Segregation or Integration – Which Path for Roma Students?

Many East European societies have significant populations of Roma citizens who economically live on the fringes of rising economies. The high school graduation rates for Roma youth are abominable, and probably rarely exceed 25% in most East European nations. About ten years ago the Czech Republic attempted an experiment and established an all-Roma high school in Kolin, located in central Bohemia.

The school is among a handful in which Roma students constitute the majority, and the high school has an extensive program teaching about Roma history, culture, literature, and language. It would be rare for such courses to be offered in any Czech high school, so the self-confidence and success of Roma students rises in the high school. For example, Czech students are taught about the Holocaust and the killing of millions of Jews, but few learn that 500,000 Romas were killed, which virtually wiped out those populations in Bohemia and Moravia.

The high school is attempting to remedy a prevalent feeling among Czech educators that Roma children have limited ability. It is estimated that many Roma children who do graduate high school have the equivalent of a fifth grade education.

The issue now being raised is whether or not to abandon the High School for Social and Legal Issues (SOSSP) designed for Roma students, and work toward integration of the student population within existing high schools. Obviously, similar questions have been raised in the United States of America. There has been a scattering of attempts to have all black high schools in order to instill black pride and success.

As someone who has worked with these issues for 50 years, I must confess a sense of ambivalence. Emotionally and intellectually, I oppose any form of segregation. I do not for a moment believe an all black faculty succeeds better with African American students than I do an all Jewish faculty always works wonders in Jewish schools. I suspect in the immediate future the Czech Republic might seek to work a two-road approach. In areas in which it is apparent that integration will not succeed due to parental and social factors, it might be wise to have specially funded schools like SOSSP which can ensure a higher percentage of Roma students succeed. In other areas, where there are schools containing the right mix of faculty committed to succeed with Roma students, there could be greater steps at integration. However, if the SOSSP has been working it makes scant sense to close it down.
Information from The Prague Post