Education representatives from New Zealand and the Czech Republic met Monday with honored guest New Zealand Education Minister Trevor Mallard. The meeting was simply a platform in which dedicated advocates could share their different approaches to achieving the same goal: excellence in education. The organizers, the Prague Society for International Cooperation, is a non-partisan organization whose aim is to develop its already existing network and promote global responsibility in a myriad of areas. As the Czech Republic's education system faces a severe lack of funding, the Prague Society held a forum on education management and funding at the Senate last June.
Although presently there are no bilateral agreements between New Zealand and the Czech Republic, Education Minister Trevor Mallard states clearly his interest in visiting Prague.
"New Zealand thinks that the Czech Republic is going to be an important player in the world, especially in the European community in decades to come. There's an enormous history of education here and we wanted to learn about it."
Senator and Rector of Masaryk University, Jiri Zlatuzka, has his concerns about the issues facing the Czech Republic's Education system. Since the mid 1990's the Czech population has dropped significantly, and therefore elementary and secondary schools face the possibility of closure. Unfortunately, Senator Zlatuska has no say in the outcome of these decisions, because it is put in the hands of lower level government. But mainly the Senator expressed his envy for New Zealand's level of funding towards education, at 6% GDP it's double the Czech Republic's 3%.
"Obviously, from the point of financing and having the people of the country perceive the role of education is surprisingly a different situation than here. So, it's interesting to see how people perceive the role of education in the 21st century and so on"
In Masaryk University, you had in 1989, 9000 students, now you have 25,000 students but you're still mentioning that accessibility to post-secondary education is minimal, despite there's no tuition fees. So for me as a North American it seems great, it seems very accessible, where's the problem?
"Now it seems ridiculous but for example in Brno the proportion of [those who complete] general education, secondary schools, the so-called gymnasiums, is about 40%. Yet of those who apply to our University, less than 50% are accepted. It's highly selective. So that doesn't mean that if you complete high school that you are admitted to the studies that you choose."
Is that simply due to students not having high enough grades?
"No, it's just over-subscription of the number of slots we can afford and we still accept actually more than what the government funds us. Well, that's because I always believe that if we have one student less than what the government is willing to pay for is a bigger problem than if we have one more."
Inevitably New Zealand's vast geographical landscape poses different challenges in accessibility. Another interesting point brought by minister Mallord was the retention of the Maori language, New Zealand's indigenous people's tongue, and its further integration into the educational system. In response to this Senator Zlatuzka said at this point there hasn't been a physics class taught in Roma. This is a problem.
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