Thursday, February 14, 2013





A new rap video exhorting Roma parents not to allow their kids to be sent to special schools for the mentally handicapped is currently doing the rounds on YouTube. So far it’s been seen over 25,000 times, a respectable number for the Czech Republic, and has several hundred ‘likes’. It’s the work of a Czech NGO involved in the decade-long struggle to get Roma kids into regular primary schools.

Nebud’ Dilino – a song by a young Romani foursome called United Gipsy Crew, currently creating a small buzz on social network sites and YouTube. The phrase translates roughly as ‘Don’t be stupid’, and in it four Roma kids from the Prague district of Zizkov call on parents not to send their kids to special school, where they’ll receive an inferior education.

The clip is the work of a Czech NGO called Slovo 21, which is financially supported by Germany’s Heinrich Boll Foundation. Slovo 21’s Lyubov Grunkovskaya says despite some progress in recent years, there’s still a disproportionately high number of Roma children attending remedial schools in the Czech Republic.

“If you compare the number of Czech children in special classes with the number of Roma children, you’ll see that the percentage of Romani children is much higher. But it’s just not logical that Romani children are more prone to mental disability. It’s been proved many times that those children are perfectly healthy; they’re not supposed to be there.”

The clip, which is shot in various locations around Prague, features a number of successful Roma people – a nurse, a TV journalist, a teacher – who didn’t go to special school but stayed within the mainstream education system, ending up at university and finally on the path to a fulfilling career. Most Roma receive an inferior education at a special school, then attend some sort of vocational school before getting a low-skilled job. If they find a job - many end up on the dole.

The process by which so many Roma children end up in special schools is a complex one, but it’s not as simple as a malevolent, paternalistic state making unilateral decisions about a child’s education. There is an element of parental consent involved. But as Lyubov Grunkovskaya points out, Roma parents – many of whom went to special schools themselves – are often ill-informed.

“Some of them studied at special schools themselves. So when the social workers recommend they send their kids there too, you know, because they studied there, because they know how it looks, they’re never informed that there is a difference in the study programmes, and a difference in what kind of kids should be there. So this clip is about informing parents that they have a choice, and that by placing their children in regular public schools, their children will have more opportunities in life.”

A 2007 European Court of Human Rights verdict ruled the practice by which so many Roma kids ended up in special schools amounted to segregation, and ordered the Czech authorities to make amends. Some things have improved, but some of the changes were simply cosmetic – special schools were renamed ‘practical’ schools by the Czech authorities for example. But the problem hasn’t gone away, and changing attitudes will take time.

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