Growing number of Czech children might have to repeat school year due to Covid

A growing number of first graders in the Czech Republic may have to repeat the school year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to experts working with non-native schoolchildren and children from socially disadvantaged families, many are ill prepared for the challenge of starting school since kindergartens around the country were closed for months.

According to Education Ministry data, some 600 children who start first grade are sent back to kindergarten due to learning problems every year. Another 1,100 first-graders have to repeat first grade for the same reason.

Children of foreigners, who don’t speak Czech well enough, and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are much more at risk of failing, says Kristýna Titěrová from the NGO META, which provides educational support to foreign children:

“Many of these children are already mature enough for school, maybe they are even ahead in some areas and they can read and write. They need to develop at school and the only problem is that they don’t speak Czech. Because of that, the school will not accept them and unnecessarily hold them back.”

Michal Černý, director of the Department of Basic Education at the Education Ministry also admits that many first-graders, who are forced to repeat a school year, are actually ready for school:

"Indeed, it tends to be specific teachers who persuade parents to postpone their child’s school entry because they don't want to teach that child for some reason. And it has nothing to do with the child's immaturity for school, it's about other things.”

Photo: Jan Beneš,  Czech Radio

Experts say children who fail at such a young age face disappointment, loss of motivation and feelings of inadequacy and many of them are branded a failure for the rest of their school life.

They also warn that the number of children who may have to repeat their first school year is likely to increase this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which closed kindergartens for months last year. As a result, many of these children could not learn the skills and habits necessary for schoolgoers.

Moreover, the school enrolment process took place mostly online, which didn’t give teachers enough space to really assess a child's maturity.

Alžběta Pospíšilová, a preschool support methodologist at the NGO People in Need, says failing a pupil should really be the last option:

“Ultimately, it shortens their compulsory nine-year education, because once the children are forced to repeat a school year, they finish in the eighth instead of in the ninth grade. And options on the job market for such kids are pretty bad."

Education experts say more preparatory classes in schools and more teaching assistants or school psychologists would help. So can special post-Covid tutoring that is currently available to all children in the Czech Republic, including first graders.