On Wednesday 28th November 2012 I attended a talk on behalf of Restless Beings at Essex Human Rights Centre entitled “Denial of the Right to Education to Romani Children” delivered by Victoria Vasey, Legal Director at the European Roma Rights Centre.

The talk discussed the landmark decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in DH and Others v Czech Republic and the situation in the Czech Republic 5 years on. The issues raised by the case are symptomatic of many of the educational difficulties faced by the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe today, which feed into the problems faced in the UK.

DH and Others v Czech Republic

The case concerned eighteen Roma Czech nationals from Ostrava who applied to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the segregated schooling system in the Czech Republic. All of the applicants had been assigned to “special schooling” for children with learning difficulties.
The curriculum at these schools was basic and non-individualised so that few, if any, pupils leaving the school were able to read or write which directly impacted their access to further education and employment. Evidence showed that Roma children were systematically and disproportionately placed in these schools because of their racial or ethnic identity and not their intellectual capabilities.

The legal arguments claimed that the treatment amounted to a discriminatory denial of the applicants’ right to education contrary to article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the Convention.

The European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber identified a pattern of racial discrimination in public primary schools which violated article 14 of the Convention. They reaffirmed that segregation amounts to discrimination and recognised that the problem was prolific throughout Europe.
Importantly, they held that indirect discrimination, i.e. a policy which disproportionately affects a particular racial or ethnic group, can violate article 14. Furthermore, the Roma were identified as a disadvantaged and vulnerable minority in need of special protection.

Five years on

Victoria Vasey explained how very little has changed in the Czech Republic in the past five years following the judgment by the Grand Chamber. No systemic changes to the educational system have been made; special education was renamed as practical elementary education but the curriculum remains the same. In 2011/2012 the Czech Ombudsman found that 32% of all pupils in practical elementary education were Roma. The reasons for this paralysis are extensive and tied up with political and economic concerns. What can be said with certainty is that discriminatory attitudes towards the Roma are enduring and it is this which needs to be tackled head-on.

Roma Education in the UK

Segregated schooling is, by its very nature, detrimental to the life chances of the individual. Education must be context-specific and responsive to cultural, ethnic and linguistic needs. This has been recognised as necessary in the UK as far back as the 1960s. Despite this, the Roma continue to face obstacles in accessing education and reaching high academic attainment. The next article in the series will delve more deeply into the specific issues faced by the Roma community in the UK in respect of their access to and enjoyment of the right to education.

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