For some years now, Slovakia is trying to solve the problem of the segregation of Roma children in its education system. Still, in April 2015, the European Commission decided to start infringement procedures against the state for breaching the EU anti-discrimination law. Human rights organisations widely applauded to this decision.
Amnesty International says it has documented cases of Roma segregation in Slovakian schools since 2006. According to them segregation can occur in diverse forms. Roma children can end up in special schools, in separate classes or classes that provide inferior education. In 2012, the Prešov Regional Court, in eastern Slovakia, ruled that an elementary school in the town Šarišské Michaľany had segregated Roma children from their non-Roma classmates and thereby violated the law.
Although the court decision entailed an important conclusion, the country is still struggling with the segregation of Roma children in education. To eliminate segregation in schools the Slovak government has taken several key measures since 2011. Among them were the inclusion of Roma culture, language and literature to subjects of the school-leaving exam. Also pedagogical guidelines on segregation and discrimination were created and programmes for inclusive education were implemented.
In its 2014 assessment the European Commission noted that the measures taken by the Slovak government were not sufficient. It said that instead of building new schools in areas mainly populated by Roma, alternatives as school busses should be considered to avoid segregation. It also stated that a ‘systematic approach combined with effective implementation and proper monitoring’ is needed to stop the enrolment of Roma children into a special-needs schools for mentally impaired children.
Roma children are 28 times more likely to end up in special education than children with a non Roma background, the European Commission wrote in its 2014 report on discrimination of Roma children in education. And almost 50% of them were wrongly assigned to this type of education. According to Peter Pollak, the Slovak Government Representative on Roma issues, the Slovak Ministry of Education has already begun to address the issue of segregation in education and the placement of Roma children in special schools.
Human rights organisations have applauded the decision of the European Commission to start infringement procedures. Iverna McGowan, acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office stated: “In this day and age, it is shocking that Roma children in Slovakia are systematically segregated from non-Roma children and put in special schools. No child should ever be denied equal access to education, this is a basic human right”.
In 2014, the Commission started infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for the same issue. The European Commission can use the infringement proceedings as an instrument to ensure compliance with EU law. If Slovakia will not take appropriate measures to tackle the issue, the Commission is entitled to bring the state before the Court of Justice of European Union. In May 2015, Pablo Iglesias, member of the European Parliament for the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, asked the Commission whether it intends to do this. The Commission has not answered the question yet.
Slovakia will now have to show the Commission it is making serious changes to solve the segregation problem in education.