Roma segregation in education leads to less opportunity later

Mateřská škola – Jeseniova 98. Photo by Drew Beveridge

Roma children in the Czech Republic face disadvantages and discrimination at an early age in the educational system. This makes success for Roma people even harder to find in the Czech Republic. At least one expert says that biased testing artificially steers Roma into “practical” schools designed for children with learning difficulties and learning disorders.

In the 2007 case D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, the European Court of Human Rights found violation of the European Union’s anti-discrimination laws. Without necessity, several apt Roma students were enrolled in practical schools for children with mild mental disabilities.
Lucie Macku, executive director at the Czech Society for Inclusive Education, said “the IQ diagnosis of the kid takes sometimes only 15 to 20 minutes” and “the Roma kid is given poems to recite, when they can’t even speak Czech fluently.”

Czech is often the third or fourth language spoken by the parents of Roma children, so the children are disqualified from a normal education at a young age because of their different ethnic background and inability to speak Czech.

The sanctions from the 2007 legal action have not significantly changed the number of Roma students enrolled in practical schools. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has found that one-third of the students enrolled in practical schools are Roma while the Roma community only makes up 3 percent of the population of the Czech Republic.

In August 2014 the Czech Government introduced amendments to the Education Act, which outlines new support activities for children with special needs and reforms the diagnosis of the children. The amendment will be in effect by September 2016 but may not mean a great deal to the Roma population. Even if a Roma student is able to pass the new tests, he or she may still face challenges. The Education Act only states that aliens with legal residence will be provided with education. It does not specify the standard of education they receive.

Even if the students are placed into mainstream schools, they are often subjected to racism from peers and teachers. “Reports of racial bullying and ostracization by non-Roma pupils, and even open prejudice by some teachers, are frequent,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty in an April 2015 report.

The issue regarding education is one of several social forces that make life more challenging for the Roma minority in the Czech Republic and other regions of Central Europe. The Centre for Public Opinion Research found in an April 2011 poll that more than 80 percent of the Czech population believes that Roma and non-Roma living together closely is problematic.

Past generations of Roma have faced the same discrimination that their children presently face, so parents often choose to send their children to the practical school so they can earn some form of degree rather than struggle through primary education for years.

“There is a lack of motivation amongst both the parents and the students,” said Lucie Macku, “and the students struggle to find positive examples in and out of schools.”

Once the Roma children complete school, they often face poverty, unemployment and social strains after education. According to a report by the Education Policies that Address Social Inequality (EPASI), the status of Roma in the Czech Republic is low because many Roma do not seek employment and then encounter poor living conditions and face resistance to integration into Czech society.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Czech Republic and throughout Central Europe try to provide a useful education to Roma children and foster the assimilation of the Roma people into Czech society.

The NGO Nova Skola provides supplementary education for minorities, foreigners or otherwise socially or culturally disadvantaged youth — and for educators in the general public. Nova Skola was founded in 1996 in Prague and started as a program to introduce Roma teaching assistants in primary schools. Nova Skola frequently partners with the Czech Society of Inclusive Education.

A variety of NGOs work to reduce burdens on the Roma population and reform education. However, experts agree that effective change is difficult to achieve when racist tendencies and discrimination toward one ethnicity have been an integral part of a region’s history for hundreds of years.