Hey everyone - it's Morgan and Thomas! We're sociology-urban studies and physics-education majors, respectively! While we are sad to see our trip starting to come to an end, we aren't done yet - here's our story of today!
Today started on the early side, 6:15 am if we're being exact - as we took a day trip from Prague to Olomouc to explore a gymnazium school and the local University! Our visit began at the gymnazium, Hejcin School - located near the city of Olomouc in the eastern part of Czech Republic. We arrived to the school early, ands had a chance to sit in the school's main lobby; which made an impression with thick, stone columns, a large statue, and paintings on each of the walls. The Czech schools we had visited previously did not have a lobby area, nor were as formal, and so this location already stood out in contrast. Once settled, Karel Pohanel, the school's Deputy Principle, took us on a quick tour of the main building. During this, we were able to see the three different school gymnasiums, as well as the science classrooms and lab facilities for physics, chemistry and biology. We learned during this tour that Hejcin is a government run institution and, as the Deputy Principle expressed to us, the school faces many difficulties in terms of not being able to make building updates and repairs due to budget restrictions. Despite this, however, Hejcin appeared to offer nicer facilities - even with poor lighting in the corridors and bare classroom walls - than other schools visited thus far within Prague. In contrast, the school appeared more up to date - whereas previous school buildings dated back to the 1500's. The cafeteria, in particular, had a very pleasant atmosphere, with Windows covering the back walls - the cafeteria had an abundance of natural light.
Our time at Hejcin was focused around the secondary level (high school), however the school offers both primary and secondary education. The second phase of our visit allowed us the opportunity of participating in two different lessons. The school has forty-five minute lesson periods with ten minute breaks following each class. During the first block, our group split up into an English class and various science classes. During the english lesson, we had the chance to interact in small groups with students in the sixth grade. We spent the lesson period talking with them about their school experiences, as well as with the class teacher - a previous resident of Chapel Hill, NC. We heard about their home life, as well as their favorite subjects, and talked about differences between American and Czech social life. During the second lesson, we were divided again into two classrooms and had another opportunity to interact with students going into their final year at Hejcin. The Czech students were able to ask us questions about academics and school life in America, as we discussed comparisons between Czech education and schools in the United States, in terms of a typical school day schedule and freedom in the selection of classes and academic paths. During this conversation, the Czech students expressed that they felt torn with having to decide their future career paths at such a young age. As we have learned, Czech students have a high degree of freedom in choosing the path their education takes - and this freedom happens early on - as they choose to enter high school or vocational schools at grades 5, 7 or 9. The two girls we spoke with both entered the gymnazium during the 9th grade - as they said neither of them were ready to choose a career path at that age and so this education route made the most sense. When talking with one senior, something that stood out was her comparison of the Czech and United Kingdom educational systems. She hopes to attend University in the UK because, in her words, she'll have more intellectual freedom since the UK focuses on long term life learning, while the Czech schools she's grown up in tend to focus more on short term memorization for tests. This contrast is much like that between American and Finnish schools - where American schools focus on this type of short term memorization and Finnish schools focus on teaching for life. The Czech students also asked us questions about the United States legal system, American Universities and our feelings on our current political situation. In turn, we had the chance to talk with them about the social life of a Czech student outside of school, Czech social norms, and how they plan to spend their summer holiday! This school visit was one of our favorites, because we got to spend our time talking with students and getting their personal perspectives.
We ended our visit to Hejinc with lunch in the school canteen!
After lunch, we traveled by bus back down to the city center of Olomouc. Some people used our time in the city center for a coffee refuel, while others had a church tour around the small city. We will briefly interrupt this post for pictures of the churches in Olomouc!
The final stop on our day was the University at Olomouc for a lecture. Our lecture topic of the afternoon was on the Integration and Education of Roma People, better known to Americans as Gypsies. We started with some background on the Roma People. There are about 12 million Roma people worldwide. In the Czech Republic, there are around 226,000 Roma. Of these Czech Romani, 50% have been integrated into society. The rest live in social exclusion in 660 socially excluded locations with 115,000 inhabitants. The Romani people originally came from India into Europe and there have been several migrations since then. Right now, there are 4 sub-ethnic groups of Roma in the Czech Republic: Servika, Hungarian Roma, Olash, and Roma-Sinthi.
Unfortunately, the history of the Roma is one of persecution. Church observes that Roma are not actually Christians first. Excommunicate the Roma People in 1427. This starts Roma persecution and is soon joined by secular powers. Repression climax ed in the 17th Century. They were labeled as outlaws, which meant that killing Roma no longer considered a crime, so hunts for fun start. Women and Children had their ears cut. The Roma were expelled beyond borders of the country.
In the 18th Century, Maria Theresa starts gradually officially assimilating and integrating Roma into society, but that leads to the removal Roma culture. Her assimilation politics included: a ban on nomadism, a ban on traditional clothing, efforts toward the removal of Romani Language, sending Roma children to be educated in non-Roma, Christian Families from 7-12 years old, and the official renaming of the Roma to Neubauern or Ujmagyar. Maria Theresa’s son, Josef II, continued Maria's policies. The assimilation program doesn't last forever and eventually fails, causing Roma settlements to grow.
During the 19th and 20th Centuries, industrialization increases, causing the divide between Czechs and Romani to grow. The Roma stagnate instead of growing with the rest of the population. In 1921, Gypsies were recognized as an official minority in Czechoslovakia. This causes some help to come to the Roma ‘s poor economic and social status. In 1927, a law on controlling wandering Gypsies is introduced. It calls for lists of all wanderers, Gypsy identification cards, wandering documents, no Roma weapons, no wandering Roma in villages and towns overnight, and Roma children can be taken back by authorities for "lack of appropriate care.” The law was ambiguous, regulated way of life, and defined it as ethically Gypsy. All of these laws allowed for discrimination by the Nazis when they took over in 1938. The Nazis ended up killing Roma in concentration camps. They were first transported to working camps, then to Auschwitz or other Gypsy Concentration Camps. Gypsy concentration camps were run solely by Czechs before the transport to Auschwitz. Only 583 Roma survived and returned from camps. The Roma population almost disappeared from Czechoslovakia, and current Roma are descendants of original Roma.
After the Nazis were driven out of the Czech Republic, the Soviet Communists take over. Under Communism, the Roma took on a new form of semi-wandering lifestyle. Especially in Slovakia the Roma lived in traditional communities with no knowledge of the value of money and no rents/cost of living. They were then transferred to cities and their way of life was changed drastically. Communist policy towards the Roma was Paternalistic (violent) Assimilation. The policy states that Roma had to settle immediately. The State was obliged to assure accommodations and jobs to settlers. Those who didn't settle went to jail. Severe police actions start happening against Roma. The Roma unable to resist and had to move into State flats. This lead to conflicts between anti-social Roma and the rest of society. A New Policy came soon: Inner Transfer. This policy destroyed large collections of Roma and moved them around the country to smaller communities. Quota limits were set for transfer. 494 families transferred from Slovakia to Czech Republic before the program fell apart. A 1972 Policy called for cultural integration of the Roma. Václav Havel and Charter 77 opposed the Communist Roma Policies. In the 1970s, new Roma ghettos with no mixing into society were created. From this point into the 1980s, Communists started the sterilization of Romani women. They offered financial rewards to go through sterilization, were pressured to do so, or were sterilized without consent. Roma children were educated in Education Ghettos in special schools for learning difficulties.
After Communism fell in 1989, positive events for Roma became more common. The two main ones were the fall of communism and transfer to a new political situation, and the split of Czechoslovakia. Havel himself attended the first Romani World Festival. New laws still hurt Romani, however. The Czech Citizenship Law of 1993 called for application for Czech citizenship. The law called for no criminal record for previous 5 years and a previous permanent 2 year stay on Czech Republic lands. Both of these conditions were VERY hard for Romani to prove, so the law targeted them. Around this time, violence against Romani started by skinheads with racial motivations. A law to prevent racially motivated severe bodily harm was introduced in 1995, but did very little. Two of the political parties in the Czech Republic were still racist towards the Romani. The 2007-2009 Workers' Party was also racist and openly marched against the Roma, but they were banned in 2010. In April 2009, a 2 year old Romani baby was burned in a Molotov Cocktail attack against a Roma family. This sparked a 2010 wave of protests against Racism against the Romani.
Romani currently have a hard time identifying with political parties and feel excluded from the majority of society. They consider themselves excluded from democratic public life and second class citizens. Roma are now a national minority and supported by the government, but they still belong to the lowest levels of the population. The Roma people suffer from high unemployment, low education, lack of employment qualification, poor living standards, and sub-par income. The Czech Republic now has anti-discrimination laws, but they don't help much. The Roma live socially excluded with lower community housing and poor sanitation. There have been positive steps in last two decades for the advancement of the Roma people. A new institutional framework was adopted in 2009. There is currently a Strategy of Roma Integration for 2015-2020 to reverse negative trends in Roma Minorities.
There are big problems assimilating Roma children into the main Czech education system. A language barrier, poor social competencies, differing social background, etc. are causing difficulties in integrating Roma children into Czech schools. Because of this, Roma children are sent to "special schools" and "Practical Schools" as a result. "Practical Schools" are for the education of children with mild mental disabilities. "Special Schools" offer education programs for children with heavy and severe mental disabilities. 30.9% of Roma students are assessed as having mild mental disabilities and are sent to these practical and special schools even though Roma children only make up 3.7% of the population in all elementary schools. These disproportionately high numbers were judged as ethnically discriminatory and a violation of the European Convention in 2007.
The European Convention's decision has led to the School Reform of 2016. This reform consists of the transfer of students from practical schools to mainstream schools, the abolition of Practical schools, and a compulsory year of pre-school for all children from the age of 5. There has been lots of controversy surrounding this reform. Mainstream teachers think that it won't be practical. There are insufficient funding complaints. Questions about teacher quality have been raised. There are concerns about the rise of administrative burdens of teachers and the loss of specialized teachers and decreased functionality of the special education system. Finally, there are concerns about teacher quality declining in the future.
It is still too early to assess the reform. One result has been private schools forming to escape reform already. There are still lots of questions about integration of Roma students. It is a major challenge. Hopefully one day a solution will be found.
Our day ended with a dinner in Olomouc's Town Square, then we headed on the long bus ride back to Prague. Thanks for reading about our day!
-Morgan and Thomas