Tech & Rights

Struggle Continues for Inclusive Education in Czech Republic

An amendment to the Czech Education Act aims to better support children with special educational needs, but a new alliance promoting inclusive education warns that controversial language within the amendment could lead to its misuse.

by The League of Human Rights
CC by Steve Evans

The Czech Republic has the third-highest number of children educated outside mainstream schools, as well as the highest proportion of children whose enrollment into first grade is delayed, among all EU members.

"In most developed countries the principle of distributing children into separate educational tracks is nowhere near as entrenched as it is in our country," says Robert Basch of Open Society Fund Prague, which has long supported inclusive education. "The Czech Republic is being repeatedly criticized by international organizations for poorly educating disadvantaged pupils."

In various regions, for example, children with identical diagnosis have different educational opportunities in mainstream schools. It depends on how much are the authorities willing to fund teaching assistants. Perhaps most alarming is the situation of Roma children, who make up 28% of pupils in "practical schools," which are ostensibly reserved for children with mild mental disabilities. The European Court of Human Rights condemned the Czech Republic in 2007 for placing 18 Roma pupils into practical schools, violating their right to education and discriminating against them.

Disillusioned

The newly formed Alliance of Parents for Inclusion wants to support parents of children with various forms of individual needs, from physical or mental disability to social disadvantages. A supporting provision for children with special educational needs has been added as an amendment to the Education Act, which is currently pending before MPs.

The alliance is disillusioned with the amendment and recently sent an open letter to Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka about its shortcomings. Although it is meant to improve the education of children with special educational needs, according to the letter's signatories, the amendment also contains a controversial definition of mental disability, which entails the risk that some children currently educated in mainstream schools could be removed and placed into practical schools.

The Czech inclusive education debate intensified after the recent statement of President Milos Zeman, who said that disabled and healthy children should be educated separately.