It’s Friday morning and students at Open Gate School are in the middle of their English lesson. It could be any school, only these kids are wearing uniforms and they don’t go home after school. Open Gate is the first and only private boarding school in the Czech Republic, established just a few years ago by one of the richest Czechs, businessman Petr Kellner. What makes it different from other schools in the country and why was it established in the first place? Peter Nitsche is the school’s headmaster:
“Whereas every other Czech gymnasium exists because it has to exist, we exist because we want to and because we share the vision of our founder. And that is to give every child in the Czech Republic with the intellectual capacity access to a high academic education, irrespective of family background or finance (the lack of finance should be no bar to a child coming to this school). Eighty-seven percent of our students are fully supported financially by the Educa Foundation and the remainder have some kind of a financial input.”
Most of the students at this English lesson are about twelve years old and they are already studying for their FCE. If they keep going at this pace, most of them are likely to pass the highest Cambridge exam, CPE, by their final year at Open Gate.
Other subjects are also taught in English. About one third of the teaching staff are from English speaking countries and Czechs who want to work at Open Gate need to be fluent in English. But why should Czech kids study a variety of subjects in English? Peter Nitsche again:
“We want all of our children to have the greatest advantage when they leave the school. Of course, not all of them will want to go to universities abroad, but in order to do that they need not just the maturita (the Czech school-leaving exam), they need more. At the moment the gold internationally recognised and assessed standard is the international baccalaureate. To do that, the students have to study in their last two years all their subjects in English. But that’s not to say they don’t take maturita as well.”
While sixth-graders practice their modal verbs, students in their final year spend their morning in the library, working on their own. I interrupt them for a few minutes to ask them what brought them to Open Gate and what they plan to do after they leave:
“I experienced studies in Nevada and then I came to experience the shock in Czech school with a completely different approach. I realized I cannot take this anymore. When I entered this school I was amazed that something like this was already happening in the Czech Republic. I enjoyed every class I took and the people here were very motivating and inspiring to me.”
Open Gate is located in the village of Babice about an hours’ drive from Prague. Since it was built only a few years ago, the buildings still look bright new. On the day of my visit, they are basking in sunlight, and the whole place looks like an advert for an ideal teaching facility. I ask Peter Nitsche to give me a quick tour of the premises:
“We’ll start here in the assembly hall. This is the school theatre and it’s one of the places that are used most often. The mornings begin with a school assembly so that students get acquainted with the events of the school day. In the process of education we also try to focus on morals and ethics, to show the differences between right and wrong and what’s happening in certain situations throughout the world.”
I also get a glimpse of the sports grounds, stables and a swimming pool. Since lessons are underway, there are no students to be seen, but we come across a few of them in the dormitories.
With only 128 beds, Open Gate has a very intimate atmosphere, which is
quite different from traditional Czech schools and from my brief visit
here, I get a feeling that students and teachers really enjoy being here.
The word about the school is spreading fast and Open Gate is already
considering enlarging its capacities in order to comply with growing
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