Fear of further wave of epidemic leaves language schools struggling
Language schools in the Czech Republic are still struggling with a shortage of students, who are not applying for courses in pre-pandemic numbers, even despite the reopening of classrooms. The lack of demand has also caused an exodus of teachers, with some schools having to cut their staff by 50 percent. To find out more about what is happening I spoke to the president of the Czech Association of Language Schools Marcela Hergesselová.
“I would say that the biggest problem is the fear among the public of a fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They do not want to apply for courses, because they are worried about switching from face-to-face learning to the online learning format, which they don’t want.”
Is this a problem across the board, or are there some segments of language teaching that are faring better than others?
“Yes. There are some areas which are better than others. For example, language teaching for companies, which switched over to the online format after the epidemic arrived in the Czech Republic in March. There, teaching continues without any trouble, so it is less of a problem than on the market for the wider public.”
What about teaching Czech to foreigners? The lack of foreign travel to the country has, for example, hit the hotel sector hard. Are language schools feeling the same impact?
“Yes, I would say that the situation is the same. Foreigners who are interested in face-to-face Czech language teaching are not allowed to travel to the Czech Republic.
“Some of the members of our association are schools which specifically focus on teaching Czech to foreigners and these schools are now in big trouble. We hope that our government will allow foreigners to travel to the Czech Republic without any restrictions and then these language schools can come back to business as usual. For now, however, the situation is really difficult.”
Earlier, you were saying there that it would be beneficial if the government made travel to the Czech Republic easier. If the next wave of the coronavirus epidemic does arrive, what would you like the government to do for language schools?
“One way to make things easier for language schools would be to make the language courses accredited by the Ministry of Education also available online. This was not possible during the first epidemic wave. A lot of language schools teach courses that are part of EU or government projects and we cannot do that without the government allowing these to switch to the online format.
“The second thing that would help us is if the government would make it possible for teachers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have either a valid PCR or antigen test to teach physically in businesses. That would be the most important thing for us, I think. This was not done during the spring and it meant that the company’s where we have our teachers did not let our staff into their offices.”
The Ministry of Health has warned of an upcoming coronavirus epidemic wave coming this autumn. You are not only the president of the Language School Association, but also run a language school yourself (Mezinarodní Jazykový Institut), so how are you preparing for what seems to be inevitable?
“That really is a difficult question. All schools are struggling to find clients. We obviously want them to come, but the epidemic situation is not going to get better.
“I am not sure what the future of both language schools and the wider association will be. Many smaller language schools have already finished their activities and we are afraid of something similar happening to our association members.”