Controversial changes to education system in the pipeline

Czech politicians are currently working on extensive changes to the education system in this country. A few weeks ago a bill was passed reforming university education, and now the government has agreed to put forward a bill that will bring sweeping changes to secondary schools. Lucie Krupickova has this report.

Among the most controversial changes in the bill is a plan to phase out eight-year secondary schools for children between 11 and 18. Critics have claimed that the reform will limit parents' freedom of choice and will amount to social engineering, but this view is not shared by the Spokeswoman for the Czech Education Ministry Vladimíra Al-Malikiová.

"There are several reasons for this. Firstly after five years of school the children are not able to decide what type of secondary school would be good for them. Secondly, in some areas, and especially in Prague, the number of eight-year secondary schools is too high so they do not play their original role as a sort of school for more talented children. Nowadays, attendance in these schools has become a matter of prestige rather than anything else. Beside a good-quality education there's also another very important role of any school which is to develop social and civic skills in pupils."

Under the new bill there should also be some alterations to school-leaving exams, so I asked Mrs Al-Malikiova why she felt these changes were necessary?

"In the 1990´s there was a huge increase in the number of secondary schools offering school-leaving exams for 18-year-olds. These exams are mostly not standardised as there are currently different school-leaving exams at different schools. The final exams should in the future consist of two parts: one would be guaranteed by the state and the other one would be specific to the type of the particular secondary school."

The bill still has to go through parliament, and given the vocal opposition that some passages have received among opposition MPs - and even among some from the ranks of the ruling Social Democrats themselves, its safe passage through parliament is far from guaranteed. But one education bill that has been passed - at least by the lower house - is a bill on universities. This should give a larger proportion of the applicants the possibility to go on to third level education. The bill sees two possibilities. One would be study at a university or college without any tuition fee. The other option would be paid re-qualification courses which might under certain circumstances turn into ordinary university studies. Is there not a risk that universities would end up preferring the paying students?

"This cannot be fully excluded. That is a matter for the Academic Senate of each university. But it has to be mentioned that only university graduates with an M.A. degree are counted in the Czech Republic as graduates. Compared to the world there's enough students with an M.A. in our country. We only lack short-term programmes of third-level education. And these should be covered by the paid courses."

Author: Lucie Krupičková
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