2 September 2010
Amnesty International is urging the Slovak government to immediately end the segregation of Romani children in the country’s education system. This practice leaves thousands of Romani pupils in substandard education in schools and classes for pupils with “mild mental disabilities” or ethnically segregated mainstream schools and classes.
In a briefing to the Slovak government, Steps to end segregation in education, Amnesty International points to serious gaps in the enforcement and monitoring of the ban on discrimination and segregation in the Slovak educational system.
“Romani children across Slovakia remain trapped in a school system that keeps failing them as a result of widespread discrimination. It deprives Romani children of equal opportunities and sentences them to a life of poverty and marginalization,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director.
“The Slovak government has much to do to end the segregation that has an impact on a large part of the country’s population. Segregation in education means a life-long stigma for children whose future chances are brutally limited. It is a practice that does not belong to 21st century Europe and must be eliminated.”
Segregation of Romani children takes various forms: special schools or special classes within mainstream schools designed for pupils with “mild mental disabilities” and mainstream Roma-only schools and classes.
While Roma are estimated to comprise less than 10 per cent of Slovakia’s total population, they make up 60 per cent of the pupils in special schools, according to a 2009 survey.
In regions with high Romani populations three out of every four pupils in special schools are Roma. Eighty five per cent of the children in special classes in mainstream schools across the country are Roma.
The causes of segregation are complex and include entrenched anti-Roma attitudes as well as policy failures in the education system such as early and flawed child assessment and insufficient support for Romani children within mainstream education.
Widespread anti-Romani sentiment across the country expressed by non-Roma parents and educational professionals, has also led to segregation of Romani children even in mainstream schools and classes.
This has led to a situation in which Romani children are sometimes literally locked into separate classrooms, corridors or buildings to prevent them from mixing with non-Roma pupils.
The coalition government´s programme adopted in August 2010, included the commitment to eliminate segregated schooling of Roma. Amnesty International is concerned that this has not been followed by a clear and unequivocal statement by the head of government that ethnic discrimination and segregation of Roma is unacceptable and will be combated as a matter of priority.
“The idea that separate can be equal has been discredited. Slovakia cannot continue to deny its Romani children their right to education without discrimination,” David Diaz-Jogeix said.
“The choices that the government makes now will affect the lives of thousands of Romani children. The government holds the key to allow the Roma in Slovakia full participation in Slovak and European society.”
Amnesty International calls on the Slovak authorities to:
- Provide the State School Inspectorate with adequate resources, including robust, detailed guidelines and procedures on how to identify, monitor and combat segregation in practice;
- Begin the systematic collection of data on education, disaggregated on the basis of gender and ethnicity;
- Introduce a clear duty on all schools to desegregate education and provide them with effective support;
- Introduce adequate support measures for Roma and non-Roma children who need extra assistance, so that they may achieve their fullest potential within mainstream schools.
Sixteen-year-old Jakub lives with his family at a Romani settlement 20km north-west of the capital Bratislava. He started school in a mainstream class and as an excellent student, he received a scholarship. When he reached the fifth grade, Jakub was sent for assessment of his abilities following a disagreement with his teacher. His parents were not informed about the assessment and he was immediately transferred to a special class for children with “mild mental disabilities”. One of Jakub’s former teachers told Amnesty International: “Some of the children, as I see it, are wrongly placed. For example, [Jakub] had been placed in [mild] mental disability… on the grounds of hyperactivity...The kid should have been in a normal class. He was a genius.” Having now finished elementary school, Jakub clearly feels frustrated by the injustice he suffered: “What they did to me was nasty… They made an idiot out of me.”
The mother of seven-year-old Ľuboš, Angelika, from Prešov, the third largest city in Slovakia, placed him at one of the best schools in the centre of the city. Ľuboš enrolled at the school with his father, who is Slovak non-Roma. But according to Angelika, things changed once she started coming to the school. The teacher started having problems with Ľuboš, and told her that it would not be appropriate for her son to remain at the school: “She said that my child did not belong to that class, because he is Roma so [she told me] that I should send him to the Roma school.” Angelika took Ľuboš out of the school and he lost a year of study as a result.
Unlock their future: End the segregation of Romani children in Slovakia’s schools
Roma children still lose out: Segregation persists in Slovak schools despite new law
A tale of two schools: Segregating Roma into special education in Slovakia
Still separate, still unequal: Violations of the right to education of Romani children in Slovakia
Slovakia plans to remove Romani children from their families.