New school year sees introduction of reforms

Photo: CTK

The new school year is always a time of anticipation and excitement for children, their parents, and of course teachers, but this year is promising more than most: for the first time schools will be fully responsible for their own curricula and teaching. Through the reforms, the Education Ministry hopes to make Czech classrooms a far more dynamic environment, inspiring pupils to greater interaction as well as independence.

Education Minister Dana Kuchtova,  photo: CTK
September 3rd, 2007: yet another start of another school year. Yet this one will be different, seeing the introduction of syllabi put together by individual schools rather than by the state. The new approach is expected to see less emphasis on encyclopaedic knowledge, drills, and memorisation in the classroom and more on independent thinking as well as teamwork. In short, a marked departure from the rigidity the Czech school system has been so criticised for in the past. On Monday I spoke to Education Minister Dana Kuchtova, visiting a Prague elementary school:

"The main goal of the reforms is to make our schools far more independent, more autonomous in the kind of teaching programmes and methodology they choose. Goals to be achieved have been laid out in a state-wide document, the education framework curriculum. That framework provides a kind of 'ceiling' to aim for. I think it is an historic moment. Some schools have already laid out their programmes and the reforms are already underway there today. Other schools may be behind, but it's not serious, they will follow."

Photo: CTK
Not everyone agrees the reforms have been properly implemented: some critics argue the school system was rushed, while others complain the new system places far more work on the shoulders of the teachers themselves, work that should be properly rewarded. Education Minister Dana Kuchtova again:

"It's true that preparations for the new system - which required extra work from teachers - were not always ideal: teachers often weren't fully paid for the extra work. There were some bonuses at a number of 'pilot' schools where the system was prepared but not as much as teachers would have liked and not as much as I think they deserved. In the future, we would like to see the reforms continue and be completed through European projects and I would like to see more funds make their way to creative teachers."

Photo: CTK
For the time being, only grades 1 and 6 will be affected while additional grades will follow. Still, this September sees the start of something that could fundamentally change Czech classrooms, not overnight, but in the coming years. As for the very first day? That of course is a unique experience. Katerina Rohalova, a 1st-grade teacher at the Gur Arye Elementary School in Prague, told me about her new pupils' unbridled enthusiasm.

"I think the majority of children weren't able to fall asleep last night in expectation. This is a day that never comes again. They leave behind the world of just games and go to school with their first school bags. They feel like pupils and act all important. I think most of them couldn't wait!"