the Government prefers to maintain a segregated system where those pupils attending practical schools will be disadvantaged only by the fact that separation means inequality. How will the Government ensure that the tests will be culturally sensitive towards minorities and, especially towards Roma? Let’s not forget that one of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in DH was that the tests were culturally biased and disadvantaged Roma pupils. What checks are against possible abuses from the side of those administering and interpreting the tests results? Why spend money on testing pupils performances to separate them? Everybody knows that pupils will perform depending on social, economic and cultural determinants. Wouldn’t be wiser to use the resources for identifying each child needs and address those needs? I think this is a much better option.
But most importantly is how will the Government ensure the realization of the best interest of that child? By placing a child in a so-called practical school limits significantly his/her socialization with children from mainstream schools, an important component of the education process. Thus assigning a child into a practical school limits his/her right to education. The 1994 Salamanca Statement (UNESCO) makes clear that the best way to ensure access to quality education to everyone is to integrate pupils with special needs into mainstream schools, only those with severe disabilities being offered separate educational opportunities.
It seems obvious that the Czech Government vision on school desegregation is worrying for those waiting for the implementation of the DH decision. There are pretty high chances that Roma children will be still overrepresented in the schools for mentally disabled as long as these will exist due to the procedures in assigning children to special schools and the strong anti-Roma attitudes among people in the Czech Republic. The Government methods on data collection by ethnicity remains a mystery as it intends to do so by next academic year applying aggregate methods without aiming at identifying the ethnic origin of individual pupils! Using such methods, one should not be surprised if by the end of the next academic year the Czech Government will be able to “prove” that its education system is ethnically neutral.
Testing pupils more frequently does not say much about integration. In fact, the Czech Government fails to address this specific issue: how to integrate pupils from practical schools into mainstream school. It prefers to keep a separate system of education for mentally disabled, expensive and inefficient, instead of transforming its education system into an inclusive one that delivers for the needs of each child.
According to Romea, the social democrat shadow minister of education is also supporting the existence of practical schools. It seems that there is a large consensus among politicians in the Czech Republic to avoid schools desegregation. When it comes to discrimination against Roma, there are no ideological differences among parties. Not a lot of hope for inclusive education in the near future in Czech Republic.