Education Ministry after skiving kids

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The problems the Czech education system currently faces are typically related to money - or the lack thereof. But there is one issue which no amount of money can fix. It's truancy - and apparently, it has got so bad that the Ministry of Education has issued special directives on how to tackle the problem. Pavla Horakova has more.

Schools usually complain about shortages of qualified teachers, lack of money to buy new equipment, mend leaking roofs and so on. But even if every one of these demands were fulfilled, it can't force children to actually attend school. And the Ministry of Education is so worried by rising truancy that it's issued a set of special instructions on how to stamp out the problem in Czech schools.

Truancy is quite a recent problem in the Czech society. The end of the authoritarian communist regime meant the end of repression in many areas of life, schools included. Many kids are not afraid of the consequences of bunking off school as they used to be, and the same can be said of their parents who are often quite lenient and willing to cover their kids' absence with false sick notes. According to different sources 10 to 20 percent of Czech kids play hookey at some point in their school career.

Three years ago, the ministry acknowledged the problem and started working on special instructions on how to handle it. At that time, the issue was only a major problem in special schools, that is schools for the mentally and physically handicapped and those with learning difficulties. But it's now become apparent that other schools are having to deal with truancy as well and the Ministry of Education has widened the scope of the instructions to cover all primary and secondary schools.

These guidelines encourage teachers to contact social workers if a child skips ten lessons and cannot produce a note from his or her parents. If the number of missed lessons is over ten, the headmaster summons a special council attended by the parents and teachers. Over 25 lessons, and the school informs the local authorities. And for habitual truants there are even stricter measures; teachers are advised to report the child to the police who can then decide whether to take legal proceedings with the parents. The authors of the guidelines say they do not want to label the kids as criminals but rather give clear rules for everybody in the game.