September 1st was back to school day for thousands of children around the country and over 100,000 first graders who are traditionally given a special welcome. What makes this school year special is the start of an inclusion program which has seen regular schools open their doors to children with disabilities, giving schools the extra money needed to provide them with assistants and special teaching aids.
For 200 children and their parents the new school year was filled with greater anticipation than most. Thanks to a new law on inclusion in education which went into effect on September 1st, children with disabilities can now be enrolled in regular schools in a move aimed at giving them equal opportunities as well as creating an inclusive classroom environment. The law, which gives schools more money to pay for special assistants and teaching aids, was preceded by heated controversy and protests from critics who argued that it would do more harm than good by slowing down progress in the classroom and giving children with disabilities an inferiority complex. Environment Minister Kateřina Valachová, who has tirelessly defended the benefits of inclusive education, told Czech Television on the first day of the school year that everything was in place to ensure a smooth transition.
Kateřina Valachová, photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think that both teaching staff and parents now have all the necessary information, we have worked hard to address their concerns and I would say that things have calmed down. We have also set up a special team that will work with teachers, parents and assistants and help them deal with any problems, any question that may arise.”
The minister has also pushed hard to give teachers better work conditions and better pay. With an average salary of 23,600 crowns a month (nearly 5,000 crowns less than the national average monthly salary) teachers are the worst paid qualified professionals in the country. Primary school teacher Heřman Kempfer told Czech Radio it was not a salary that could sustain a family.
“I have three children and a mortgage. I simply can’t make ends meet on what I get here. So I moonlight, I now make extra money pasting billboards. But what happens when I’m 50? I don’t know how long I will have the strength to carry on like this.”
Minister Valachová is promising to change that and give the teaching profession the respect it deserves. As of September 1st teachers will receive an 8 percent wage increase and the education minister is pushing for a 15 percent wage increase for three years in a row which would give teachers 130 percent of the average salary. Although it is clear that the battle to secure the money will be long and hard, the present wage hike and the pledge that their problems will not be forgotten has put a big smile on teachers faces on the first day of the school year.