Education is the theme of a major conference being held in the Czech capital this weekend. The Prague Forum on Education Management and Funding will be attended by experts from North America and all over Europe, both East and West. Among them will be American professor Marc Ellenbogen. When he came into our studio, Professor Ellenbogen told us what issues would top the agenda at the conference.
"As European countries are moving forward and joining the democracies of Europe, how do you respond to educational issues, how do you respond to resources, how do you respond to infrastructure? Should public funds be used for private things? Where you have a collapse of an entire generation of philosophy how do you then approach education? And how do you find teachers and people to approach teaching a new generation of young Czechs?"
I've noticed as well in your publicity material that you want it to be a two-way process.
"In fact the United States and Canada have always been strong in higher education. But where certainly the United States isn't strong is in secondary education. And traditionally the Czechs have been very good in the sciences. So I think the United States can learn a great deal from European countries precisely in the place of secondary education."
You have your own experiences from the early 1990s, when the University of Pardubice was being set up and you were involved in that. Where do you see the key problems in higher education in the Czech Republic?
"Well, I think one of them unfortunately is simply the lack of resources. There is just not enough to create the kinds of scholarships and other things that you need for a system that's really moving into flexibility, that's one. Number two, you're burdened by a number of teachers who are the nomenclature of the past, who inf fact were trained in the past, who often view their students who speak languages better, or who have better skills, as competition, instead of respecting their abilities. Which in essence also chases young people away from this country. We at Oxford are very pleased this is happening because that's how we get a lot of bright people, but it's not good for this country."
Currently Czech state finances are in something of a crisis, ministries are being forced to cut their budgets, including the education ministry. Do you think that might force the Czech government into thinking about reforms, about changing approaches to higher education and to education generally?
"I remember in the early 90s I was approached by the then minister-presidents of a German lander who said to me, look, I need you to create some public policy prescriptions about the privatisation of hospitals, because we don't have any more money to fund these. And this gentleman would go on to become chancellor: it was Gerhard Schroeder. And the only reason he came up with this was because they were in crisis. So the answer to the question is of course, really, the only time governments are prepared to do these things is when there is a crisis."
You can find out more about the conference at www.praguesociety.org
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