EU says Czech Republic discriminates against Romany children

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia has criticized the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary for allegedly discriminating against Romanies from an early age by sending many of them to special schools for people with learning difficulties. The EU report suggests that this practice is at the root of the government's inability to deal with the integration of Roma into society as such, because wrongful assignment to special education has far reaching negative consequences for future employment opportunities.

Some 250,000 Romanies are thought to live in the Czech Republic and many of them say it is impossible to find work. Few have more than primary school education and according to a report commissioned by the EU close to seventy percent of them end up in schools for children with learning disabilities. This is largely because they come from a different language and cultural background which gives them a huge handicap. Under pressure from the European Commission the Czech government has recently undertaken steps to address the problem, introducing special pre-school language classes, Romany councillors and officially committing itself to dissolving "special schools" for children with learning disabilities. Ondrej Gabriel from the Education Ministry's press department says he is disappointed that this activity had gone unregistered:

"We are open to any kind of discussion on how to help integrate Roma children but the dialogue must be based on facts and this report does not reflect present day reality. The Czech education ministry invests millions of crowns annually into the integration Roma children into Czech schools."

Kumar Vishwanathan who works with the Romany community and is involved in some of the Romany integration projects says that the measures taken are not in themselves sufficient and that although "special schools" have been officially dissolved they continue to exist under a kinder label and Romany children still get sent there.

Kumar Vishwanathan
"There have been quite a lot of approaches over the past few years. Fundamentally, the Czech government has recognized that there is a problem and it has dissolved all special schools - formally at least. But in its essence hardly anything has changed. The segregation is still continuing, the sub-standard education is still continuing, the teachers are not prepared to meet the individual needs of these children. There are some positive changes that, if compounded with other initiatives, will definitely help in the long run, but they are not sufficient at present. Things like zero-level classes, then there are the teaching assistants in schools but once again it is not very systematic because many schools find it difficult to raise funds for these assistants and generally they give up. Then there are NGO activities such as working with pre-school children, programmes called Step-by-Step, then there are such Dutch models being used by our organization to prepare parents to cope with the needs of their children and give them support. But these are all very small initiatives and I still haven't seen any fundamental change, a significant move that would really change the situation. If the situation continues like this these children are not going to be able to fit into society, they will not be able to fit into the labour market and that is a great tragedy."