New school year starts on Monday

First-graders from Hradec Kralove, Photo:CTK

A new school year started in the Czech Republic on Monday, and it is an exceptional beginning of school this autumn, as many schools in the country could not open because they were damaged in the recent heavy floods. Alena Skodova has the story:

First-graders from Hradec Kralove, Photo:CTK
Children from flood-stricken areas will have longer holidays, but they are not staying home: most of them have left for stays in recreational facilities in the countryside or in the mountains, accompanied by their teachers. For many 6-year olds, it will be their first time when they must do without their mums.

This year, there are about 100, 000 first-graders in the Czech Republic, and around one million pupils at elementary schools. The summer holidays have also ended for half a million secondary school students and apprentices. In her morning speech on Czech Radio, the Minister of Education, Petra Buzkova wished all of them a good time at school and to be able to learn new things. Mrs. Buzkova's daughter Anna herself is a first-grader this year, and she will attend a French lyceum in Prague. I spoke with the new head of the Na Smetance elementary school, Dr. Hana Vitova who described to me her first day in school:

"We have one class of first graders this year - there are 28 of them altogether. I went to their classroom to welcome them, and all of them said they looked forward to going to school very much, and they proudly showed me their new schoolbags."

28 children is not many, but Dr. Vitova explained to me that it was a general trend this year, because 6 years ago less children were born in the Czech Republic, where the birth-rate is on decrease.

Dr. Vitova told me that although she could not change the concept of her school, she plans to make several changes - the most important being the introduction of computer classes. She intends to buy more computers for her school to enable children get acquainted with modern technology as soon as possible, because until now they only could attend courses for which they had to pay.

Although the Ministry of Education does not intend to present any brand new concepts this school year, Minister Buzkova is facing a problem she has to tackle sooner or later - and it's teachers' salaries. The average salary of public sector employees, including teachers, is 14, 300 crowns a month while in the private sector it's 2,000 more. Before the recent floods teachers were expecting a 13 percent pay-rise, as they had been promised earlier this year, but now, when more money will be needed for recovery, they will only get 7 percent. Dr. Vitova's opinion is clear:

"We must realize that society expects from us high-quality work at places, where children very often spend more time than with their own families. That naturally means that the job requires people with good teaching qualities who understand children and are able to educate them. Good quality should be well-paid, and in my view the Czech education system does not reflect this simple rule."