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Macedonia Cannot Blame Parents for Failures in Education System

3 August 2012

Budapest, Skopje, 3 August 2012:  A Macedonian Minister has claimed that children are faking disability to get into special schools, prompting the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and National Roma Centrum (NRC) to react. The NGOs have sent a letter to national authorities reminding them that it is the State’s responsibility to ensure that every child can access inclusive education of the highest standard without discrimination.

Mr Spiro Ristovski, Minister of Labour and Social Policy, said that parents encouraged children from marginalised families to act disabled in order to get into special schools and receive benefits. He also threatened to bring criminal charges against any parents who encouraged their children to act in this way. Some media outlets in Macedonia have interpreted ‘marginalised families’ to mean Roma, and have reported the comments accordingly.

The Minister made the comments at a joint media conference on improving the work of commissions for categorisation of children with development difficulties on 28 June 2012. The event was organised by the Macedonian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Health. He did not provide details of any cases, and the ERRC and NRC have not seen any documented evidence this practice occurs.

In the last week, a media report suggested that schools may face prosectution or fines after a recent inspection showed that 137 children without disabilities go to schools for students with special needs. Roma make up 10% of the total population in Macedonia, according to unofficial estimates, while Romani children represent almost half (46%) of the pupils in the special schools and classes that the ERRC visited in 2011. The ERRC and NRC conducted a survey this year among Romani parents with children in special education. Preliminary results show that around 57% do not know the difference between regular and special education. Another 65% of Romani parents stated that their child was placed in special education following a recommendation by school staff.

Special schools use a curriculum designed for children with psychological development difficulties, providing a substandard education and severely limiting Romani children’s chances in later life.

“It’s outrageous to suggest that children at the age of six or older could fake a disability that would fool any competent authority responsible for deciding who goes into special education,” said Dezideriu Gergely, Executive Director of the ERRC. “We would like to see Macedonian authorities acting positively to address wider problems in the system.”

In their most recent letter to national authorities, the NGOs outlined a number of shortcomings with the legal framework which give rise to segregation and overrepresentation of Romani children in special education in Macedonia, urging Macedonian authorities to address these as soon as possible.

The ERRC and NRC are working together on an action to end segregated education in Macedonia. The NGOs recently trained almost 60 community activists to go back to their communities and raise awareness about the negative consequences of this type of schooling. The organisations are also gathering updated information about the proportion of Roman children in special education to create a report and recommendations for the Government.

The letter is available in English and Macedonian.

For more information, contact:

Sinan Gökçen
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre

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