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Reforms challenge ways of empire

CZECH REPUBLIC

SWEEPING changes are set to revolutionise schools in the Czech Republic over the next 10 years as ministers finally grapple with the educational challenges of the post-communist era.

Key reforms include nursery education for all and the teaching of two languages in primary schools. The government is also keen to promote inclusive policies to ensure that gifted children and those with learning difficulties are taught together.

The proposals, due to go before the Cabinet this month, include obligatory exams in a foreign language for all secondary school-leavers, currently a requirement only for those at grammar schools.

Out will go learning by rote - a classroom feature which dates back to the Austro-Hungarian empire - and in will come child-centred flexible-learning programmes that aim to help every student to achieve their potential.

After more than two years of consultations involving parents, employers, trades unions and educational experts, education minister Eduard Zeman launched the proposals at the National Education Conference in Prague at the end of November.

The reforms, the first root-and-branch changes to Czech education since the Velvet Rvolution brought an end to the communist regime 11 years ago, were ambitious and likely to prove controversial, he said. "We reached the maximum possible consensus but it was not possible to please everyone."

Jaroslav Jerabek, head of Prague's Pedagogical Research Institute, said the plan to teach primary pupils two foreign languages was an overdue reform but not realistic.

Frantisek Jezek, president of the national Higher Education Council, queried what he said were vague statements about teacher training, the timetable for the introduction of reforms and the failure to identify how the proposals were to be financed.

Ministers acknowledge that the proposals still have a number of hurdles to clear before being implemented, not least surviving the fragile political balance in the country.

Jaroslav Soural, a deputy education minister, said he hoped that parliament would consider the reforms early next year.

Other key reforms in the White Paper include: comprehensive university training for all nursery school teachers; improving the standards of and access to vocational secondary schooling; and increasing higher education participation to more than 50 per cent.

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