Back to school again!

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The summer holidays are over and 1.5 million Czech children went back to school on Monday. On this memorable day, a few of them even had the chance to see President Vaclav Havel, who visited a primary school before leaving on a tour of the United States. Teachers have also gone back to work and new challenges lie before them... another school year, and perhaps, new school books. Beatrice Cady has more:

Czech teachers are reluctant to use new school books, say publishing houses in the Czech Republic. Using new books means adapting to a new way of teaching, re-preparing lessons, and so on. Many teachers who have been working for years do not welcome any change in their methods.

The editor-in-chief of the publishing house Soukrome pedagogicke nakaldatelstvi, or SPN, Marie Novotna, has expressed the hope that Czech teachers will eventually give up their bad habits. SPN publishes books that receive official approval from the Ministry of Education. This year, SPN has published more than 30 different new school books. This year's best-sellers were German grammar books, which were compulsory for every school, following the major German grammar and spelling reforms, which were completed in 1998. A whole new range of English books has been published, which have also been very successful--that is, in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Russia! In the Czech Republic, however, teachers' enthusiasm for new teaching and studying methods seems to have remained remarkably lukewarm.

As far as reading books are concerned, the problem is the same. The usage of new teaching methods in classrooms remains the exception, not the rule. For instance, the SPN publishing house has published new reading books for first-grade children which are based on the so-called "genetical method", which emphasises understanding the meaning of a word rather than on simply deciphering letters. According to Marie Novotna, this method is much more efficient than the more traditional ones currently used by the majority of teachers. Learning how to read this way is more enjoyable for children, and they usually pick it up within a couple of weeks.

Apparently, Czech teachers haven't been showing much interest in this method. Only 10,000 first-grade schoolchildren living in the Ostrava region in North Moravia and in Eastern Bohemia are using the new method. Teachers are, however, not entirely to be blamed for the current situation. There has been interest shown by some teachers in modern approaches, but the problem is that the schools often simply don't have the financial means to buy new teaching aids, even if they want to.

Author: Beatrice Cady
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