People in Need: During school closures, future teachers could tutor children for academic credit

Illustrative photo: Julia M Cameron / Pexels

Many schools across the Czech Republic are still struggling to implement effective online learning programmes, despite lessons learned during the Covid-19 first wave. A big concern is that the digital gap among students has yet to be bridged. People in Need, a Czech humanitarian aid NGO that assists vulnerable communities, is calling for future teachers – those now studying at pedagogical faculties – to step in to help tutor children. 

Since the first wave of Covid-19 hit this spring, People in Need has been working to help teachers and families adapt to extended school closures. In large part, that has involved getting university students to tutor children in socially disadvantaged households and providing computer equipment and training how to use programmes like Zoom.

So far, 13 pedagogical faculties and 238 primary schools have taken part in the initiative, together helping thousands of students most at risk of falling behind in their education. Together with volunteers, People in Need tutors and otherwise supports more than 900 disadvantaged children with online learning, including by lending some 250 laptops and providing 100 internet connections. But it is still far from enough, People in Need founder Šimon Pánek told Czech Television.

Šimon Pánek, photo: Šárka Ševčíková / Czech Radio

“We definitely cannot say that the problem has been resolved as huge differences remain. In the best cases, teachers are equipped to work online, and children have structured lessons. But there are also schools that don’t have strong, effective administrators to manage this. In this second wave now, many teachers are still handing over bags of copied materials to parents. Things have not improved across the board.”

The solution in part, argues People in Need, would be for the Ministry of Education to recruit more teaching assistants and for universities to give academic credit to pedagogical students engaged in tutoring. Meanwhile, it has proven difficult to recruit tutors and systematically pair them with students, says Šimon Pánek, who expects that Czech schools will have to remain closed through December.

“Children whose parents support them, have computers and the internet at home, have always been far better off than those from socially disadvantaged households. That gap has only widened now. If we want to help especially those children just starting school or in the last years of high school, now already planning their futures, then I think we must intensify the tutoring. That means hiring more teaching assistants and getting university students formal internships so they can help the schools.”

According to the School Inspectorate, at least 10,000 children in the Czech Republic were unable to connect with teachers when schools were closed during the Covid-19 first wave this spring. The Ministry of Education has to date allocated some 1.4 billion crowns to retrofit schools for online teaching, but few have funds or procedures in place to help equip their students.