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How to boil a cabbage and find true love

CZECH REPUBLIC. Subjects such as cooking, sewing and "marital relations" are finding their way back on to the curriculum in some schools in the Czech Republic.

In reaction to years of state dogma which played down the importance of home-making and "liberated" women by pushing them into employment, Czech girls are voluntarily turning the clocks back and enrolling in family schools, where they learn traditional housekeeping skills and discuss what makes a marriage work.

Family schools, or "schools for girls' occupations" were popular up to the 1940s in what was then Czechoslovakia, according to headmistress Alena Mareckova, though that all changed after the Communist takeover in 1948.

"I even read one time 'Why should girls learn to cook when there are canteens in all the factories?'" says Mareckova, whose mother went to a family school. "They called these places 'dumpling schools' and I think this still lingers on a little in people's subconscious."

Ms Mareckova, who recently changed her privately-run family school's status to that of a trade high school - meaning all students can get high school graduation - says the post-1989 family schools take a lot from their predecessors, but add a modern twist.

Computer classes are on the menu along with learning to cook three-course family meals and sew clothes for the family. Drugs are as much part of health and family education as the quaintly termed "marital relations" class, and macrobiotic vegetarian theory goes hand-in-hand with cooking lessons for more typical fare such as pork, cabbage and dumplings.

In addition to these compulsory subjects, Ms Mareckova's school, founded in 1991, offers students two educational directions: basic economics and teaching. Ms Mareckova says all last year's 36 graduates found jobs in administration, nursery teaching and as au pairs.

"The family-oriented lessons prepare them for family life, though they can apply the home economics lessons professionally too, as secretaries, when they have to arrange a meeting with some kind of food," adds Mareckova.

Deputy headmistress Eva Michalkova denies this kind of teaching is archaic.

"Today's women need it too, because convenience foods aren't available or cheap enough yet," she says.

The students about to graduate in a few months don't necessarily believe they've found the perfect recipe for happy married life. "They teach us how to take care of a family, and to cook and sew, but that's not all that being a good wife is about," says Eva Moravkova, 17, who wants to be an actress. "You can't teach that in school."

Kamila Rosickova, 18, who wants to go on to study banking, says a family-orientated education, especially cooking classes, is important for life.

"They say we'll be good wives," she says. "But I don't really think that depends on what a girl does at school. "

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