Including the Excluded in Czech Schools
There have been dramatic political changes in the former Communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe in the last ten years. This has transformed most aspects of life. Under Communism, the Czech education system was highly centralised, academic and knowledge-based. Since the changes, the system has been shaken by ‘experiments’ in school structure and curricula. Much responsibility has shifted from central government to local authorities and schools. This article highlights issues of exclusion during the process of change.
Legislation recognising the right to education for all was passed as part of the reforms. State and private special schools were opened for children with severe learning difficulties throughout the country. The push for these developments came from parents, new voluntary pressure groups and a core of professionals. The rights and potential of people with learning difficulties had been kept alive by dedicated professionals, even when there had seemed little hope.
The education of Romany (Gypsy) children is problematic and the issues involved are extremely complex. The inflexibility and academic nature of Czech mainstream education means that inclusion and diversity are not prioritised by most schools. Since the fall of Communism the rise in racist incidents has been widely reported. This has uncovered the long-held views by the majority of white Czechs, that the Romany people are inferior and are best suited to special schools.
It is estimated that over 50% of Romany children attend special schools. Only a minority of those who attend mainstream primary schools complete their schooling.
There are now signs of hope for Romany people from within the Czech Republic. A non-governmental organisation, Nova Skola, has succeeded in training and placing over eighty Romany classroom assistants in mainstream schools to work with Romany children. They support Romany and Czech children in learning together, bridging any cultural and language barriers. They do this by building Romany children’s self-esteem, changing attitudes within schools and working with their families. Another NGO received funding to recruit volunteer tutors to work with Romany adults who wished to further their education. The tutors help them to complete their mainstream primary education or to upgrade their special school certificates. This is necessary to enter most forms of vocational training and employment.
At last some of the walls of suspicion between the various groups seem to be, if not falling, then at least crumbling in places. This is allowing an exchange and development of ideas. Transformation is hard for all and attitudes take time to change. Full inclusion of the Romany people, in and outside of schools, still lies some time ahead, but it does now seem more than a dream.
For more information contact:
Alison Closs . Dept of Equity Studies & Special Education . Moray House . Institute of Education . University of Edinburgh . Edinburgh . EH8 8AQ . UK. Tel: +44 131 651 6443 Fax: +44 131 651 6511 Email: Alison.Closs@ed.ac.uk
“Special schools are frequently more flexible, warm and welcoming establishments than mainstream schools, with staff positively orientated towards all their pupils – a fact often used wrongly to justify the disproportionate number of Romany children in them.”