LIKE with many other ethnic minorities all over the world, the Roma had worse school records up until the end of the twentieth century: lower enrollment in pre-primary education, more absences in school, higher grade repetition and dropout rate. For many, this is enough to conclude that the Roma children simply cannot be educated.
But dilettantism is transmitted by the environment, not by blood. If not, the gaps between ethnic groups could hardly change in time. Since the 1970s, the scores of black American students in reading and math have improved faster than the scores of young whites.1 In today’s Finland, the results of Roma rarely differ from those of non-Roma.2 And yet in 2000, 90 % of the Finnish school headmasters were still not quite happy about how the Roma students performed in theoretical subjects.
Whereas in Finland, where the results of the Roma are improving, teachers blame the study skills, the Czech teachers often prefer to speak of learning difficulties and plain incompetence.
What stood behind the lower performance of the Roma? Both the Czech and the Finnish teachers speak of lower motivation to learn and lower priority which the education has traditionally gotten in Roma families. Then, there is a difference. Whereas in Finland, where the results of the Roma are improving, teachers blame the study skills, the Czech teachers often prefer to speak of learning difficulties and plain incompetence.3
To be sure, the number of Roma children attending special schools is disproportionate. According to the latests numbers, the Roma make up around 30 % of the students.4 Most of them were diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) in the past. It is also clear that, at least until recently, there has been some problem with diagnosing the MID in the Czech Republic: in the last ten years, the number of the diagnosed students has plummeted by half (see graph). Such a sudden drop is irreconcilable with the diagnosis.
So how exactly is the diagnosis, that is described in the medical manuals under the codename F70, made? The examination comprises of a general intelligence test and an array of tools probing family conditions and educational potential. A consult with the child’s teacher and a special educator often contributes to a prognosis.
What stood behind the high number of diagnoses was presumably that in assessing mental disability, psychologists included its illusory, socially conditioned version (in the past, this was called pseudo-oligophrenia). A stricter diagnosing methodology of those children who are almost mentally disabled but not quite also contributed. The sudden drop coincided with the pressure that was brought by the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in the case D. H. and Others v Czech Republic. Ten years later, many heads of special schools and psychological counselling centres still see the ruling as a wrongdoing.5
Asked about an unusual spike in diagnoses in her region, a director of a psychological counselling centre reflexively blamed an “invasion of immigrants”.
Today, the prevalence of mild intellectual disability in the Czech Republic is close to the world average. Estimates of show that not in all regions it is like that (see graph). To be sure, the understanding of mental disability is not everywhere equally rigorous. When your correspondent asked a director of a psychological counselling centre about an unusual spike of clients diagnosed in her district, she reflexively blamed an “invasion of immigrants”.
The roots of overrepresentation of the Roma in special schools do not simply lie in a diagnostic bias. As Jan Klusáček of the Czech Expert Society for Inclusion showed earlier, there is a statistically significant relationship between the prevalence of intellectual disability and the capacity of special schools (see graph).6