Education is the foundation of society and Roma children are not stupid. My wish is to end their segregation, says Miroslav Klempár

Miroslav Klempar moved from the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom in 2000, where he did business and also worked as a consultant for the educational office in Birmingham. After returning to the Czech Republic, he founded the organization Awen Amenca, whose main goal is equal opportunities for Roma children in our education system. Thanks to Miroslav and his colleagues 1,500 Roma children have already enrolled in regular non-segregated schools. What was his childhood like when he was the only Roma in the class? What obstacles do today's Romani children face at school? And why does he think it's important to work on building communities?

In the beginning, it would probably be good to go back to the very beginning, ie back to Ostrava decades ago. How do you remember your childhood, specifically the years spent at the school desk?
I can describe my childhood as happy. First I went to school on the outskirts of Ostrava, where there were several Roma children in the classroom. I didn't realize the difference. Of course, I perceived that I was darker and that I was Roma, but I was a favourite of the teacher. She kept telling me that one day I would be something and we were all friends. Then we moved closer to the centre of Ostrava and I found out that I was the only Roma child in the class. There were only four or five Roma children in the whole school.

Do you mention that you were the only Roma in the class, how did you perceive this situation as a little boy?
The children, but also the teachers, shouted at me about the dirty gipsy, even though my mother took care of the cleanliness. I remember being very friendly, but suddenly I began to feel inferior. I had almost no friends, even though I told everyone from the first desk and my classmates were copying me. For a long time, I thought I was exceptional, so I'm in a normal school and other friends are behind.

If, on the other hand, we tried to empathize with your Romani friends, how did they understand that you attend a "classical" elementary school? There was no sense of alienation like "you're not one of us anymore"...? This reasoning is based on a stereotype that may not be correct. I think they took it as if I was lucky because when it came down to it, the vast majority of stories about how they found themselves in a special school started with the fact that "I was sick for several months and then I didn't catch up with the curriculum" and then followed, "and my mother put my younger sister in a special school too, because I was already going there.".

Do you think that your early childhood experience with the Czech education system influenced you so much that in adulthood you began to fully devote yourself to this issue in the Awen Amenca organization (its main goal is equal opportunities for Romani children in our educational system)? Not so much that I perceived some injustice in my childhood and then devoted myself to it, but on the contrary, I took it as normal for a long time and this opinion was changed only by the experience with the English education system. After travelling to England, I worked as an interpreter and then as an educational consultant for Birmingham City Hall. There I found out that they did not have special (later practical) schools at all, and that Romani children coming from Slovak and Czech special schools were placed in "normal" ordinary schools. In our country, the reason for the transfer of the child to a special school was "bad" Czech, and in England, they did not speak a word of English and were placed in ordinary schools. At that time, it clicked for me and I became more interested in this topic after arriving in the Czech Republic, I began to work on a change.

You founded the organization in 2013 and your first activity was a campaign to desegregate schools in Ostrava, where you organized, together with Romani parents, the enrollment of Romani children in mainstream primary schools. How did you work with your parents? What barriers did you encounter? Already at that time, there were many organizations that were engaged in the education of Romani children, but they worked and are still working in segregated schools and are dealing with remedying the consequences of segregation.

But we wanted to go after the source of the problems, which is precisely segregation. That is why we have chosen the path of organizing communities and building a leader with Romani parents, especially those who were deciding which school to enrol their child in. We didn't tell them what to do or what was right, but we did provide them with information about the education system, the rights of the child, and the consequences of segregation, and then they made their own decisions. We also helped them build leadership skills and they passed on those skills and knowledge to other parents.

The barriers we encountered were mainly that the parents do not trust various organizations very much, the initial distrust reigned even in our case, but after they found out that it was not a project, that it was a campaign that they were actually planning and managing themselves, the distrust subsided and only in this way could we achieve that 2,000 Romani people came to the event on the anniversary of the DH verdict on the square in Ostrava.

What results did the campaign bring and how do parents and children evaluate it retrospectively? So far, we have enrolled around 1500 Romani children in ordinary non-segregated schools directly at the enrollments we monitored at the beginning, but many parents have chosen to be indirectly influenced by our campaigns or by other parents. All parents are happy to have their children in "normal schools" sometimes complain about larger expenses (in segregated schools they have everything for free), but no one would change and they are happy that their children attend a quality school.

During the existence of Awen Amenca, thousands of children have been placed in the mainstream of education. You also contributed to the closure of six classes and one special school for Romani children in Ostrava-Poruba, which were simply no longer needed. Still... Do you encounter opinions, whether from school management or directly from teachers, that it is not possible to have so many Romani children in the classrooms because, for example, the parents of other children do not want it? Yes, at the beginning we monitored enrolment in schools in Ostrava, but also in other cities, and during one enrolment the school head told us that he had three Romani children with a postponement that he had to take, so he would not take any more Romani children this year. At that time, nine Romani children came to the register.

The children went through various tests, and although all nine children had been tested in advance by a special educator as part of the campaign, all nine were told that they had not passed the tests and therefore would not accept them. As the children looked forward to school, they began to cry and the parents wanted to know what each child had done wrong. My colleague Jolana, who was present as a monitor, said that the children had been pre-tested and that they could do everything, so the teacher emotionally threw all the papers into the air and nervously said that she would try them again.

They said they would send the result by mail. A negative response was received in the mail and none of the nine children was received. Two parents wrote a complaint and the case went to court, which ruled in favour of the parents, and the judge said that the director discriminated against Romani children by trying to limit the number of Romani children at school and denying them the right to education.

Can you remember any particular story of inclusion that affected you not only at the time of the founding of the organization, but also later? Every year, parents proudly show us their report cards. One parent literally said 'you see and they say Roma children are stupid'.

Otherwise, however, we follow the development of "inclusion" in the Czech Republic, or rather the understanding of inclusion.

I am involved in the Council of Europe and the European Commission project INSCHOOL, which takes place in three European countries and focuses on improving the inclusive environment in schools and the results from practice are then included in legislative changes.

Thanks to this project, we are seeing a shift in the understanding of inclusion in schools. Since previous years, when schools were deciding whether inclusion was a yes or no. So now the debate is that inclusion does, but how. Our experience in organizing parents helps the schools with which we work in improving communication with Romani parents, reducing absenteeism and improving interpersonal relationships in schools.

However, the topic of the INSCHOOL project deserves another more detailed article.

Nowadays, the word "community" is very often used. After all, this year you won the title of The Most Inspiring Leader at Impact Hub Mash-Up, which was dedicated to communities. For community leaders, there is also an Impact First acceleration program of the Impact Hub coworking centre, which is currently accepting applications. What sense do you see in organizing communities? Community organizing is not at all widespread in the Czech Republic, so I welcome any activity to support this way of striving for change. Based on practice, we ourselves have published a manual for organizing communities and organize seminars for non-profit organizations.

What projects do you think should apply for this acceleration project? Who would you recommend them to? I would recommend this program to anyone who wants to achieve any change, no matter what it is in, from nature conservation, through the strengthening of voter turnout, to the construction of the highway, I really can not imagine a project on which the method of organizing communities could not be used.

If you had to mention one wish at the end of our conversation, what would it be like in terms of education and community development? Our wish and the object of our efforts is to end the segregation of Romani children, which would benefit not only these children but also society as a whole. Education is the foundation of society and the future and prosperity of individual communities and society as a whole depend on it. 

Source: (Czech version)

Council of Europe's INSCHOOL project promotes inclusion in schools throughout the Czech Republic

If anything has shaken up the education system in the Czech Republic in recent years, it has without a doubt been the introduction of inclusive education, but even though the overall philosophy of inclusive education is slowly developing and gaining acceptance among an ever-growing number of educators, school administrators, pupils and their guardians/parents here, inclusion per se has yet to be fully successfully implemented. However, it would certainly be a great error to believe that the inclusive education process is one that could be set up as something universal, i.e., that it could be introduced into the schools according to a unified scenario involving identical processes in each school.

The inclusive education perspective certainly does not match the already-existing template for education that is being applied here. That educational vision, which continues to be rooted in many people's minds, is one whereby all pupils are "the same" and are therefore meant to be offered "the same" approach to education.

If we were to continue with the existing approach, we would be denying the very essence of the fact that each pupil is an individual with specific traits, and that therefore the path toward their inclusion into education must be an individual, specific one. We frequently hear people describe this concept as unfeasible and utopian.

We are, however, certainly able to find examples of brave educators and schools here that have concentrated on introducing inclusion into practice instead of just abstractly criticizing the idea. Each of them has arrived at their own convictions about an inclusive approach by taking their own different paths, but what they all have in common is the will to provide as much of a chance as possible for all children to equally access quality education.

Support for creating a genuinely inclusive school culture, however, requires leadership and managerial abilities, especially among the men and women who are school principals. Nobody is born with such capabilities, but they can be mastered, and this has been the case of the schools involved in the INSCHOOL project, which is being implemented not just in the Czech Republic, but also in other European countries.

Thanks to this project, educators, guardians/parents and pupils have not just successfully transformed their approach to inclusive education, but teachers have cultivated their skills for working with children inclusively both inside and outside the classroom. However, it is not just the employees of the schools and the pupils attending them who play an integral role in promoting inclusive education, but also the pupils' guardians/parents, who always play a very important role in the reputation of any school thus in its fate.

For that reason, the INSCHOOL project does not just concentrate on pupils or on school staff, but also involves the caregivers, guardians and parents of the children enrolled. The idea of inclusive education is also not just that pupils who are Romani will now have a positive experience at school, but that all the pupils in a school will look forward to their time there together.

Each school must create conditions for every single one of its pupils to thrive. Unfortunately, many schools are unable to create such an environment, which leads to guardians/parents enrolling their children elsewhere.

Thanks to the INSCHOOL project, emphasis has been placed on five selected schools (in Bruntál, Morkovice-Slížany, Poběžovice, Prague and Teplice) not just on comprehending the philosophy of inclusive education, but also especially on creating school communities who actually have a shared sense of the purpose and the values such an education entails. For that reason, positive, significant changes in the perception of what inclusive education entails have been achieved not just among school staff, but also among guardians/parents and pupils, and that is the basic prerequisite for the successful achievement of education that is not only delivered in a way that is just, but also in a way that is fair and high-quality, which is one of the INSCHOOL project's aims, and we will continue to update the public about the project's upcoming activities.  


A few months ago, ten years passed since the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in favour of 18 Roma children who were sued with the Czech state for discrimination in education. How is the verdict fulfilled, what has changed in the Czech Republic since then?

In the late 1950s, in what was then Communist Czechoslovakia, the government decided that Roma were different from the rest of society, and should therefore be educated separately. These racist assumptions led to today's two-tiered school system, in which mainstream schools offer quality education to a majority of non-Roma, while Roma children are...