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Slovakia stands accused: new report calls for an end to racist segregation in schools

Source: ERRC | Wednesday, 1 March 2017

By Bernard Rorke

A new report published today on March 1, Zero Discrimination Day exposes the shocking extent of school segregation and deeply embedded institutional racism in Slovakia. In this report by the European Roma Rights Centre and Amnesty International, Slovakia stands accused of blatantly denying Romani children access to quality inclusive education and operating an educational system that traps these kids in an intergenerational cycle of poverty and exclusion.

The low quality of education in segregated schools, combined with low expectations of teachers, and racist disparagement of Romani pupils ensures that most of these children do not continue school beyond the age of 16. And racist disparagement goes right to the top. In 2015 the government responded to the news that the European Commission had launched an investigation against Slovakia for segregation by using the racist “incest argument”. They claimed that the reason so many Romani children were in "special schools" was due to a higher rate of inbreeding in their families leading to developmental disorders.

This joint report, A Lesson in Discrimination: Segregation of Romani children in Primary Education in Slovakia, presents a bleak picture: case studies of schools in four locations in eastern Slovakia show that piecemeal reforms and legislative changes have failed to make a dent on discrimination in schools. A full decade after the European Court of Human Rights first ruled the discriminatory placement of Romani children in special schools to be illegal, this blatant form of abuse continues virtually unchecked. Researchers uncovered disturbing patterns of misdiagnosis by a private diagnostic centre and its channelling of Romani children into a local private special school in the town of Rokycany. Following an investigation, the Ministry of Education closed the diagnostic centre in early 2016, and ordered the school to close by August 2017. Despite this decision, the school has been renovated to comply with sanitation requirements it had previously breached, has received additional state funding for teaching assistants, and continues to educate approximately 80 Romani children.

The reduced curriculum in special schools, combined with widespread prejudice and low expectations for Romani children among teachers has a profound and damaging impact on the children’s educational trajectories. Teachers at the special school in Krompachy echoed the government line on ‘inbreeding’, telling researchers that: “Another problem is that they procreate among themselves, incest happens very often.”

Similarly, in mainstream schools teaching staff went straight from dismissing the impact of institutional discrimination to giving full rein to their own prejudices. One teacher at the Šarišské Micha─żany school told researchers that she would never send her own children there because of the high number of Romani children: “Did you see the children from Ostrovany? How they speak? How they smell? No wonder the non-Roma don’t want to be with them… It’s a little zoo.”

Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre found no evidence that authorities are making any serious attempts to facilitate the enrolment of Romani children in mixed mainstream schools, or to mitigate the impact of ‘white flight’ from schools with an increased Roma intake. In two of the sites covered by the research, plans were underway to build new schools right next to the Roma settlements. The common argument in Slovakia is that this makes education more accessible. This kind of access comes with an unacceptable cost. Separate provision isolates Romani children from their peers, keeps them apart from the wider society, and exacerbates inequalities. The reality is that separate can never be equal.

With the passing of every year, new groups of Roma children are enrolled into systems structured to fail them; systems structured to deny them equal opportunities in a manner that will blight their life chances forever. Every day a child spends wrongly placed in a special school, or consigned to a run-down shabby segregated school, is a day lost forever. Every day a child is denied the care and attention that should come with the fundamental right to quality education, is a day of squandered potential.

De facto segregation is more than an abuse of human rights. It amounts to a willful and malicious squandering of Romani communities’ most precious assets - the intellectual capacities of future generations. Substandard segregated education leaves young people unable to progress beyond elementary levels of schooling, unable to compete in the labor market.

There is no cause for cheer in this report, which concludes that segregation in Slovakia, “fuelled by unacknowledged prejudice, remains widespread in mainstream education.” Until inclusive education becomes a policy priority and this democratic deficit is tackled as a matter of urgency, the prospects for progress remain bleak, and Slovak authorities stand accused of failing in their obligations towards Romani children under European, national and international law. It will be a long time coming before Zero Discrimination Day with its celebration of diversity sees the light of day in Slovakia.

The Report can be read in full here: http://www.errc.org/cms/upload/file/report-lesson-in-discrimination-english.pdf

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