Today is: 22.05.2018

Some issues in the development of education in the Czech Republic

PhDr. Radka Löwenhöfferová, MBA 
Vysoká škola obchodní v Praze, o.p.s. 
Spálená 14, Praha 1

In the Czech Republic, education is considered a type of public good, or capital, and consumption of this capital is an important element of human socialization. School education is a capital investment because it usually provides the "owner" (the student) with the possibility of a future profession and position in society. Furthermore, professional education is increasingly transformed into a consumer good, which is then offered on the market. Providing education and further education is a service from an economic perspective. In other words, a person who is active and participates in the process of learning is actually a co-creator of a "final" good. Education requires not only an investment of funds, but also of time, energy, and the intellectual capacity of students, etc. Society, for the large part, bears the cost of education, while, the state or local government, covers merely a fraction of the overall cost. According to data from the Czech Statistical Office in 1965, the state budget funded 90% of the total cost of education, while the remaining ten percent was recovered from students or their parents, mainly for accommodation, meals, books, teaching aids, and the like. Whereas, in 2015, in a market economy, the state covered just over 70% of these costs, and projections show that the share of state funding for school education will continue to decrease. For example, the state and local government currently cover just under 60% of the cost of on the job training for workers and business professionals. Changes in the share of state funding for school education have been part of the transformation of society and the economy, especially due to the creation of a private sector in basic, secondary and higher education.

Like in other countries of Europe, the Czech Republic faces the fundamental problem of how much money, and what proportion of gross domestic product the state should invest in education. Since 1990, the share of funding for education has varied by around plus or minus five percent of GDP. Each successive government must face two fundamental problems. The financing of education is a long-term factor in the development of the economy and society. It is also necessary to fund employment policy, which plays a very important role in retraining. While spending on education is increasing (as is the Czech economy and GDP), expenditure on retraining has been stagnating. According to the portal DV Monitor, expenditure on this type of continuing education in the Czech Republic is only 0.234 of GDP, which puts the Czech Republic in 27th place in comparison to the other Member States of the European Union. For completeness, it is necessary to add that, according to the Czech Statistical Office (October 2017), our country has a record low unemployment rate (3.8%).

In the Czech Republic, the education of the population is subject to extensive discussions. It is necessary, however, to point out the fact that school education implies a contradiction. First, there should be a transfer of creative legacy to the younger generation, while at the same time, education should also prepare this generation for their future professional lives. These two types of schooling can be understood in different ways, depending on the level of education being undertaken.

It is possible to agree with the opinion that instead of teaching being focused on memorizing data and knowledge, the aim of education should be to acquire the skills needed in everyday life. These are: the ability to work in a group or the ability to express opinions in a dialogue, and to enforce them. Modern learning should also pay more attention to the links between information obtained in various educational areas, and not teach individual subjects in isolation. The American psychologist from Harvard University Jerome S. Bruner (1965, p. 20), stated that "... understanding the structure of the curriculum depends on the fact that students understand how to combine areas together coherently, and it is crucial to understand the relationships between things."

At present, we can see a certain disproportion between the pedagogical and educational objectives at different levels of schools, and the reality of family socialization processes. In this area, preschool education is spoken about frequently. More and more children entering elementary school from nursery are missing even basic motor skills, such as the ability to dress themselves or even tie their own shoelaces. On the other hand, for the same children, the level of certain specialized skills is increasing. Nowadays, children are often exposed to tablets and smartphones, often dominates the English language, etc. An AVG's survey in 2013 showed that 63% children between the age of 3 and 5 years of age can play a computer game, 47% are able to use mobile phone, while on the other hand, only 23% of children are able to swim, and only 14% can tie their shoelaces. These findings are contrary to the laws of evolutionary psychology, which holds that educational initiatives and educational action should correspond to the mental, physical and social maturity of pupils. This is one of the reasons why the Czech Republic has recently enacted a compulsory year of preschool education for all children (from 5 years). The aim of this measure is to "harmonize" the level of knowledge, skills and habits of children before entering primary education.

In the Czech Republic today, a very sensitive issue is the concept of ensuring that the school system remains uniform, and that there is equal access to education for everyone.
Generally, it is clear that free education means that the state bears the costs of establishing schools, their operation and maintenance. In recent times, this has been the case, particularly in elementary schools run by the municipalities, with extras being paid by parents through various taxes. These parents pay no money directly to schools, but to private companies that collaborate with schools. In this respect, equal access to education is seriously violated. Chosen and paid classes at primary schools represent hidden financing, which is gradually becoming a phenomenon some of our educational system. These said "extras" are implemented as a supplement to what is paid from public funds and penalizes those parents who do not have the funds to contribute. There are two ways to solve this problem. Either primary schools should move these lessons to the afternoon, operate as ‘hobby group’, or, the municipality should assume some of these costs from its own budget. Primary schools under the Constitution of the Czech Republic should not operate this type of system of pre-paid education.

In elementary, and ultimately in secondary education in Czech Republic, as in other countries, the question of implementing electronic digital technologies into the educational process is being debated. It goes without saying that in the debate on the deployment of electronic media in teaching (tablets, iPads, smartphones, etc.), there are different opinions. For example, the professor of neurology, Martin J. Stransky, believes that people who read information from a monitor remember a third less than when the same information is read on paper. According to Stransky, the brain sees letters as physical objects, which are therefore better remembered when held in the hands. On the other hand, electronic media are an important part of contemporary life, and students of this area must of course be taught in these disciplines if they are to be successful in their professional lives.
In addition, the benefits of this concept of teaching are not disputed. Learning is interactive; for example, students can create 3D models, watch videos, etc. There is a discussion in the direction of whether tablets in part replace paper books, or if traditional books should be left un-digitized. Tablets and other electronic devices bring about a different activity, and can be interesting and inspiring. But, they are not a panacea.
Another, very sensitive issue of basic (and partly, secondary education) in the Czech Republic, is the role of teachers in the educational and training process. From the psychological essence of the educational process, the learning process can be a potential source of conflict and pathological behavior for teachers and pupils. In the communication of complex events, each person has their own specific needs, ideas, wishes and desires. Not for nothing is it popularly said that every education is heavy and has a violent aspect. The German teacher Felten (2012, p. 42) states that "it is all the more remarkable how much attention the school pays to technocratic page instruction (time sheets, teaching methods, evaluation) and how little attention is devoted to relations in the classroom." Prokešová (In Kalhous, Obst 2002, p. 251) sees in teaching social contact between teacher and pupil of "Interaction (interaction effects) communication (communicating meanings) and perception (perception partner) under direct communication activities." In other words, a class of students is a complex resonance space where the teacher meets with twenty or more pupils with their own subjective worlds, with whom they must have natural interactions with, as far as is possible.
Czech social media has brought a great deal of attention to, and the monitoring of, infringement cases in schools. Essentially, there are four types of these cases. The first areas are cases of assault and disproportionate punishment of pupils by their teacher.
Teachers sometimes commit physical violence upon pupils, or may provoke problematic pupils, which is incompatible with the Czech legal order and the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. The second group are the cases of "students versus school" relating to litigation, for example, when a pupil has an accident during school hours. Another group of cases "student fraud in the educational process" relating to unfair practices during tests, or misleading teachers, and the like. The fourth group of problems are "criminal cases against teachers." When teaching, teachers often find themselves in situations that result in problems which need to be solved by law. In recent years, dozens of teachers have been convicted by the courts, for example, due to the drowning of child, or the injury or death of a pupil on the pitch while playing sports, due to an accident while skiing, on the way to the movies, or from burns from a fire.
Although the police may not detect any errors by the teacher in the supervision of children, educators must still follow other guidelines in the prevention of the neglect of health and safety. In the event of non-compliance, they may then threaten school teachers or put in place sanctions. However, if the tragedy should have lifelong consequences, the teacher may end up in jail, or be held responsible medical expenses. It is often said that in the teaching profession the risks are too great, and the ability of teachers to deal with them, practically zero.

Also, secondary education is an area where it appears there are a number of critical perspectives on how to improve the current situation. Compared to the situation before 1990, these are mainstream secondary education Gymnasium schools (general education schools) which are intended as preparation for entry into high school. The important fact is that in our society (but also in other European countries) there is a widespread view that physical work is something for the inferior citizen, which is often why children and their parents alike have little or no interest in students becoming blue-collar workers or professionals in the services industry and other technical fields. Most free places are in secondary schools and in teaching and graduation fields. Grammar schools, which entered the Czech education system back in 1990, were originally conceived as an effective educational route for very talented students, which, according to various statistic, accounted for about 4% of young people. At present, only 25% of primary school pupils in larger cities study at school for more than 8 years, the impact of which is not positive. 22% of this age cohort attend for only four years. Another 7% of students go into technical lyceum, which, although vocational schools, offer a rather general education. According to the information system more, than 37% of vocational school graduates have never used the professional skills and knowledge acquired during their studies in high school. Among the various types of secondary school is another which is often referred to as "tourism high school" where students repeatedly transfer from one type of school to another, with increasing costs for the state. Around 17% of these students who opt to change their studies create an extra cost of about 114.7 million USD (2.5 bn. CZK).

A separate problem of secondary education has been the introduction of mandatory state graduation, which in the Czech Republic has been a major problem for a disproportionately long period of time. This problem has been caused mainly by the introduction of compulsory school-leaving examinations in mathematics. In the Czech Republic, math is studied from the first grade. However, research shows that students from schools that introduce mathematics from the 6th grade pass the demanding baccalaureate examination in mathematics with better results than those students who begin studying math right from entering elementary school.
In the long term, the Czech Republic needs to assess the effectiveness of tertiary education.
Prior to 1990, only 4% percent of the population of the former Czechoslovakia became university graduates. After social changes occurred, there was a significant increase in the number of universities (public and private), which led to a fourfold increase in university students. This extensive growth is reflected in the fact that, in the Czech Republic today, 13% of the population are university-educated, and this upward trend looks set to continue, with a recent study from the University of Economics in 2015 stating that up to 40% of the population will be university graduates by 2050.
Higher education in the Czech Republic today is an important component of global competition, and of the global development of the world. The perceived quality and reputation of higher education institutions has increasing importance in today’s world. Aptly, in 1901, the German thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt said, "Schools and grammar schools in this country bring a lot of profit and advantages. However, only universities can provide influence across borders and act to educate people speaking the same language … " During the 1990s, a growing number of published studies began comparing the quality of universities around the world; the most famous of these being the Time Higher Education (THE) and Shanghai rating systems. Both systems result in so-called ‘university rankings’, which are based on an assessment of not only the quality of teaching, but also the activity of schools and their faculty members in areas such as research and development. Because of this, either directly or indirectly, these university ranking systems display a predominance of American and British universities in their results. Other European universities, such as in Germany or France, only show up in these results sporadically. Czech universities rarely found at the top of these evaluation systems. The reasons for this are, of course, many and varied.
There are certain limitations in our schools in relation to the financial possibilities of linking science and teaching facilities together, and especially because of the relatively limited use of English as a communication language within higher education.
In many ways, however, these assessment systems should be seen as inspiring for the Czech Republic. An inherent aspect of Czech higher education is the especially high number of universities and the egalitarian funding of public schools, which inevitably leads to unnecessary fragmentation forces coming into play – but is not a sign that the overall quality of higher education is poor. In some other assessment systems, particularly at a European level, Charles University, the Czech Technical University, and Masaryk University in Brno frequently find themselves ranked highly. The latest example of this success occurred in 2016, when FAMU was ranked in 7th place in a special ranking of arts universities. On this issue, it is also necessary to mention that there were some limited efforts to build an internal university ranking system for the Czech Republic a few years ago, however, this idea was not met with a positive response, and soon disappeared from public debate. Therefore, it is unlikely that the majority of Czech universities will be able to compete on a global or European scale at any time in the near future.
Czech higher education has, in many cases, "absorbed" global trends in university education. Czech universities are currently trying to work on their "branding", and are trying to seek marketing channels of communication with the public, and better communication with prospective students, their parents, employers, and so on. For example, the Technical University of Liberec, Palacky University in Olomouc, and the University JE Purkyně in Ústí nad Labem have recently held courses for high school students during school holiday periods. The aim of these courses is so that high school children can get to know the university setting and become motivated to study there. The courses are taught by these universities’ best teachers who can combine theory with practice.
Czech universities have also successfully developed other supporting services associated with learning. Almost all schools have their own publishing house with a rich production of learning materials, library, study rooms, etc. Many individual schools and faculties are also developing magazines, newspapers, TV channels, and other information sources for their graduates, including high-school-based clubs, media studies activities, creative centers, and so on.

It is an undeniable fact that universities in the Czech Republic are increasingly expanding their activities in further education and in both professional and non-professional areas. According to a survey by Eurostat and the Czech Statistical Office, in 1999, they had at that time a high school to further education market share of just 3.7%, which was far below the European average, which stood at around 20%. Ministry of Education statistics show a year on year increase in the number of participants in continuing education courses at universities. For example, last year public schools in the Czech Republic organized 3500 courses with more than 100 thousand subscribers, and private colleges ran around 600 courses with more than 10 thousand participants. The number of participants in creative training courses is higher than in those of more professional, work oriented courses, in no small part due the impact of Universities of the Czech Republic’s Third Age.

After the Czech Republic joined the European Union, there was a stronger governmental and (as well as non-governmental interest) in adult education. In the first planning period between 2004 - 2006, the Czech Republic adopted programs under the European Structural Funds, especially in the so-called European Social Fund.
There were four main initiatives under this program, namely the active employment policy, social integration, education and the development of lifelong learning, and adaptability and entrepreneurship. Similarly, support for programs in various areas of social life was realized in the second planning period of 2007 – 2015 and which has been in place until the present time and is expected to continue at least until 2020. Analyses show that, in this area, the European Union provided the Czech Republic with subsidies of more than 698.1 million USD (15 billion CZK), with which the Czech state must co-finance a number of projects. Despite the general usefulness of European money in the educational field, there are inevitably some negative impacts. Training courses implemented under the European Social Fund substantially disrupt market relations, in particular the relationship between teaching quality and price. Educational institutions receive European subsidies mostly in tenders in competition with others, and condition of the grant allocation is tied to supplying the required elements of quality of service. Prices for these courses provided through European funds, however, are zero or symbolic.

Enterprises, organizations and institutions have, under legislation, a duty to implement education programs. In particular, this concerns the areas of occupational safety, fire protection and environmental protection. In addition, training is seen to significantly improve job performance, incentivises employees, and also contributes to the adaptability of workers and their positive identification with the company. Training provided by companies also has other, secondary effects, for example, the career advancement of employees, deepening loyalty to employers, and the general culture benefits for people and business. Despite these obvious benefits, there are still some discussions taking place with regards to the economic efficiency of business education.
The problem is mainly that it can be very difficult to precisely and accurately gauge the return on funds invested in this area. The cost of training employees can be calculated very precisely, but increases in revenue due to an increase in work performance as a result of this type of training can only be calculated hypothetically.

Generally, it can be said that currently the Czech Republic remains true to its rich historical tradition of education in terms of citizen participation in further education. Adult participation in further education of all types is 11.4%, which puts the Czech Republic in tenth place in the EU overall. But we should not only focus on the quantitative aspects of further education. An empirical investigation led by the PIAAC OECD (The Program for International Assessment of Adult Competences), placed the Czech Republic 9th in adult literacy, ahead of supposedly more developed countries such as Germany and Austria. In reading literacy, the Czech Republic was placed 11th, ahead of Denmark and England. On the other hand, this investigation showed that around 22% of adults in the Czech Republic have problems with computer literacy, while in Germany this figure is only around 10%.

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