International survey puts spotlight on plummeting Czech educational standards

Photo: European Commission

Czech education has just been given bad marks in a prestigious international survey. In fact, the country singles itself out as one where standards have dropped the most dramatically over the last 10 years. We look at the results and whether lessons will be learned.

Photo: European Commission
The results of a regular three yearly survey of 15-year olds’ reading literacy, mathematics and natural science skills and abilities makes some depressing reading for the Czech Republic. So depressing perhaps that it might be doubted whether many of the pupils tested could read and understand the results or interpret the education tables released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As regards literacy skills, the country has slumped to below average among the 65 countries surveyed, now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Turkey, Chile and Mexico. It is estimated that around a quarter of Czech students have inadequate reading skills. In mathematics and natural science, the score for Czech 15 year olds was just average.

The turnaround across the board has been dramatic. Ten years ago the Czech Republic was in the top 20 as regards literacy, and was ranked 10th in the 2003 maths test and in the 2006 science test. This was an achievement given its relatively modest resources compared with richer countries. But the latest results put in the country among the worst five performers over the last decade.

Tomáš Feřtek is spokesman for the non-profit organization EDUin, which deals with Czech schooling standards. He says the latest poor results were not an eye opener.

“The results for the Czech Republic are not very good or pleasing, but they are no real surprise. The results for Czech students as regards practical reading skills have been continuously on a downward slide for the last decade. I have had the chance to look into the results in detail and not all Czech schools are affected in the same way. The biggest problem has been at vocational middle schools and vocational establishments where the drop has been the greatest.”

He says the drop in standards was much less significant at the top of the range grammar schools.

As for the reasons for the latest poor marks, Mr. Feřtek identifies two main problems.

“There are a lot of students who just fall by the wayside in the current education system and we do not do concern ourselves enough about them. That is one of the main problems. The second is that during the last 10 years we have done nothing to improve the situation. Education reform in the last five years has been in the right direction but it has not had any real impact on schools yet.”

One of the lessons from the survey is that remedial steps can have a fast impact. Shocked by its poor results, Germany set in place reforms, mainly aimed at helping teachers teach better. Its latest score in the international rankings is testimony to its success. Poland has also markedly improved its results.

But Mr. Feřtek doubts whether the Czech Republic will learn the right lessons and expects the next set of results in three years time to be just as bad if not worse.