Native speakers in school system way down on ‘90s numbers

Young teachers from the West whose main qualification was often the ability to speak English were common at Czech schools in the 1990s. But those days are gone. A new report by the national schools inspection agency says that, relative to the ‘90s, the percentage of native speakers in the state education system is now extremely low.

Illustrative photo: European CommissionIllustrative photo: European Commission Many of the thousands of young Westerners who flocked to the Czech Republic in the early 1990s found jobs in a school system crying out for native speakers of English.

Among them was Toby Morgan, who today lives back home in the UK. Despite having zero qualifications or experience, he was hired on the spot after wandering into an elementary school in Prague in 1993.

“I think it was quite a novelty to have a native speaking English teacher. I was the only one there and it was specifically a language school, which I didn’t find out until I’d been teaching there for over a year.

“I found out years later from an ex-student… I sent him a message saying, you do realise I wasn’t a real teacher? And he wrote back and said, yes, of course we all knew that, but we liked you and you made us speak English, so we didn’t have a problem with that at all.

“I think they sort of looked at me and thought, this guy doesn’t look like any of the other teachers here, he doesn’t act like any of the other teachers here.

“But they didn’t give me any trouble. I didn’t have discipline problems in my classes or anything like that.”

Marek Kadlec, photo: WattsenglishMarek Kadlec, photo: Wattsenglish Marek Kadlec is the director of the Czech branch of Wattsenglish, which helps place qualified native speakers in state kindergartens and elementary schools. He says teachers like Morgan did a lot in their day – but there were shortcomings.

“They often came to schools just with a copy of an article and wanted to discuss it with students. You can do this. But first of all the students need the background, the vocabulary, the tool: the language. And these native teachers couldn’t give students this tool, the language.”

The latest annual report from the Czech schools inspection agency, quoted by the news website, says that, compared to the decade that followed the revolution, the number of native speakers teaching languages today is “almost imperceptible”.

The country is less attractive to young Westerners, while cuts in programmes supporting such teaching mean state schools cannot afford them. And – after the experiences of the past – they are more selective.

So is today’s relative dearth of native speakers bad for school pupils? Marek Kadlec thinks not.

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio PragueIllustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague “My personal experience with Czech English teachers is that their quality is better and better every year. I would say young Czech teachers with experience abroad bring to the Czech education system a lot of power. They really want to teach.”

Many will naturally welcome the greater professionalism of home-grown language teachers. But others – former teachers and pupils alike – will no doubt look back with some fondness on the “relaxed” 1990s.

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