Teachers - and children - in Czech Rep welcome first day of school

01-09-2004

Around the world September means the start of a new school year for teachers and students, and here in the Czech Republic, school traditionally starts on 1st September. I went to a Prague elementary school specialising in languages, to get a sense of the mood, and also to discuss how teachers are getting ready for educational reforms.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "So, hello to everybody, my name is Krystof and I like school and I like my hobbies."

"I am Evelina. I like school and I like my friends."

"My name is Veronika."

"My favourite subject is P.E. and my favourite subject is football. My favourite player is Milan Baros from F.C. Liverpool."

"My favourite subject is English."

Students from the fifth grade class from Prague's Horackova language school welcoming the new school year. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, happy to be back in the classroom, they don't even shed a tear for the summer holidays, already a thing of the past. Katka Soukupova is the students' teacher, who notes on the first day of school they're in good spirits. Though they'll take it slow at first, the children are eager to learn.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "I must say they are taller, they are maybe wiser, and in front of the school they looked very happy!"

Prague's Horackova School is unusual in that it holds student entrance exams and focuses markedly on languages. Students are admitted from the third grade on, and are taught in smaller groups to maximise learning but also to encourage creativity and reinforce social skills. The school also uses resources published by the Netherlands' Step by Step program, established in 1999. That program, says teacher Katka Soukupova, has gone a long way to inspiring students to reach their full potential.

"In Czech, for example, students learn about history and King Charles IV and the teacher wants to combine Czech and, for example Art. Or, Science and English, because they can speak about animals, how many legs an animal has and so on! For children it's very exciting that they also know these sentences in English! I think this 'combining' is very important."

Of course there must be a wide range of initiatives, programmes, and resources available for schools to mix and match their programmes, and one recent development in this respect has been made by the government itself: the Education Ministry's preparation of a new bill that will allow schools greater freedom in putting together a dynamic curriculum. That was certainly not the case in the past.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Horackova School's principal Jana Libichova is enthusiastic that the bill will allow her school to improve an already impressive program. Perhaps more importantly, it should help all schools throughout the country - exclusive or otherwise - to take a greater creative approach.

"Every school that wants to be creative, that wants to offer students a new modern form of education, indeed to offer all it can, needs greater freedom in the curriculum. That's something that school principals have been calling for, for some time, since the idea for the new project did not come from above, from the Education Ministry, but from below. At last, this won't be something ordered from above, but something that we wanted."

At the same time, new freedom will also involve greater responsibilities. Sadly, not all elementary schools in the Czech Republic are fully equipped for the task, lacking resources, quality teachers, and funds.

"There is always some risk and it's true that many schools at this time are not yet prepared to be able to launch their own new education development programmes. Because the bill has not yet been passed, the Education Ministry has not yet published what it has called a 'cook book' of recommendations that has yet to come out. That may make it easier for some schools to be able to put together their own curriculum."

For now, the school year has started and classes are underway. Changes for the education system lie ahead - but like our first-day students - it may be a good idea to implement changes carefully and according to one's means: to make sure new curricula can truly be fine-tuned and finely-implemented to improve the state of affairs.

01-09-2004