Black Friday for Czech schools


December 15th was "black Friday" for schools across the Czech Republic. The lower house has cancelled funding for a five-year project that aimed to bring computers and internet access to schools around the country just one year after it was launched. IT experts and teachers predict the decision will have far-reaching consequences.

Although teaching is one of the most respected professions in the Czech Republic, teachers have little to show for it. Their salaries are so low that the Education Ministry is constantly fighting a brain drain. Now, the financial axe has come down on students as well. The lower house of Parliament has cut off funds for the "Internet for Schools Project" launched a year ago with the aim of bringing Czech schools up to EU standards. The one billion crowns which the Education Ministry was to receive for this purpose every year up until 2010 will not be forthcoming in 2007. Robert Vrastiak of the Education Ministry says the news is a bad blow:

"We have had to warn schools that they could find their internet connections cut off as of January 1st. The Education Ministry is now doing its best to salvage what it can. But we need time. I am not ruling out that we could temporarily transfer some money from other projects to at least maintain the internet connection for schools. But right now we cannot promise anything. I have yet to meet with Telefonica representatives and other partners involved. So I really can't say what the outcome will be. "

Although the ministry is determined to salvage what it can, many schools may be left to fend for themselves and look for their own sponsors in the coming year. Martina Stikova from the local councils association says one billion crowns will be hard to replace - and some schools will simply not be able to swing it.

"This will have serious consequences particularly for primary schools in the smaller towns and villages because the financial costs of maintaining the project are considerable and they operate on small budgets. So for many schools this will mean no internet connection, no maintenance money, no money for software, no money for IT training for teachers. Of course, we will do our best to find sponsors but we cannot rely entirely on sponsors for such a costly project. The way I see it sponsors provide a bonus they cannot be expected to take on the responsibility of the state for educating future generations."

Just how many schools this will affect remains to be seen, but one thing is clear - the coming year will not be easy for any of them.