Distance learning especially tough for foreign kids learning Czech

Photo: Thomas Park, Unsplash / CC0

With the easing of coronavirus restrictions, schoolchildren are gradually returning to the classroom, at least in part, much to the relief of parents. Distance learning has proved challenging for many students, especially for foreign children struggling with the Czech language.

“Our daughter understands Czech. But she speaks poorly. We have to send her to a lady for tutoring.” Such is quite often the case for children in primary schools whose parents speak another language at home.

According to the non-profit group META, which helps young migrants integrate into society, three out of four need some language tutoring. Program director Kristýna Titěrová says keeping regular tutoring with foreign children is essential so they don’t fall further behind due to restrictions in place off and on since spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Teaching Czech as a second language must be maintained. The children need regular practice to be at the communicative level. It has been an even more burning issue since March. There are also many children who arrived in the country in September or later, for example, who schools do not want to enroll now because of what they see as a difficult transitional period.”

Photo: ČTK/Radek Petrášek

Martin Šuk, who leads the language tutoring programme at ZŠ profesora Švejcara, at Prague primary school, notes that is less of an issue for the youngest children, who are quick to pick up the language. At the same time, teachers cannot count on the parents being able to help them with their homework.

“Czech really does come much faster for the youngest than for older children, who are still more shy, more afraid to talk. But small children will always slap something together and somehow find a way.

“Especially when children are little, communicating tasks is difficult. Their parents, on the other hand, can see what they are doing, what teachers are asking. Although many parents don’t speak Czech well, they are learning with them.”

Distance learning for children with different mother tongues is difficult not only for pupils and parents, but also for teachers. The National Pedagogical Institute advises schools to adapt tasks to the pupil's abilities and to give comprehensible instructions.

Fortunately, after many weeks of distance learning, most primary school pupils returned to their classrooms on Monday. Those in the first and second grade, or who have special needs, returned a week earlier. From today they were joined by third, fourth, fifth and ninth grade pupils.

A further easing of anti-coronavirus measures should be implemented at Czech schools next week. Students at secondary schools, conservatories and vocational schools will alternate weekly between in-person and online lessons. University freshmen may also return, in groups of twenty at most.