There are some weeks here in the Czech Republic where you might be a bit more optimistic about the “Roma problem”, as the Czechs refer to it. Maybe you’ll read in the paper about the harsher stance the police seem to be taking against extremist groups or maybe just see a well-dressed Roma professional walking the streets of Prague and think, finally, more Roma might be finishing higher education and getting better jobs.

Then there are weeks (like this one) where you might feel utterly depressed. This week has been one of those weeks, at least for me.

First, I learned the following from the Prague Post’s education blog:

“New data released last Wednesday shows children from socially excluded localities in the Czech Republic, many of whom are Roma, have much more limited educational opportunities after elementary school than students from mainstream Czech society.”

That took me to a comprehensive, English-language write-up of the data that appeared on the Romeo website (a translation of a Czech news agency report). The figures are staggering and worth a look. A few highlights from that article:

· “Roma children head to trade schools more often than their non-Roma peers, and many of them never graduate. Only 14 percent of Roma transfer to studies offering the equivalent of a high school diploma as compared to the vast majority of non-Roma pupils.”

· “…Fewer than 2 percent of Roma enroll in academic high school. According to the analysis, eight Roma out of 1,000 make it to academic high school, six of them to a multi-year academic high school and two of them to four-year high schools.”

· “Almost 39 percent of Roma children from socially excluded localities leave mainstream elementary school early. Roma children are approximately eight times more likely to leave primary education early than the national average.”

· “While 68 percent of socially disadvantaged Roma pupils enroll in trade schools, many of them leave early. Of the 212 Roma children who were studied after their enrollment in trade schools between 2005 and 2007, roughly half graduated. The rest either transferred to different schools, left school temporarily, or left school altogether.”

Now this data hasn’t been produced by some fly-by-night research company producing numbers with some suspicious-looking methodology. It’s the handiwork of GAC, the company of Ivan Gabal, a top sociologist who produced a landmark study for the Czech government in 2006 that concluded that 80,000 Roma—roughly a third of the country’s Roma population—live in ghettos, with between 95 and 100 percent unemployment. This time, Gabal and his colleagues looked more specifically at educational opportunities for the children living in those ghettos or excluded communities, with their conclusions naturally weighted toward the Roma (though they aren’t the only ones living in these areas). Their study collected data from 14 schools near socially excluded localities over the past five school years and used the school records of 2,204 children.

Not surprisingly, some tie those terrible results for Roma kids to what happens in their early schooling, where many of them continue to be shunted into special schools, normally reserved for children with mental disabilities. As Gabal himself pointed out in an excellent interview (also on the Romeo site), “We currently have more than 16,000 Roma pupils in the ‘special’ schools, and last year less than 50 of them managed to return to mainstream schools – in other words, a miniscule number. This shows that the current state of affairs is not in order.”

All of this is the more shameful because the European Court for Human Rights actually ruled over three years ago against segregating Roma students into special schools. The decision called the practice is a form of unlawful discrimination in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention (prohibiting discrimination), taken together with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (securing the right to education). Yet, in a November 2010 complaint filed at the Council of Europe, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the European Roma Rights Centre, and the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) argued that the Czech Republic “has taken no concrete steps to desegregate schools”, producing an under-funded and vague action plan that has not led to improvement. The organizations asserted that Roma children are still 12 times more likely than non-Roma to be enrolled in practical schools for children with mental disabilities (and in some parts of the country the figure is 27 times). The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, concurred with those conclusions after a three-day visit to the country in November.

If that wasn’t enough, some of those at the education ministry that are committed to the principle of inclusion have left the ministry, a result Gabal said of a lack of support from the previous minister (“The previous staff were on the way to initiating a real turnaround in the educational opportunities of Roma girls and boys,” he said.) The new government abolished the post of human rights and minorities minister and, already six months in office, still hasn’t appointed a human rights commissioner, someone who could put pressure on the authorities to move more quickly.

I said at the top of this post about being depressed about all of this. To be honest, it’s actually a bit tiring to still be talking about the special schools. While the issue has received more press the last few years, with the ECHR judgment, the issue has been highlighted as a major problem since at least the mid 1990s, as far as I can remember. Gabal expressed confidence that the Education Ministry could still play a leadership in addressing such segregation. I wish I could be even partially optimistic.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email:

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