/ August 30, 2008

After Dust of Legal Battles Settles, Roma Education Still Struggles

In the fall of 2007, Europe’s Roma community enjoyed a momentous legal victory in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Roma children could no longer be segregated into separate, “special” schools. Traditionally, Roma children have attended unique institutions, but not always by choice; often, the facilities and resources of the Roma schools were abysmal, and sometimes Roma children were filtered into schools for children with learning disabilities, keeping them from reaching their full academic potential. This week, the BBC takes a look at the state of Roma education, as we near the one year anniversary of the ECHR’s historic decision.

The families of 18 Roma children filed a complaint against the Czech government in 2000, arguing that the country’s school segregation policy discriminated against Roma youth. The ECHR ruled that the government did not have “adequate justification” for separating the children, and and awarded $4000 euros compensation to each family involved in the case. The suit brought hope to Roma communities all over Europe, and similar complaints have been filed in Greece and Croatia.

In 2005, the Czech Republic closed the schools down, responding to the public outrage after the suit shed light on the tragic conditions often suffered by the children. However, some argue that Roma children all over the continent remain segregated, sometimes in new, more insidious ways. Visiting a former “special school,” one BBC correspondent confirms that the only visible change to the institution is its title. 8th grade Roma students continue to review the alphabet, and their Czech teachers bemoan Roma attitudes towards learning, blaming parents and Roma culture for the childrens’ stunted education. Czech Minister of Education Ondrej Liska believes this kind of perception can be addressed with sensitivity training for teachers with Roma pupils, but cautions that it will take time:

“I want to see in two years that teachers in schools with a high percentage of Roma children have appropriate training and I want to see a major shift in these schools – but I can’t say: tomorrow you have to change the philosophy you’ve been teaching with for 20 years.”

While the Roma demand an end to separate but unequal education, some community leaders acknowledge that they must take more responsibility for the future of their children. Roma rapper Radek Bhanga, popular in the mainstream Czech music scene, decries the Roma “victim mentality,” arguing that the Roma could do more to better their own community by taking advantage of the Czech Republic’s democratic institutions. But, whoever is to blame, it is the children who are the real victims; there is much work to be done before last year’s ruling is made a reality.

Source: BBC News

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