What is the aim of education? Is it to maintain and develop culture, enterprise and prosperity, or to promote active citizenship? How can the teaching profession’s prestige be improved? And how can we ensure that pupils enjoy school and acquire all the knowledge and skills they need? These are questions that have now been raised by two public campaigns in the Czech Republic, one organised by the Ministry of Education and the other by experts and professionals.
The answers should benefit the general focus of education, and can perhaps also reverse declining standards and reduce the high degree of inequality in the Czech education system. The Czech Republic spends just 4.8% of its GDP on education, the second-lowest percentage of all OECD countries. Over the last few years there has been a dramatic worsening in Czech schoolchildren’s performance in PISA results, from above average to below average (e.g. for reading skills, math). The degree of inequality between pupils, regions and schools is one of the highest in the OECD countries, as is the correlation between a child’s family background and education trajectory.
Education policy to 2020
The campaign about the purpose and objectives of education, organised by the Ministry of Education, is the first such campaign the Ministry has run, and it is based on the new strategic framework for education policy to 2020, which the government should approve later this year. The planned half-year marathon of public debates and round tables will focus on discussing how to enhance the relevance and prestige of schools and education, remedying weaknesses in the education system, establishing quantifiable standards and defining the role of teachers, which will help improve the quality of teaching and facilitate an assessment of what this quality consists in. There will also be discussion of the proper management of the education system.
This range of topics has been well-chosen, and is in line with recommendations from expert analyses and the results of OECD and PISA and TIMMS studies. This summer the Ministry should elaborate the ideas put forward and submit them to parliament for approval in the autumn. What will end up in the final document is of course an open question. Nevertheless, this is a unique opportunity to join the debate and try to set a clear direction for the Czech education system, which would go beyond the individual tasks that have so far been taken on.
Talking about Czech Education
A second campaign about redefining the purpose and objectives of education was launched almost simultaneously by experts and professionals. The poor management of the Ministry of Education under the previous Minister, Josef Dobeš, which brought the Ministry to the brink of a staffing and operational catastrophe, almost halted drawing from EU structural funds and greatly perturbed society as a whole, served as a catalyst. Teaching and education professionals did not hesitate to start their own campaign on the objectives and purpose of education, which they have called “Talking about Czech Education”. This campaign will also run for six months, in parallel to the Ministry’s campaign. It will be accompanied by workshops, online debates and conference that should accommodate people working in the broad education sector in the various regions. This campaign is not concerned only with education and the education system, but also with teaching young people in all aspects of life. The Open Society Fund Prague financially supports this campaign and is actively involved in it.
Both initiatives, by the Ministry and by education professionals, have promised to work together and coordinate their activities. Over the next half-year we will see if the general public becomes involved in the campaigns. Then it will be up to politicians what they do with the experts’ findings and public opinion. We hope that by the end of this year we will see a satisfactory outcome, and Czech students and children will have clearer objectives for their education.
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