Fighting overrepresentation may not be enough

tol chalkboard logoOn 13 November 2007 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in the case of the D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic that Romani children were (indirectly) discriminated in education, and as a result of which they were overrepresented in special schools established for children with mental disabilities. Five years, two months and 17 days later, while civil society organizations were pointing out that the Czech Republic and a number of other European countries have not implemented the judgment, the ECtHR ruled in a similar case – criticizing overrepresentation again.

In the case of Horvath and Kiss v. Hungary from 29 January 2013 the Court found that Hungary had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by segregating Romani children into special schools on the basis of systematic misdiagnosis of mental disability. The case originated in 2005, when the Roma Education Fund supported a summer camp project in Felsotarkany for 60 elementary-school-aged Romani children who all had been misdiagnosed and placed in different special schools around Hungary. The summer camp was organized with the involvement of independent experts, who carried out their examinations in groups of six, using the WISC IV test for children aged under 16, and for children aged 16 plus the MAWI and RAVEN tests were used.

Results of this case served as a basis for a legal struggle, in which Mr Horvath and Mr Kiss were represented by the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

In 2012, a REF study on entry testing and overrepresentation of Roma in special education in several countries indicated that entry testing continues to be used as a pretext for segregation. Despite legal prohibitions of discrimination and requirements of inclusion, Romani children diagnosed with mild intellectual disabilities continue to be overwhelmingly placed in segregated special schools. (Pitfalls and Bias: Entry Testing and the Overrepresentation of Romani Children in Special Education, April 2012).  The report recommended that testing should never be used as a prerequisite to entry into a mainstream inclusive school setting, for any child, non-Roma or Roma, with learning needs or without.

Represented too much?

Since the 2007 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights there have been two other significant judgments until the Horvath and Kiss v. Hungary. In 2008 the Court ruled in the case of Sampanis v. Greece that Romani children cannot be placed into a separate building of the same school and in 2010 (in the case of Oršuš and Others v Croatia European Roma Rights Center)the Court confirmed that placement of Romani children into Roma-only classes on the basis of alleged language barriers also constitutes discrimination.

In the study quoted above, REF highlighted and recommended that testing of children should only serve to assess their needs addressing of which should be done in mainstream environment of high quality schools.

A brief look at strategic documents on ‘inclusive education’ indicates that decision-makers at various levels do not fully follow the concept of inclusive education. More than five years after the D.H. ruling the Czech Republic is still talking about overrepresentation of Roma in the system of special education (mostly the so-called practical schools). But do we say that Roma are represented in the system too much and everything would be okay if they were represented correspondingly to their share in population?

That is definitely not the case. REF believes in the many benefits of a fully inclusive public education system, where all children attend quality kindergarten and schools regardless of ethnic background or disability status. Heterogeneous classrooms bringing together pupils from various background and learning abilities ‒  including children with disabilities, migrant children, students from ethnic, religious or other minorities, and pupils with mother tongues different from language of instruction ‒ provide an added value to education, which should not only build children’s academic potential, but also teach them to live in a diverse society.  Ensuring such inclusive education for all is an obligation of Hungary and all other States that are parties to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


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