Zakladni and Materska Schools

Here’s what all my colleagues are going to ask when I get back, “So what’s the difference between the Central European and American schools?”  If you’re one of them, you can read ahead or choose to wait until I can tell you in person…

What’s most interesting to me are the similarities.  The teachers are very proud of their students and try very hard to make the atmosphere welcoming for all.  There’s a LOT of student artwork on the walls–real, creative artwork instead of cookie-cutter crafts.  The buildings have some areas that need repair, yet not quite enough money to do it all.  The principal was excited about a new teacher evaluation system which relies more on observation than student data.

Yet in an attempt to show us their best, there are some issues which seem to be avoided in conversation, particularly the principles we hold dear in American education: an equitable education for all.  Public kindergartens are crowded and attendance is not mandatory until age 6, which means many children will not receive the three years their well-off peers will have.  This means that they will have less options for attending primary school–where principals and psychologists select the brightest kids and reserve the right to deny entrance to children who might cause “problems.”

It is the Roma/Gypsy population and special education students who are at an extreme disadvantage–they are often segregated into “special/practical” schools at age 7–thus sealing their fate as non-university bound students.  Sadly, the reality is few Czechs are concerned about this.  So while I wandered amidst the cheery decorations I couldn’t help but wonder about the children who are in the other schools…more to come.

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