Teachers across Ontario, Canada have labelled the large numbers of refugee Roma children that have enrolled in the schools in cities such as Toronto and Hamilton as 'some of the most perplexing students in the world'. They have no English, limited education and an often shaky regard for school routines and mores. Puzzled teachers say their Roma students can seem lukewarm to learning, even suspicious and skip school for days at a time.
Is it any wonder because for centuries the Roma have been discriminated in all parts of European society, and especially in what is now the Czech Republic. Even today, according to a recent article in the weekly Czech news magazine Respekt, "Roma children get inferior educations and thereby permanently lose any prospect of securing a decent job. That in turn costs the state money because unemployed Roma do not contribute to the economy, do not pay taxes and live on social welfare.
The majority of Romani children come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, often have difficulties with the Czech language early on in first school as a result of their educational segregation are a third as likely to make it to secondary school as their 'white' counterparts. Add to that the fact that a disproportionate number of Roma are sent to special schools for children with learning disabilities, it is clear that they are being groomed to fail.
This educational apartheid is fed from 'below' by parents wanting a 'problem-free' education for their children. In many towns 'gypsy' schools and 'white' schools are sited near to each other, as Catholic and Protestant schools are in many towns and cities in the UK, but recent attempts at integrate them have led to 'white flight' of pupils to non-integrated schools.
The state educational-psychological counselling system also does it's part, producing a steady stream of recommendations for the transfer of Romani students from standard to special schools, renamed “practical elementary schools” four years ago in a PR exercise that changed little else. The first ever sociological survey conducted for the Education Ministry recently found that 30 percent of each annual cohort of Romani children attended schools for the mentally disabled. Only about 2% of 'white' Czech children receive this diagnosis.
Recently even the EU have started to pay notice following a European Court of Human Rights landmark judgement that this pattern of segregation had violated non-discrimination protections in the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of eighteen Roma students, born between 1985 and 1999, who were placed in special schools in the Ostrava region* of the Czech Republic.
Now the Czech government have earmarked €170M, much of it from EU funds, to support equal opportunities in education and the education ministry is preparing its National Action Plan for Inclusive Education to be introduced in January next year. However the task is massive, with some estimates for the number of children at risk of being wrongly assigned to special schools annually are as high as 10,000, with some claiming it is three times that number. Until those levels of discrimination and the social apartheid that Roma suffer from are ended, Roma will continue to try and make a new life for themselves elsewhere in the world.
In the words of one of the Canadian teachers, "One student wrote the most touching composition about how great it is they're not beaten up in Canada just for being Roma."
* The Ostrava region was amongst the worst in the republic, with more than half of all Roma children placed in "special schools". Over half of the population of "special schools" were Roma and a Roma child was at least 27 times more likely to be placed in a "special school" than a non-Roma child.