SLOVAKIA: A tale of two schools: Segregating Roma into special education in Slovakia

[25 July 2008] - Large numbers of Romani children are still being segregated within Slovakia’s public school system according to a new Amnesty International report.

A tale of two schools: Segregating Roma into special education in Slovakia documents the violations of the human right to education of Romani children in Slovakia, through the study of the situation in Pavlovce nad Uhom, a town in the east of the country.

As the report shows, the special school in Pavlovce nad Uhom with its near 100 per cent Roma composition has effectively become a segregated, Roma-only school, with a number of Romani children being placed there erroneously.

The report is a follow-up to Amnesty International’s November 2007 report, Still separate, still unequal: Violations of the right to education for Romani children in Slovakia.

Independent studies suggest that as many as 80 per cent of children placed in special schools in Slovakia are Roma. These schools are for children with mental disabilities. Romani children therefore receive a substandard education and have very limited opportunities for employment and further education.

Pavlovce nad Uhom is 10km from the border with Ukraine. According to the municipal authorities, 2,600 of the town’s 4,500 inhabitants are Roma.

There are two primary schools in Pavlovce nad Uhom: a mainstream elementary school with a nursery school attached, and a special elementary school for children with “mental disabilities”.

In March 2008, nearly two thirds of the Romani children attending school in the town were placed at the special school. Of the approximately 200 pupils at the special school, 99.5 percent are Roma.

Following inspections instigated by the mayor of Pavlovce nad Uhom in 2007, it was officially acknowledged that 17 of these pupils did not belong in the special school. Amnesty International has said that it believes the real number is far higher.

Officially, children can only be placed in special schools after the formal diagnosis of a mental disability and only with the full consent of the parents.

However, Amnesty International found that many children had not been assessed at all and that the assessment itself was deeply flawed. At the same time parental consent was often neither free nor informed.

Special schools – officially designed for children with mental disabilities – follow a greatly simplified curriculum. This severely reduces the prospects and opportunities of children whose rightful place is in mainstream education.

The de facto segregation of Romani children in inferior schools compounds their marginalisation and reinforces racial prejudices.

Slovakia adopted a new Schools Act in May 2008 that expressly prohibits discrimination and segregation in education. Despite this the government has so far failed to acknowledge the real extent of the problem and consequently to take comprehensive measures to reverse the situation.

The human rights violations in Pavlovce nad Uhom are not just the result of individual human error, but of a broader failure to eliminate discrimination in both the design and the implementation of the Slovak education system.

In the report, Amnesty International calls on all the relevant authorities to take the necessary measures to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education free from discrimination for Romani children and to end racial segregation in education in Slovakia.

In Pavlovce nad Uhom, the organisation urges the authorities,to ensure that all measures are taken to identify and provide an effective remedy for all children who have been inappropriately placed in the special school.

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