The Czech government came under pressure from one of Europe’s top political bodies last week for its failure to make sure all Roma children get a decent education—and was urged to lift its game starting with the next school year in September.
The call was prompted by the November 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that ordered the Czech government to stop channeling Roma children into dead-end "special" schools on account of their ethnicity.
The body charged with monitoring how the Czech government put that judgment into action—the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers—registered its disappointment with the pace of change on Friday. The committee said it is concerned that “considerable progress remains to be achieved on the ground” and wanted “concrete results achieved” for the next school year. It needed to see the Czech government “intensifying and if possible, speeding up the implementation” of its inclusive education action plan.
The Czech government, for its part, did not position itself well to fend off these calls for accelerated change or defend its own actions. It failed to give any more information to the committee before the meeting in Strasbourg last week, beyond acknowledging last December that an action plan existed, giving a description of its contents, and providing assurances that the plan was in motion.
At the meeting itself, the Czech government finally gave a statement to its peers on the committee—but in doing so, it gave a selective account of the state of play in Czech Republic.
It highlighted its cooperation with an expert group of teachers, psychologists, and pedagogues to develop strategies for putting inclusive education into action. But it failed to mention that the expert group had actually imploded the week before. Fifty of those experts quit accusing the government of lacking the political will to move towards a truly inclusive education system.
The government statement also pointed to the passage of two decrees as “the most important” measures which demonstrated the government’s commitment to implementing the action plan, each of which will come into force in September for the next school year.
But these two decrees contain disturbing flaws. They fail, for example, to ensure that the parents of children who are channeled into “special schools” (which have been renamed “practical schools”) are told of the long term consequences this form of education will have on the child—such as severely limiting their chances of ever going back to mainstream school, or being qualified for a job if they graduate.
The Czech government did say it was “aware of the magnitude and of the urgency” of the issue and that its authorities “are intent on exerting their best efforts in order to solve it.” And yet the government’s actions do not seem to live up to its stated ambitions.
During the past year, the government has dismantled the policy department charged with addressing inclusive education; reformers inside the Ministry of Education have been pushed out or quit citing lack of political will; and a person considered hostile to the inclusive education agenda has been appointed as an advisor to the Education Minister himself.
The Committee of Ministers were right to be disappointed in the pace of change and the lack of information they had received about what the Czech government was actually doing to implement the 2007 court judgment, D.H. and Others v Czech Republic. Unfortunately, Roma children remain the ones who continue to bear the brunt of the government’s failure to act. In September, we are still likely to see yet another wave of Roma children bundled off to dead-end schools.