The Prague Post
Schools with special-needs students recognized
A new program designed by the League of Human Rights aims to make Czech schools a fair place for everyone, including students with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and those who come from socially disadvantaged communities. The organization has begun awarding certificates to schools that meet strict criteria for inclusion and provide necessary academic and social opportunities for students with special needs.
“Our project ‘Fair Schools’ started in 2008,” said Lucie Obrovská, a lawyer and pedagogue for the League of Human Rights and the coordinator of the project. “The purpose of the project is to support integration in the education system.”
She emphasized the focus is on the integration of all pupils in normal elementary schools – not education in special schools designed for students with special needs. Obrovská said the criteria schools must meet to receive the “Fair Schools” certification vary slightly based on the conditions at the particular school.
“For example, it’s very important to consider the situation regarding ethnic minorities in the region,” she explained. “It’s clear we can’t award schools that have separate classes for disabled children or for ethnically different children.”
In awarding the Fair Schools certification, the League of Human Rights evaluates cooperation between principals and teachers, as well as among the teachers themselves, communication with students, multicultural themes in the lessons, the elimination of prejudices of both students and parents, efforts to motivate children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and public participation in events organized by the school.
Obrovská said the length of the evaluation process can differ based on the current conditions at the school, but above all it includes visiting the schools, observing classroom climate and lessons, reviewing school documents and interviews with the principals, teachers and methodologists. Then, a three-member commission is charged with analyzing the school.
Moravská Třebová Elementary School in Moravia was one of the first four schools to receive the certification in October. Deputy principal Jindřiška Hrdinová said joining the program was universally accepted at the school.
“The program motivates both teachers and students to think about different human conditions and diversity,” she said. “Receiving the certificate evoked real joy among the students and teachers.”
The students at her school come from various backgrounds, and many have special needs. Hrdinová says they have high-level disabled students, students with learning disabilities, socially disadvantaged children and some who live in children’s homes.
“With regard to the fact that the spectrum of our students is so varied, the whole staff made the decision to join the process and receive the certificate,” she said.
Kanice Elementary School Moravia was also among the first to be awarded the certificate, and principal Hana Mazancová said her teachers were pleased to see their hard work recognized. The school has nearly 120 pupils, and about 40 have some sort of special educational needs.
“I think the education and upbringing of pupils at elementary schools are very important activities, but sometimes also quite complicated,” she said. “But, when pupils get on well with each other and with their teachers, all the problems can be solved much more easily.”
The school emphasizes equal opportunity for all students, regardless of their background or abilities, and offers many activities for everyone to take part in. In fact, the school calls its educational program “The Open School” because Mazancová said it wants to highlight its openness and its safe, creative learning environment for all children.
Obrovská believes the Czech education system still has a way to go in educating special-needs students. She gives credit to the communist regime for its implementation of education for physically disabled children but feels much is lacking in schools regarding students with other needs.
“For mentally disabled children, there’s no motivation to educate them with other children,” she said. “And, as for Roma children, no parents of ‘white’ children want their child in the same class with Roma.”
The failings of the Czech educational system when it comes to Roma students are no secret. Two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the country discriminates against Roma children because many of them are sent to schools for students who are mentally disabled, regardless of their true intellectual capacity. Overcoming these challenges and mixing Roma, physically disabled, learning disabled and “normal” children in one classroom is important to Obrovská.
“It’s very important, not just for the Roma children or disabled children, to meet some other children and friends at the age of 7 or 8,” she explained. “The inclusion is beneficial for the ‘majority’ children, too. It’s very simple: If you meet a Roma child when you are eight and you see that it’s not a problem to sit with him in the same classroom, to play with him, that not all Roma people steal – that’s very important.”
Obrovská said there is a school in Svitavy-Lačnov that stands as an example of ethnic integration.
“The school has many interesting projects that have a main goal of eliminating prejudice,” she said. “For example, the parents of the ‘majority’ children and the Roma children play soccer together. That’s not usual in this country.”
She added the school also focuses on involving parents in school events and integrating every child – no matter their skin color or financial background.
Currently, 12 schools participate in the evaluation process, and Obrovská said more should gain certification in January. Hopefully, as more schools see the benefit of integrated education, a level playing field for all will emerge.
“Fair play is not only important in sports, but in everyday life,” Mazancová said.