Schools with four-hundred-year tradition to change forever?

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A document that would change the general concept of Czech secondary schools known as gymnasiums has recently been drawn up by the Ministry of Education. The proposal, currently under discussion, has been widely criticised. Olga Szantova has the story:

The main idea behind the planned changes is to make gymnasium graduates better prepared for practical life and ready to start off on a career, instead of continuing their studies at university level. The gymnasium curriculum is very academic and the amount of theoretical knowledge which must be absorbed by students has been frequently criticised. In some of these schools Latin is still a compulsory subject, to give just one example. True, there have been some changes; computers have been introduced, there is a wider variety of languages on offer. That's the case in the Prague 2 Gymnasium, as student Stefan Farkas explains: Gymnasium teachers say the recent changes are sufficient. After all, preparations for university study are the main idea behind these special secondary schools in the first place. The gifted children who begin gymnasiums at fifteen usually don't know what they want to do in the future, and the four years at the gymnasium should give them a general education so they can make up their minds. The principal of the gymnasium in Zdar nad Sazavou, Vlastimil Cepelak says his school is doing a good job of preparing students for university studies, more than 95 percent of its graduates do go on to university.

But even so, many feel, gymnasiums need much more radical changes. After all, they were founded back in the 16th century, as a preparatory step to university studies. The first major changes came three centuries later, when mathematics and sciences were added to the curriculum. Minor changes followed, but basically Czechoslovakia inherited the old Austro-Hungarian education system from 1918.

And it's high time to change it, the ministry says. If it has its way, students will have a much wider choice of subjects to choose from, including such new subjects like management studies, computer programming, psychology, etc., all aimed at preparing graduates for practical life. But why should they? critics ask. There are numerous vocational secondary schools for that. And so discussions continue and will continue for some time. Meanwhile Stepan Farkas and his colleagues can count on finishing their gymnasium studies without any major changes.

Author: Olga Szantová
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