Czech Educational System 101
My official title here is English Teaching Assistant. This title is open for interpretation, but one thing is clear: I am in a classroom. Upon my first arrival here, I was quick to identify the similarities between American and Czech education. I soon allowed myself to start critically looking at the Czech and American systems and identifying more differences. Though I am eager to share these deeper reflections with you, you must first gain the framework of typical Czech public education.
Czech students start their schooling in the equivalent of elementary or “basic” school. They are here until the age of 11 or 15. At that point, many students can move on to gymnáziums—which are the closest Czech equivalent to an American high school. Here students continue to have a variety of subjects and are preparing for universities. Students can attempt to enter any gymnázium (though they may require entrance exams), and often will do all they can to do so. At the gymnázium where I teach, students can enter either at the age of 11 or 15. If students continue with some sort of “middle school,” their next shift happens around the age of 15. At this point, students specialize. Students can go to vocational schools or a general high school. I have a friend who studied at a tailor’s school. I have heard tales of language high schools, administrative schools, and—when I asked why there weren’t any hockey players among my students—I learned there are also sports high schools. That is how I came to be teaching at a conservatory. The conservatory is a public school and these are “regular” students who are going to a conservatory because their aptitude for music, dance, or theatre. As you can see, ability grouping is an important part of their education, which can lead to negative effects such as students gaining a sense of entitlement or students lacking integration with students who are different than themselves.
This lack of integration is continued through the “class” system. Students are in the same “class” for all 4-8 years at their gymnázium or given school. This means that the same 20 students have every class together (math, science, language, PE, social studies, etc.) every day of every week of every year of their secondary education. Moreover, these students have the very same “class teacher” each year who manages their absences, *class books, and other issues. If there is a bad rapport between the students and teacher, that can make a long 4+ years, as can a rivalry or falling out within the class. However, this system could encourage students to work through their problems because they will be together for so long. However, if there is good rapport between the students and teacher, it could be a lovely 4-8 years. On rare occasions, class teachers or certain students can be removed or changed, but this is definitely the exception and can be stigma-forming.
To be continued . . .
*Class books are traditionally real books that are like enlarged weekly planners. (At the gymnázium, we have a computer system, but at the conservatory, we have actual books.) There all teachers record the marks and absences for their students in their respective class book. For example, I have classes 3.G, 5.A, 5.B, 6.B, and so forth at the conservatory. After a given lesson with 3.G, I then find the 3.G book, and turn to the appropriate week. Then I find the lines marked for 2nd and 3rd hours and mark the subject (AJK—Anglický Jazyk-Konverzace) the given topic, like “transportation.” Then I also note the last names of which students were absent—noting the particular hours missed. When I’ve finished, I sign the lines. It is then the class teacher’s responsibility to track down the students and find out whether such absences were excused or not.