The Together to School Coalition endorses the article authored by Anna Šabatová, “Everyone in the Czech Republic should go to school together”, which was published in Romano hangos no.6/2012 in response to an article authored by Czech MP Milada Emmerová (Czech Social Democrats – ČSSD) in no. 4 of that same periodical, entitled “The ‘special’ schools: What the Strasbourg judgment has led us to”. As Ms. Šabatová put it, the article “displays real ignorance, it contains both naive reflections and dangerous prejudices.
Dr. Emmerová ignores the findings of international research and examples of good practice at the systemic level and at individual schools (including Czech ones) which have convincingly demonstrated for more than 10 years that education can be both inter-communal and very effective at the same time, and that the most successful systems are precisely those that delay dividing up the population by academic performance until the last possible moment, for example, after the age of 16. In her article, Dr. Emmerová reproduces some of the ideological standpoints shared by members of the lay and professional public who are now stubbornly opposing measures to eliminate discrimination against Romani children in their access to education, openly playing the role of “yes-man” with respect to enrolling Romani children into the “practical” elementary schools.”
Research into the ethnic composition of the pupils attending the former “special” schools recently performed by the ombudsman has confirmed that the institutions involved in deciding whether to recommend that a pupil be enrolled in special education have been indirectly discriminating against pupils in their access to education because of their ethnic membership. The ombudsman’s office published its findings on 6 June 2012, reporting that 32 % of the pupils at “practical” elementary schools are Romani. In the Czech Republic, the Romani population fluctuates between 1.4 and 2.8 % of the entire population.
The Together to School Coalition considers this situation alarming. The Coalition’s main aim is to support inclusive education in general and to specifically focus on the issue of Romani children in particular. The Coalition considers a situation in which 32 % of Romani children are attending schools for the lightly mentally disabled to be completely disproportionate.
The pose struck by MP Emmerová in her article is unfortunately not at all unique. During its round table cycle on the topic of inclusive education, hled during the first half of this year in four regions of the Czech Republic, the Coalition very frequently encountered similar opinions supporting the preservation of the practice of segregated schools. What is most disturbing is the fact that this position is often taken by school directors and teachers, i.e., professionals who work with Romani children on a day-to-day basis.
There are many myths afloat about inclusive education, some of which are being intentionally preserved and which must be corrected. The principle of “inclusion” is an effort to reach out to all children in the schools and to offer each one of them conditions for developing their educational potential to the greatest extent possible. We must realize that inclusive education profits every child, not just children with some sort of disadvantage.
The economic effects of this discriminatory practice against Romani children in the Czech education system are far from negligible. In 2008, the World Bank presented an analysis of the Czech Republic which found that the reduced success of socially excluded Romani people on the labor market was costing the state budget an annual loss of at least CZK 16 billion. Discrimination in education is one of the main causes of this lack of success.
The current myths about inclusive education must be effectively fought, hand in hand with the support of schools standing for inclusive education, whether they already have experience in this area or would like to start such a program. School managements often do not exactly know what to do to introduce inclusive education. The members of the Together to School Coalition have many examples of good practice and implemented projects to share with them, such as the projects of Step by Step Czech Republic, IQ Roma Servis’s early childhood care projects, the “Fair Schools” project of the League of Human Rights, a project for the support of Romani pupils and students in further education run by Slovo 21, o. s., or the educational projects run by O.s.Romodrom, the current coordinator of the Coalition, in the area of early childhood care.
The Together to School Coalition (Koalice Společně do školy) brings together 17 non-governmental, non-profit organizations working in the area of educating socially disadvantaged children and undertaking analyses, educational projects and research. The mission of the Coalition is to advocate for equal access to education by Romani children and to follow up on the implementation of the 2007 judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the case of D.H. and Others vs. Czech Republic.The Coalition’s more general aim is to contribute to desegregating the Czech educational system through the gradual elimination of administrative barriers to the process of inclusive education as they impact disadvantaged children and to thereby assist in the application of the principle of equal opportunities for all children irrespective of their origin, skin color, or social position.
Press release of the Together to School Coalition, translated by Gwendolyn Albert