Research confirms indirect discrimination against Romany pupils
Brno, June 07, 2012 - Although the proportion of Romany people in the Czech Republic ranges from 1.4 – 2.8 % of the total number of inhabitants, 32 % of pupils in practical elementary schools are Romany children. This figure is based on a survey carried out by the Public Defender of Rights in 67 randomly selected practical elementary schools in all the regions of the Czech Republic.
The teachers of these schools themselves estimate that 35 % of their pupils are Romany children. If we compare these figures, it is relatively obvious that the proportion of Romany children placed in former special schools far exceeds their proportion of the population. According to the Anti-Discrimination Act, this constitutes indirect discrimination in access to education on the grounds of ethnicity by the bodies involved in deciding whether pupils should be placed into special education. (Note: indirect discrimination = different treatment as the result of the adverse impact of a policy or measures which, although expressed in neutral terms, have a discriminatory effect on a certain group of people.)
Results of the research and future impact of segregation
The Czech Republic has repeatedly been criticised for discrimination in access to education. In its verdict in the case of D. H. versus the Czech Republic from November 2007, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Czech schools system does not assure equal access to education as a considerable proportion of Romany children are placed outside of mainstream education, and thus are discriminated against. However, equal access to education and the provision of education to all pupils regardless of their nationality or ethnicity are principles stipulated by both the Education Act and the Anti-Discrimination Act. The Public Defender of Rights, as the only state institution in the Czech Republic legally entitled to carry out research in the field of equal treatment, therefore decided to carry out a survey into the ethnic composition of pupils of former special schools. The aim of this survey was to obtain a relevant estimate which could serve as the basis for assessing possible discrimination in access to education.
The Defender’s findings match the results of earlier research carried out by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the Czech Statistical Office in 2009 and 2010, which imply that the situation in the Czech Republic is not improving. The result is even more serious in that in its 2007 verdict against the Czech Republic the European Court of Human Rights only took account of the proportion of Romany pupils in schools in Ostrava, while the research carried out by the Public Defender of Rights covered the whole of the Czech Republic (i.e. including regions in which Romany people traditionally do not live).
From the viewpoint of the future development of Czech society, the Defender’s findings are cause for concern as they show a lack of integration of the largest minority in the Czech Republic, even though access to education is the essential prerequisite for finding work on the labour market. This continuing segregation is creating conditions for the further worsening of the social and economic poverty of future generations of Romany people. This means that in the future the Czech Republic can expect problems caused by high and long-term unemployment amongst the Romany population, the problem of excluded localities, the risk of socially pathological phenomena and rising tensions between the Romany people and majority society. The Czech education system is obliged to provide mainstream education for as many children as possible. Special schools, in which less is required of pupils due to their disability, should only be considered in exceptional cases.
The survey into the ethnic composition of pupils was carried out in 67 practical elementary schools teaching a total of 3954 pupils. The schools were randomly selected from the list used by the Czech School Inspectorate during the course of its inspections in 2010. Schools in all regions of the Czech Republic were proportionally represented according to the number of inhabitants of each region. The Defender used two methods to obtain data on the ethnic composition of the pupils in those schools. The first method involved identification on the basis of indirect criteria, with pupils identified by their class teachers. They based their identification on their knowledge of their pupils, pupils’ families, social context, etc. In the form of a questionnaire for each class the teachers gave a number representing the number of pupils identified as being part of a certain ethnic group (not only Romany).
The second method was based on observation and was always carried out by two members of staff of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights in the classrooms. Their task was to observe the pupils through the eyes of majority society, which identifies Romany people at first glance without having any personal familiarity with the person.
The results of the research are two different estimates of the proportion of Romany pupils acquired using two different methods. Although the two resulting figures cannot be compared directly, they do considerably substantiate the accuracy of both methods.
The survey revealed a difference in views as regards equality in access to education. Although the Czech Republic has long been criticised for its placement of excessive numbers of Romany children into classes intended for pupils with light mental disability, some experts from former special schools deny any such practice. However, what the Defender does consider to be particularly serious is the reaction of the parents of some Romany pupils who rejected the research and invoked their right to decide which school their children will attend and their right to have their children taught in a practical elementary school. According to the Defender, this attitude is proof that segregation is deeply rooted in the Romany way of thinking. In relation to this the Defender points out that the right to education is the right of the child, not the right of the child’s parents. This is a state which must assure that all children get an equal chance and must allow them to acquire the best possible education.
Integration should always be prioritised
By carrying out this survey into the ethnic composition of pupils in practical elementary schools the Defender was complying with his legal obligation to advocate equality of treatment. It is the responsibility of bodies of the state, particularly the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, to adopt measures to eliminate discrimination. On the basis of the results of the research the Defender himself formulated 3 juridical recommendations – one addressed to the government and two to Ministry of Education. Other questions (such as the process used to place pupils into special schools, the activities of school counselling facilities, the funding of teacher’s assistants, etc.) should be the subject of special discussions initiated by the Ministry of Education.
The Defender recommends that the government present the Chamber of Deputies with a draft amendment to the law which would prioritise the integration of pupils with special educational needs (including health impaired pupils) in standard elementary schools. In this respect he draws attention to the fact that, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disabled persons should also be assured equality of access to education, which is also the case in developed democracies.
The Defender recommends that the Ministry of Education rectify the inconsistency between the Directive on the Education of Pupils with Special Educational Needs and the Education Act, as the Directive goes beyond the bounds of the law in allowing classes for health impaired pupils to take children with a different type of disability or disadvantage, i.e. children who experience failure at elementary school or socially disadvantaged children.
The Defender also recommends that the Ministry make it compulsory for schools to report data on the exact numbers of pupils taught under an education program for pupils with light mental disability and that it compile precise records of former special schools. In addition to this, the Defender recommends that the Ministry consider changing the school nomenclature system.
Source: Public Defender of Rights