Czech Republic: Action not words needed to end discrimination against Roma in schools

A pledge to end segregation and discrimination against Romani children in Czech schools needs to be backed with action, Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) urged after meeting the country’s Minister of Education, Petr Fiala.He told delegates from both organizations that desegregation and inclusive education were his priorities when they met in Prague on Wednesday, a day before the organizations launched their joint report Five more years of injustice: Segregated education for Roma in the Czech Republic.“The Minister’s commitment is welcomed but political courage is needed to implement the much needed reform of the education system,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme.Under the current system, pupils can all too easily be placed in “practical” education for children with mild mental disabilities, which offers lower quality education. This disproportionately affects Romani children. At the same time, thousands of Romani children remain effectively segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools and classes. “Practical education is the engine of segregation, prejudice is the fuel that makes it run. The combination of the two results in thousands of Romani children across the Czech Republic being denied quality education and the opportunity to an equal start in life.”On Thursday a spokesperson for the Minister of Education joined activists in a public action called Time is running out: Open the closed books.The action consisted of a pyramid of school books erected outside the Ministry of Education building. Around the pyramid were four symbolic padlocks and chains. Three speakers at the action, including a Roma mother from Ostrava, along with the Minister’s spokesperson each unlocked a padlock, thereby symbolically unlocking the future of Romani children in the Czech Republic.Released on Thursday the joint report by Amnesty International and the ERRC exposes the shortcomings in the Czech educational system that allow discrimination and segregation of Romani children in the educational system. The report argues that five years after the 2007 landmark judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the D.H. and Others case that found that the Czech Republic has discriminated against Romani children by placing them in special education, the government failed to achieve any change. Romani children are still being denied the educational opportunities offered to other students.The ECHR called on the Czech government to “take measures to put an end to the violation found by the Court and to redress so far as possible the effects”.”Practical schools are a dead-end for Romani children. As long as this system exists, Romani children will be predestined to limited and low quality education, with disastrous consequences for their future. It’s five years since the European Court of Human Rights judgement on segregated education, and now is the time for the government to take action,” said Dezideriu Gergely, Executive Director, ERRC.