History teachers and historians call on public to oppose new ministry education plan

27-10-2003

Czech teachers and historians are outraged over a new Education Ministry plan, which significantly restricts the amount of time allocated to history education in Czech schools. Besides removing the subject from the basic curriculum, it furthermore proposes not to have it as an independent subject but rather merge it with civic education class. Dita Asiedu reports:

Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, Czech history teachers and historians have fought energetically to be given more space in education plans for the subject of history. Their hopes were high when a new plan, to be adopted in 2004, made history a part of the basic curriculum of Czech schools, only to be crushed this year when the education ministry announced it would in fact restrict history education to give more space to other more modern subjects. This, despite the fact that compared to the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic's education system already devotes the least amount of time to history class. With the reasoning that students often learn the same material in different classes, the education ministry furthermore proposes to merge a number of subjects into one. History, it says, can be united with civic education to become part of the "man and society" course. To Helena Mandelova, Chairperson of the Association of History Teachers in the Czech Republic, this is unacceptable:

"The education system requires that Czech secondary schools allocate at least six weekly hours to the subject of history in the four-year course. This means that for two years, students have two hours a week and in the other two years they are taught history only one hour a week. That is very little time. Unfortunately, a large number of schools decide to give ninth graders the one hour a week. This is when they are supposed to be taught twentieth century history. The limited time leaves little space for analysis or discussion. Students are not asked to present their opinions on modern events and are only given limited information. This is unacceptable because they need all the information, in order to be able to have a good understanding of developments in the world today."

Another part of the ministry reform plan - that is already being tested in a number of selected schools - is to present schools with a brief education programme and allow its management to implement it as it sees fit. Mrs Mandelova strongly opposes such a measure, saying that it has already failed to be effective in many other countries in Europe:

"The problem here is that school principals focus more on the subjects that are needed for the school-leaving exams and then the ones that parents want their children to be taught, meaning modern subjects like information technology or languages and so on. Many furthermore believe that anybody can teach history. They think it involves basic, dry facts and names that teachers can simply learn off by heart from textbooks and then teach students. A 1994 study showed that some twenty-eight percent of all history classes are taught by people who do not have the necessary corresponding education."

In the spring, more than five hundred historians, teachers, and members of the Academy of Sciences signed a memorandum called "Slovo k dejepisu" or "a word on history" that explains in detail why it is an important subject. The education ministry turned a deaf ear to their calls and continued with its plan. Frustrated with this lack of ministry support, the country's historians have put together a document on the current state of history education in Czech schools. It is being distributed to the public in the form of a petition, hoping to get enough support to exert effective pressure on the ministry.

27-10-2003