Number of teachers to be reduced

Education Minister Petra Buzkova with first-graders, Photo:CTK

The birth rate here in the Czech Republic has been falling in recent years, and every year there are less and less new pupils enrolling at Czech schools. The new Minister of Education, Petra Buzkova, is planning to reduce the number of teachers, saying the money saved could be used to increase teachers' salaries. Alena Skodova has the story:

Education Minister Petra Buzkova with first-graders,  Photo:CTK
The number of first graders is lower every year. This year it was the first time that there were less than 100,000. While it was quite common that there were four or five classes of first graders at bigger schools, at present it often happens that even at schools in large cities, there's only one.

Education Minister Petra Buzkova has recently come up with a plan to reduce the number of teachers in the coming years. Jaroslav Zverina is an opposition Civic Democratic Party MP who takes an interest in education issues. He says he agrees with this idea in principle:

"My view is that this is a logical outcome of trends over the past few years - the number of new pupils has been on decrease, and expectations are that this will continue. On the other hand, the number of teachers has been rising. I think that this trend should be reversed. A certain restructuring within the education system does seem to be necessary."

Teachers say they are underpaid, and have been lobbying for significant pay-rises for some years - to little avail. Mrs. Buzkova's plan, if implemented, could mean more money for those teachers who remain in the profession. Jaroslav Zverina again:

"If the reform is done in the right way, it could help good teachers get more money. I think that high-quality teachers should be remunerated accordingly At many schools, especially elementary schools, there are lots of unqualified people. That's because school principals have a problem recruiting well-trained professionals while offering relatively low salaries. At present people without any teacher training teach at many schools, so logically those should be the first to go."

Although everything sounds logical, some experts say that Mrs. Buzkova's plan is feasible at bigger schools only. At smaller schools there might be less pupils, but not so few that a whole class could be abolished. Should the headmaster sack his only chemistry teacher just because he teaches only a few hours a week? Then can chemistry be taught by a gym teacher, although he might theoretically be better paid? Observers say these are problems that have to be discussed first.

The chairman of the teachers union, Jaroslav Rossler says they will accept possible layoffs, but he firmly rejects the idea of money allocated for higher salaries for teachers being used for the country's recovery after the recent floods.