Czech educational attainment influenced by social origins, according to experts
Chances for children in the Czech Republic to access education are significantly influenced by the economic and social positions of their parents. One negative influence on socially disadvantaged children in the country is, for example, the requirement to pass entrance examinations to secondary schools.
Daniel Münich of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Analysis (IDEA), a project of the Czech Academy of Sciences' Economics Institute, and Tomáš Feřtek, an expert consultant with the EDUin educational organization, both agree with that observation. According to them, entrance examinations are the reason why just 3.6 % of children whose parents never went to secondary school achieve a college degree in the Czech Republic, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's most recent report has found.
The OECD countries' average achievement of a college degree by children whose parents never attended secondary school is 21.2 %. "This is about having either bad luck or good luck when you are born in the Czech Republic, terribly much. That is because the education system and the schools are incapable of sufficiently compensating for the accident of birth if things turn out badly and I am born into the 'wrong' family," Münich said.
According to Münich, the Czech education system functions in such a way that a child from a family where the parents have low educational attainment does not have much chance of succeeding academically on his or her own. A negative role in this, in his view, is played by the entrance examinations to enter those secondary schools that offer fields of study resulting in a high school diploma, as well as by the fact that primary schools are unable to prepare children to pass those examinations.
Münich notes that in the Czech Republic, some pupils transition from either the fifth or the seventh grade directly into multi-year college preparatory schools (gymnázium), while others remain in primary school through grade nine. Last year, according to statistics from the Czech Education Ministry, 11 687 pupils entered the first year of multi-year college preparatory schools, while there were 96 973 pupils attending sixth grade and 83 728 children attending the eighth grade of primary school.
The basic influence of social origin on children's educational chances in the Czech Republic is seen by Feřtek as well. In his view, this is a long-term problem of the Czech education system which is intensifying.
Feřtek also says the situation has been deteriorated by the introduction of entrance examinations to enter those secondary schools that offer fields of study resulting in a high school diploma. Another step in that direction, in his view, could be the introduction of an across-the-board limit on the score needed to be accepted into those fields.
Münich explained that parents frequently pay for different kinds of private preparatory courses or tutoring so their children can pass the examinations. If parents cannot afford this or take no interest in arranging such extra services, their child is significantly disadvantaged compared to everybody else.
"The parents choose the school and pressure it to prepare their children for these entrance exams. If children attend a school where nobody cares about that aim, then they will never be prepared to pass those exams," Münich said.
Of course, Münich also pointed out that just a very few people in the Czech Republic never achieve any kind of secondary education. He estimated that in the population of parents who are 50 years old or younger, just about 3 to 5 % of them never graduated from a secondary school.
"This group of ours includes very extreme cases of people with serious problems who were never educated despite all the opportunities," Münich said. He also said he believes that in western countries the proportion of people without any kind of secondary education is higher than it is in the Czech Republic.
According to the Education Ministry, the current state of affairs in the Czech Republic is caused by the fact that until the mid-1990s, access to a college education was very limited, so the Czech Republic is therefore now catching up to other countries in its number of college graduates. "In 1990 just 118 000 students were studying in colleges, which is just 1.1 % of a population of 10.3 million," the ministry's press department reports.
Back then about 17 % of all 19-year-olds applied for college, according to the ministry, and since 2006 around half of all 19-year-olds have been applying. "We consider this situation satisfactory for the time being. That proportion needs to be maintained now and the quality of college preparations needs to be focused on," the ministry said.
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