• Being different will be increasingly hard for kids in the European School (Photo: Night Owl City)

Focus

Budget cuts to make European Schools more discriminatory

15.03.11 @ 09:29

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - EU staff whose children do not speak English, French or German or who are in need of special assistance will be hit hardest by a €7 million budget cut in the European Schools linked to national austerity measures and a cap on the bloc's 2011 budget.

"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together," was the original aim of the European Schools, as expressed by Jean Monnet in 1953.

Fifty eight years later, the picture is very different. Brandished as elitist and overly selective, the 15 European schools mainly designed for children of EU staff living in a foreign country are struggling to live up to their commitment of delivering mother tongue schooling for every EU nationality and providing special care for children with learning disabilities.

"I fought for 14 years for my kids to have Irish language classes, as there were not enough children in their school to have an Irish section," Gerard Hanney, an Irish IT specialist working in Luxembourg told this website. "Under the proposed new rules, it would be even harder, as they could only take it as fourth language option," he added.

Despite there being no shortage of Irish teachers, schools use them to teach English or history and geography via English.

The situation is similar for children from new member states or the Nordic countries, which are automatically considered a "minority language," for which the cost of mother tongue teaching is said to be too high. Some do get classes in their mother language, but only as a third or even fourth option. Others, such as Slovak children, have to go to school in a foreign language.

Children with special needs such as dyslexia or attention deficiency disorder (ADD) are even worse off if they do not speak one of the major languages - English, French or German.

"What are they going to tell the Spaniards and Poles who come to work for the EU in Brussels? 'If you don't have fit kids who speak English, don't bother to come?'," said one special-needs teacher speaking to EUobserver on condition of anonymity.

Paid €63 an hour, the teacher was told by a Brussels school that from September onward there would only be room for assistants accompanying children in class on pay of €16 an hour.

"It's nearly impossible to help a child in class - he or she would [have to] follow what the teacher says plus the explanations of the accompanying adult. And for teenagers, having an adult with them would create serious psychological and integration problems," the teacher said.

The idea of grouping several dyslexic children of different age groups and origins also sounded strange to the special needs teacher, who emphasised the value of one-on-one counselling and learning assistance.

"They take the cuts where they know it will be less contested - special needs, minority languages. These are political decisions, not pedagogical ones. Everybody knows it, that's why people are angry," the source said.

The envisaged cuts are likely to be set in motion by a financial decision to be taken on Tuesday and Wednesday (15-16 March) by the school's central budgetary authority. Following the overall cap in the EU budget for 2011, the European Schools will have to absorb a cut of €7 million compared to what they had initially planned.

In an ironic twist, a 2010 court ruling allowing EU officials to keep their annual salary increase despite attempts from member states to slash it, is having a direct impact on their children.

"It's a mess, partly to do with the fact that the European Schools' board of governors had not planned for the salary increase of teachers," says Ana Gorey, head of Interparents, an umbrella organisation for all parents associations in the European schools.

In an open letter to European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, several such associations asked for the salary indexation of teachers and staff not to be taken out of the schools' budgets, but rather a special EU envelope for exceptional situations, warning that by cutting classes and firing teachers, the quality of education will be seriously compromised.

But commission officials present at an open debate about the financing of European Schools on Monday (14 March) were sceptical about the proposal.

"It is not possible to take the money from somewhere else. We have a rule in the EU of financial accountability," Marco-Umberto Moricca from the EU commission's directorate for social policy and health told this website.

He insisted that the €7 million did not represent a cut, but rather a 'decrease in the increase,' as the overall budget for the European Schools is still going up compared to 2010. With austerity in member states and the overall EU budget growing less than the EU commission had wanted, it is hardly a surprise that the European Schools had to share the burden as well he noted.

For her part, Helene Chraye from the parents association of the European School in Ixelles, Brussels, said that she is encouraging parents to file a court case with the European Court of Human Rights based on anti-discrimination.

"We wanted an impact assessment of these cuts. First, there should be administrative cuts - pedagogy should be really a last resort. I hope some parents will have the courage and determination to go to court," she said.