Amnesty International is urging the Slovak government to immediately end the segregation of Romani children in the country’s education system.
In a new report - Steps To End Segregation In Education - sent to the Slovak government, Amnesty points to serious gaps in the enforcement and monitoring of the ban on discrimination and segregation in the country's educational system.
They say that as a result of the gap, thousands of Romani pupils are in sub-standard education in schools and classes for pupils with “mild mental disabilities” or ethnically segregated mainstream 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 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; 85 per cent of children in special classes in mainstream schools are Roma.
“Romani children across Slovakia remain trapped in a school system that keeps failing them as a result of widespread discrimination,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International Europe Deputy-Director.
“It deprives Romani children of equal opportunities and sentences them to a life of poverty and marginalisation,” he added, “Segregation in education means a life-long stigma for children whose future chances are brutally limited”.
He insisted that this is “a practice that does not belong to 21st-century Europe and must be eliminated”.
Amnesty’s report shows that segregation of Romani children in Slovakia 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. In some cases, school heads have admitted segregating Roma children simply to stop non-Roma parents removing their children in a so-called “white flight” response.
One case highlighted in the report is that of Jakub, a boy from a Roma settlement near Bratislava who was transferred to a special class for children with “mild mental disabilities” in his mainstream school after a disagreement with his teacher. Jakub was a scholarship pupil with an excellent academic record whom another of his teachers described as a “genius” who should not have been segregated.
The causes of segregation, says Amnesty, 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.
Amnesty reports that widespread anti-Romani sentiment in Slovakia has led to segregation of Romani children even in mainstream schools and classes. They cite situations in which Romani children are sometimes literally locked into separate classrooms, corridors or buildings to prevent them from mixing with non-Roma pupils.
The new Slovak government recently committed itself to eliminating the segregated schooling of Roma, yet Amnesty 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 choices that the government makes now will affect the lives of thousands of Romani children,” said Diaz-Jogeix, “The government holds the key to allow the Roma in Slovakia full participation in Slovak and European society”.
Amnesty is calling on the Slovak authorities to introduce a clear duty on all schools to desegregate education and to provide them with effective support.
They are also urging them to 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.
Their other urgent suggestions include the provision of of the State School Inspectorate with adequate resources, including robust, detailed guidelines and procedures on how to identify, monitor and combat segregation in practice. And they also want the authorities to begin the systematic collection of data on education, disaggregated on the basis of gender and ethnicity.