New parent-school contract to tackle poor behavior in classroom

Photo: European Commission

Recent years have seen a number of publicized cases of bullying in Czech elementary and high schools which left teachers largely powerless to act. But if the new education minister has his way that could soon change: he has made clear he would like to introduce a contract into the school system binding parents to take more responsibility, when necessary, for their children’s behavior.

For some time officials have warned of an increase in cases of aggression by delinquent students: in one incident in recent years elementary students notoriously humiliated one teacher by tipping a garbage pail onto his head. In another, a Grade 8 student beat up fellow pupils using brass knuckles. While such drastic cases are still relatively few, all point to shortcomings in the education system: an inability to act. The brass knuckle student, for example, reportedly received only a failing mark for poor behavior. The new education minister, Josef Dobeš, would like to quell such incidents in the future by introducing a new parent-teacher contract, signed by parents and individual schools, more clearly defining rights and responsibilities. A little earlier I asked the vice-president of the Czech Association of Elementary School Principals, Pravoslav Němeček, how he viewed the plan:

“I think that it is a good idea that a number of principals have backed. The contract would have to cover several areas that would have to be well-defined. Some of this is already covered by the bill on education, but it would be necessary to add what would happen if either side failed to meet its commitments. With regards to problem students, until now we have only been able to lower marks for behavior and as we know that usually isn’t a very effective method.”

One provision which could be introduced in the system would be the right of teachers to send disruptive students to neighboring classrooms, where they would have to consult with an on-site psychologist or teacher. Given the potential costs, Pravoslav Němeček questions whether the idea is realistic, though he agrees if implemented properly, it could be effective:

Photo: European Commission
“Only about five percent of schools have school psychologists because there is no money for them or even existing posts. Another solution would be to force parents to pick their children up, to deal with the situation, but that too could prove difficult. On the whole, the contract is a step in the right direction but the question is how well it can work, namely among parents of problem students.”

So far, Minister Dobeš’ plan has seen largely positive reaction from teachers and principals, but he can expect some opposition as well. Even if the contract is successfully introduced, some parents may simply refuse to sign, and exactly how schools would deal with that remains an open question. One thing is clear: no final details have been set and the minister fully expects the idea to be properly debated before any final wording is reached.