Today, on 20 September 2022, the National Assembly's Committee on Education, Science, Sports and Youth, as the interested working body, considered the 27th regular annual report of the Ombudsman for 2021 in the part related to the competences of the Committee.
“Last year, we dealt with 243 education-related initiatives, an increase of more than 100% compared to 2020, and there was an increase of almost 50% in calls related to COVID-19. We received many questions about wearing masks and testing students and pupils for COVID-19 at schools. We have also dealt with petitions from parents who disagreed with the self-testing of their children at schools, and whose children consequently took part in distance schooling,” the Ombudsman said in his introduction.
Last year, the Ombudsman dealt with a third more cases than in previous years, finding 276 violations of rights and other irregularities. “In this demanding as well as sensitive year, I was in regular contact with the responsible institutions from various branches of power, recalling the importance of respecting international and constitutional human rights standards even during the epidemic. It is imperative that human rights are accessible to everyone and that individuals have adequate mechanisms and remedies to remedy violations,” said Ombudsman Svetina.
Last year, the National Preventive Mechanism, which operates within the Human Rights Ombudsman institution, visited 10 specialist centres for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural problems and disorders, alongside other institutions, and made 23 recommendations. “On the basis of these visits, we have, for example, reiterated our recommendation to the competent ministry to take an active approach, in cooperation with other competent ministries, in order to address the problem of the use of and dependence on psychoactive substances or other addictions among children and adolescents in these centres by promptly adopting appropriate protocols of conduct and providing such centres with all the necessary assistance,” the Ombudsman pointed out.
During the winter months, in-person classes were again replaced by distance teaching. From the very beginning, the Ombudsman warned that all pupils and students are far from having equal opportunities to learn. “In general, we also observed that the measures envisaged to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease may have a major adverse impact on socially excluded vulnerable groups. Given the expected increase in coronavirus infections after the start of the school year, I hope that the solutions put in place to manage the spread of the pandemic are well thought out and professionally sound. It is important that decision-makers do not repeat mistakes and that their work respects the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the views of the profession,” said the Ombudsman.
In recent years, the Ombudsman has noticed an increase in peer violence among children at schools, including children of different ethnic backgrounds. “All children have the right to a safe and supportive environment at school. The implementation of rights in schools is the responsibility of school professionals, especially head teachers, who have a duty to ensure that all children feel safe at school and that no one is subjected to bullying, insulting, verbal or even physical violence from their classmates. In the case of peer violence, parents can also contact the Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia for Education and Sport, which is obliged to deal with such reports as a matter of priority and to verify the actual situation and the measures taken by schools to protect all pupils,” Svetina explained.
At the Committee meeting, Ombudsman Peter Svetina called on the competent Ministry to amend the Regulation on Tuition Fees and Other Contributions in Higher Education so that higher education institutions are obliged to inform students at the time of enrolment of at least an indicative amount of tuition fees until the end of their full-time education. “It is unacceptable that this recommendation has yet to be implemented after two years, and I expect it to happen as soon as possible. The implementation of the Ombudsman's previous recommendations is urgently needed to raise the level of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Slovenia,” concluded the Ombudsman.