In a newly published report on her February 2023 visit to the Czech Republic, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, expressed her deep concern that “Tangible progress on the advancement of the rights of Roma and their equal treatment has by and large been lacking”; and that Roma continue to face discrimination in virtually every area of life, which includes education, housing, employment and their interactions with police.

School segregation: “little recognition of the need for a paradigm shift”

The progress remains minimal, and recent research shows there has been “no reduction of Roma pupils in special classes, nor of their segregation within regular classes and schools, over the past five years.” Romani children continue to be vastly overrepresented in special classes or schools; and in special education, the percentage of Romani children educated according to a programme with reduced requirements had actually increased.

As the Commissioner previously noted, tackling discrimination in education has “too often focused primarily on legislative and technical measures related to the organisation of the Czech education system in a somewhat narrow sense.”

She reiterated her predecessor’s warnings in 2013, that the authorities’ efforts to fine-tune the testing system – which was designed to exclude children rather than assign to them appropriate support within the mainstream education system – should not detract from the need for systemic change to tackle biases, prejudices, discrimination and segregation of Roma children in education.

Ten years on, in her discussions with the authorities, she “observed little recognition of the need for a paradigm shift on testing, and her impression is that the focus remains on fine-tuning diagnostic tools.”

The Commissioner heard from civil society that in some cases municipalities deliberately draw up school districts to concentrate Roma children in particular schools, which can lead to schools overwhelmingly attended by Roma pupils, and instances were cited of schools being virtually Roma-only in areas where Roma were a minority among the local population, while nearby schools in the same area only had very few Roma pupils.

She insisted that real progress demanded renewed efforts to address the wider societal issues affecting the exclusion of Roma children from quality mainstream education, including “the impact of institutionalised antigypsyism, poverty, social exclusion and territorial segregation, the lack of protection of Roma children from hostility and violence, resistance to inclusion by professionals and the public at large.”