Czech NGO says new law will force preschool clubs for impoverished children to close
On 23 September the Czech lower house approved a ministerial draft of a law on children's groups. The terms of that legislation, according to the Czech NGO People in Need, establish insurmountable barriers to the operation of preschool clubs that provide a chance for at-risk children to succeed in the Czech education system and find skilled employment as adults.
"People in Need currently runs a total of 12 preschool clubs in the Czech Republic, through which roughly 250 children pass annually. As part of our 'Come to Preschool!' project we collaborate with eight other nonprofit organizations whose preschool clubs are visited by more than 100 children. There are also many other organizations throughout the Czech Republic providing such educational services to children with various disabilities.Thanks to the unrealizable demands of this new law, we will have to close these clubs. The system of support for at-risk children, which has been years in the making and has been financed by public money, will be destroyed," says Martin Kovalčík of People in Need.
According to People in Need, the lower house unfortunately did not reflect on the comments on the legislation submitted by experts and senators who wanted to make registration of children's groups voluntary instead of mandatory. In practice this would have meant that if a group registered, it would receive the option of drawing on certain benefits.
Those organizations that decided not to register their preschool clubs would still have been permitted to function, but would not have been entitled to tax relief. "Instead, now all entities working with a group of more than four children will have to, for example, ensure that the towels hung up on the wall of the facility don't touch each other, that the sink is 50 cm high, that the facility has an anteroom, etc.," Kovalčík says.
Sinks and towels are not the only issues. According to the NGO, the new law would force the operators of preschool clubs and similar facilities to meet absolutely unrealistic technical norms.
"Every outdoor (forest) preschool, parents' center, preschool club or Scouting branch working with preschool children will have to have a separate room that serves as a cloakroom that is connected to the entryway and is equipped with children's furniture. In other words, it will no longer be possible to just have hangers, but a separate room is necessary. The law also requires four separate rooms in the sanitary area alone. In many cases this is simply unrealistic," says Jan Černý, director of the organization's Social Integration Programs.
"Introducing the obligation to meet the general technical demands of the applicable building norms for new construction will lead to the closure of the spaces in which facilities for at-risk children in the Czech Republic now operate. The current regulations on the minimal dimensions of such facilities, the cubic capacity of rooms, the amount of sunlight, the height of the window cranks, airflow requirements, heating requirements, ventilation in each room, requirements for artificial light, for natural light, making sure the floors aren't slippery - many school facilities here don't even meet these conditions. It is possible to meet them, but it would require hundreds of millions of crowns' worth of investment into social education services in the Czech Republic," Černý says, adding that "This is a completely anti-social law, because only wealthy firms will be able to afford to comply, not nonprofit organizations or parents' initatives. Those who will pay the price in the end are, of course, the children. We informed the Labor Ministry of these risks in June, and it is incomprehensible to us that such a harsh law was adopted. What is paradoxical about the whole situation is that the existence of preschool clubs is supported by the Education Mnistry, which is counting on financing their operational costs until 2020."
The first preschool club was opened in 2005 in the town of Bílina. The pilot project spread to other Czech towns over the years.
Preschool clubs are unique educational services that respond to the fact that most children of preschool age who grow up in conditions of social exclusion do not attend regular nursery schools. In addition to numerous sociocultural barriers, such children are prevented from attending regular nursery schools because they are too expensive and too far away; preschool clubs, therefore, are an alternative to institutional nursery schools.
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