Students highlight segregation in education during Roma Week

Photo: CTK

This week, a group of university students is organizing a series of events in Prague focused on the segregation of Roma children in Czech schools and the media image of the country’s Romani minority. Held in cooperation with the human rights group AI, the Roma week reiterates concerns about the continued education inequality that the international community has been voicing for some time, and which is a growing issue for young Czechs as well.

Photo: CTK
The first event was actually held last week when the group, together with representatives of Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre, held a public happening in front of the Education Ministry, building an allegorical pyramid of books locked up with chains and padlocks. The speakers at the event, which included a Romani mother from Ostrava and a spokesperson for the education ministry, unlocked the padlocks, thereby symbolically unshackling the future of Romani children in the Czech Republic.

The main events of Roma Week are organized by the Amnesty International student group called iPusa. I asked one of the organizers, Adam Podhola, a student at Charles University's Faculty of Social Sciences, why they decided to hold such an event for the second year in a row.

“Personally, I’m fed up with the fact that in our society, which is supposed to be democratic, there is a group that is totally excluded from civil society. So that was maybe the main reason why we decided to do this. It is important to give this marginalized group a voice.”

Report published last week on continuing discrimination in the Czech education system, photo: Masha Volynsky
Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre published a report last week that outlines the main problems of segregation in education, based on the examples of four schools in Ostrava. Roma Week purposefully coincides with a campaign the two organizations launched for this occassion, called ‘Five more years of injustice’, which aims to work with the education ministry, among others, to put an end to discriminatory practices.

The campaign follows up on a 2007 verdict by the European Court for Human Rights which ruled in favor of 18 Romani students from the northern city of Ostrava, confirming their families’ claim that they were unjustly placed into so-called special, or practical, schools for disabled children, and denied access to a regular education. The court also stated that this was a common practice in the Czech Republic that needed to be stopped. But five years on, human rights advocates are saying little progress has been made.

Roma Week organizers: David Hájek, Karolína Chloubová and Adam Podhola, photo: Masha Volynsky
The Education Ministry announced that it is preparing a number of improvements starting next year. According to the ministry’s spokesman Marek Zeman one of them will be detailed psychological tests for preschoolers:

“[The tests] will determine with certainty whether a student belongs in a practical school or not.”

iPusa’s annual Roma Week focuses not only on the education but also on the role and position of the Roma in Czech society and the media - holding an exhibit of documentary comics and photographs from different Roma communities, hosting film screenings as well as discussions with experts on media and Roma rights.

Most of the events are being held at Charles University’s Faculty of Education, aiming to expose future teachers to issues of segregation and inclusive education. I asked Adam Podhola what he and his fellow organizers of Roma Week want to convey to the future teachers who are currently studying at the faculty. Here is the advice he had to give:

Romani students protest against discrimination in Czech schools, photo: CTK
“Don’t give into the stereotypes that you see in the media. It is about creating dialogue, it’s about understanding. I think one of the problems here is that we underestimate the Roma culture. It is just as important as Czech culture, and [their values] are just as important as the values that we have. And I think we should try to learn more about Roma culture, because it will help us deal with the problems in the future.”

For more information about the campaign, go to www.ipusa.cz