New plan to help non-native speakers in Czech schools by Education Ministry met with scepticism

While the number of foreigners in Czech Republic continues to rise, their children are still facing difficulties in learning the country’s language. A large portion of children whose native tongue is not Czech do not manage to get beyond a high school education, with a significant number unable to even pass beyond the country’s elementary education system. The Education Ministry has come up with a proposal to fix this, but some experts disagree on the way forward.

More than 50 percent of children whose mother tongue is not Czech do not continue their studies after the age of 18. Meanwhile, a third of these children do not even stay in school past the age of 16.

Michaela Jiroutová from the NGO META told Czech Radio that this is due to the fact that foreign children are not given enough support when learning Czech at school, which in turn makes it hard for them to complete the high requirements in the high school Czech language final exam (Maturita).

“These tests are certainly hard, even for native speakers. That makes them a really hard barrier for pupils whose mother tongue is not Czech. Headmasters and school teachers are also drawing light to this problem. The final exam in Czech is exactly the same for native-born Czech children as it is for those whose parents are foreigners.”

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

The problem may not just be an issue of fairness. People with little education often face greater difficulties when looking for a job and can thus become an economic burden for the state, according to META, whose team has estimated that for each pupil who does not successfully complete secondary education, the state loses around CZK 2.8 million.

Annually, this calculation amounts to CZK 2.6 billion crowns of losses for the state, according to META, whose director, Kristýna Titěrová, says that the current system is not effective.

“Of course these are estimates. However, if we count the average expenditures on language training, they amount to roughly CZK 28,000 per pupil. It is necessary to also highlight that the state has to spend more money on pupils who are unsuccessful. After all, it already spends money on pupils who fail their year and have to repeat it.”

One of the trickiest stages for pupils struggling with the Czech language is during the switch from elementary school to high school. Data show that every sixth foreign child is not able to pass this hurdle - a significant difference when compared to native-speaking Czech children among whom the same statistic amounts to one in a hundred not being able to pass.

Education Ministry spokeswoman Aneta Lednová told Czech Radio that changes in the system are set to be put in place this September.

"We will keep the concept of regional schools in basic education. Pupils will be able to focus on  language training in the morning, and will be released from other subjects. They will complete an initial exam, after which the scope of necessary support will be determined. It will range from a minimum of 100 hours to a maximum of 200 hours.”

The government’s Legislative Council is set to discuss the proposal this week. However, some teachers and NGOs argue that it does not go far enough. They want a more systematic and long-term language learning programme. For example, META’s Kristýna Titěrová sees the solution in providing a bilingual teaching assistant for affected students.