Education ministry planning effective action against discrimination of Romanies in the education system

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague

The Czech Education Ministry has unveiled a new series of comprehensive measures aimed at removing widespread discrimination of Romany children in the Czech education system. Although the European Commission has long urged the Czech Republic to address the problem little corrective action has been taken since the matter was first raised in 1998.

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Five years after the 2007 landmark ruling of the European Court of Human Rights which concluded that the Czech Republic had discriminated against a group of 18 Romany children by placing them in special schools for children with mental disabilities the Czech government has done little to address the problem. Although the name “special” schools, deemed to be insulting, was changed to “practical” schools nothing much has changed about the way the system works. Today there are around 300 practical schools around the country and one in three pupils enrolled in them is a Romany child.

Julius Mika is one of the Romany fathers who filed a joint complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg and won. His son spent two years at a special school because he had problems catching up after a long illness.

“I know a lot of families with children and they complain that they have similar problems. When their children need a bit of special attention teachers automatically advise special schools.”

Photo: Jana Šustová
Although the final decision is in the hands of the child’s parents the pressure applied is usually so great and so persistent that parents usually give in, believing that their child will have an easier time at a school tailored for children with special needs. However such a transfer is usually permanent and means a lower quality education and a stigma for life. The Education Ministry has now moved to draw a clear line between children with mental disabilities and children who are socially underprivileged. Deputy Education Minister Jiří Nantl explains how the ministry intends to go about it.

“In order to ensure an ethnically unbiased system and end the ongoing discrimination of Romany children we need to change the diagnostic methods used by teachers and psychologists in ascertaining a child’s potential and have greater control over those who make these decisions. The accreditation of consultancies who make these decisions will be much tougher and they will be under close scrutiny. Practical schools will no longer be able to set up kindergartens where many Roma children are placed to learn social skills and overcome the language barrier and then automatically stay on. The ministry will also closely monitor the number of Romany children at practical schools. In short we aim to make sure that children who get enrolled in these schools are children with mental disabilities and not socially disadvantaged children.”

Jiří Nantl,  photo: Jana Šustová
The Czech Education Ministry will present its comprehensive action plan to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg next week and set down the ground rules for these changes in the course of next year. According to the ministry the first tangible results should be seen in the course of 2014. In the meantime it will be solely up to Romany parents to stand up to the authorities and prevent their children’s transfer to an educational facility that will almost certainly mean a dead end.