Inequality in Education for Czech Roma Children

“Sabrina started school in 1998, when she was six years old. She was not treated the same as other children in her class. Her teacher never involved Sabrina in activities and never asked her any questions. She just used to sit in the corner while other children were busy with schoolwork.”

This story from an Amnesty International article on the treatment of Romani children in the Czech education system is just heartbreaking.  Sabrina, like many other Romani children in the Czech Republic, was eventually sent to a special school for children with “mild mental disabilities.”  Roma, previously referred to as Gypsies, have suffered centuries of discrimination in Europe and this discrimination is still widespread today.  25% of Czech Roma live on less than $11 a day and 40% are unemployed.  Many do not finish school.

Until recently, the Czech Republic used language-based IQ testing to identify children who need special education.  This automatically put Romani children at a disadvantage, as they often speak Romani as their first language and frequently have limited access to the Czech language before school.  Many of these special schools have been as much as 80% Roma, showing the overrepresentation of Roma.  In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled this was an unfair discriminatory practice.

Since this ruling, the Czech government has begun using picture IQ tests to place children in schools, but this has not resolved the problem.  The picture IQ tests are based on toys and items that Romani children, who are more likely to come from poverty, may not have access to.  Experts also say the picture tests use puns and language-based logic that Romani children would not understand.

Romani parents are statistically more likely to be poor and to have very low education levels, making it hard for them to give their children a solid pre-education base.  Combined with the language barrier, this means Romani children have a huge hurdle to overcome in the first grade just to stay on track with their education.  Instead of receiving the extra support to help them succeed, Romani children are often segregated from non-Roma or face discrimination in the classroom before being diagnosed as mentally disabled and sent to schools with fewer resources and lower education standards.  This treatment is putting Romani children at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives, making it even harder for them to break the cycle of poverty.

The Czech government needs to end the unfair education practices Romani children are subjected to.  Roma need more support in school and in the home, with social workers making home visits and forming a relationship with parents to identify children who truly have developmental disorders so they can receive the specialized care they need while helping all Romani children to succeed in their education.

Amnesty International: End segregation of Romani children in Czech schools

Prague Daily Monitor: Roma children to be labeled disabled even with new IQ tests

Statistics on Roma in Czech Republic

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