Education minister says ten years needed to improve situation for Roma children in Czech schools

08-04-2009

In 2007, the Czech Republic was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for the way its education system treated the country’s Romany minority. The court found that Roma children were frequently discriminated against and sent to schools for the disabled, when they did not show signs of learning difficulties. On International Roma Day this Wednesday, the Czech Education Ministry released the results of two studies it commissioned to determine how Roma children are faring in the country’s schools now. I spoke to Education Minister Ondřej Liška and asked him whether it wasn’t controversial to split Czech children into Roma and non-Roma for the purposes of these studies:

“The problem we face nowadays in the Czech Republic is that a large part of our society, very often Romanies, are socially excluded. For us, at the Ministry of Education, it doesn’t matter really whether their exclusion is based purely upon their ethnic origin, or whether it is a combination of social reasons and ethnicity. For us, the most important question is what kind of educational needs these people, these children, have. And thus, the methods we have used to research this have been based upon the individual educational needs of these kids.”

You have said that the results of these studies are alarming – what is alarming about them?

“The most important finding of these studies is that they have both proved our hypothesis, which was that these children are structurally excluded from the main educational framework, and that only one third of schools in these socially deprived areas are ready to build an inclusive educational environment. The rest, unfortunately, are not. And that is a very alarming message that shows how much our support is needed.”

What are potential solutions to the problems you have identified here, if you could give me some concrete examples?

“We definitely need to enhance the system of educational counseling. This is actually point where, for the first time, the children, the parents, the teachers and the psychologists and counselors meet before the child is signed up for a primary school. We need to teach these counselors, we need to make them aware of inclusive methods. We need to support teachers, in terms of wages, and in terms of methods they use at school in the classroom. And this is the framework that we would like to use in the following months, in the following years.

“I very much hope that these very important findings will be appreciated by my successors, because they show how far you can move ahead in just one year, and they also show that if we want to move qualitatively ahead, then we need to work every day, every month, every year for at least ten years on this issue to enhance the situation of Roma children from a socially excluded environment.”

08-04-2009