“We believe that everyone has potential”: META on supporting students inside the classroom

Martina Smrečani and Kristýna Titěrová

As the population of foreigners in Czechia continues to grow, students whose native language is not Czech struggle to succeed in the education system, and are more prone to slipping through the cracks. META is an NGO based in Prague that focuses on supporting students whose mother language is different. I visited their classroom to learn more about the work they are doing.  

Homogeneity is a word often associated with Czech society, but the landscape and population make-up of Czechia has been changing significantly. At the end of last year, statistics showed that foreigners accounted for 1.2 million people making up the country’s population. So how do those who are not originally from Czechia, or were born in the country but speak a different mother language, fare in the education system here?

To put it briefly, it’s difficult for many. But one NGO based here in Prague has been responding to the needs of students who are struggling within the Czech education system. META, based out of Prague’s Žižkov neighbourhood, is a non-profit organization that works to support students who don’t speak Czech as their first language, and guides pedagogues in the way they teach these students. Kristýna Titěrová – Director of Programs and Services at META, told me more about their mission.

Photo: Meta/Facebook

“META is an NGO that works with migrant families. Our focus is mainly on supporting children in the education system. We make courses, support them with their subjects, and we also support teachers who work with these children at schools. We offer courses, and our website also helps them provide practical tools for their students and gives suggestions on how to solve common problems.”

On a yearly basis, META supports 500 to 1,000 students. The origins of the students are diverse, but the two largest groups are those from Ukraine and Vietnam. Recently, the NGO launched a new campaign titled “Our Voice” that aims to empower students and encourage them to use their voice to advocate for themselves in order to help broader society understand the struggles of migrant children within the Czech education system. Kristýna explained their motivations further to me.

“We realized we weren’t involving the students, and after years of working with them, we felt that it was missing. We really wanted to write and create a project about their empowerment with a participative approach so we could really have their voices heard.”

Nikol Nguyenová, is a student who’s been coming to META for support. She’s 24 and studies at Charles University to become a primary school teacher. She explained to me the difficulties of being a multi-lingual student here in Czechia.

“I didn’t like school very much to be honest because it was very hard for me. I was just going through it. Also, as a multi-lingual child, I had some problems that made it harder for me to go through, and I felt like I was really alone, and that I didn’t have much support or understanding from teachers.”

But since attending META, Nguyenová says her outlook on education has changed, and so has her self-confidence.

“When I reflect on the last year, META increased my self-confidence so much. I got to explore my identity and connect a bit more with my Vietnamese side. Thanks to this project, I met a lot of new friends my age who are also Vietnamese, and I realize that a lot of our problems are similar, because we were raised in the same culture.”

META aims to keep promoting their agenda of supporting multi-lingual students through the Our Voice campaign. In fact, they recently had a round table discussion with education policy makers here in Czechia, where their students got to present their concerns about the schooling system and the difficulties they face. Martina Smrečani, Coordinator of the "Our voice" project, says they’re hoping to help students discover their own potential.

“We believe that everyone has potential, and if we pay more attention to how they’re doing at school, ask what they need, and what they would like to experience – they can get the right support and fulfil their potential.”