Czech party wants to abolish compulsory preschool, former EdMin calls it a cheap gesture
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has proposed abolishing compulsory preschool for five-year-olds and would also like to get rid of their legal obligation to accept children as young as two, which according to the current law will be introduced two years from now. The Government will first assess the bill.
If the bill is submitted, legislators will then decide whether to approve it. Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga (for ANO) said he will not object to the bill.
"In the case of a duty for preschools to accept children as of 2020 who are below two years of age I am inclined to open up a debate about whether it is necessary to determine even more obligations for preschool establishers in such a directive fashion," he said. Currently, according to Plaga, almost half of Czech preschools are already attended by children below the age of three.
Introducing the duty to enrol them would, according to Plaga, aid parents with returning more quickly to work after parental leave. "Let's leave it up to the establishers of the preschools and the initiative of the parents, though," he said.
Both innovations were introduced by an amendment to the Education Act that was approved by the previous legislature. "These (proposed) abolitions are just a cheap gesture that will not bring about any results for anybody,". wrote Czech MP Kateřina Valachová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), a former Education Minister.
"This will throw parents, children and teachers under the bus," Valachová said. The ODS bill, in her view, does not address any actual problems, such as the question of where parents can enrol a child into preschool, how best to prepare a child to start first grade, and how to improve conditions for teachers.
The former Education Minister said polls show both measures enjoy majority support among the public. Those legislators who submitted the bill, led by the chair of the Education Committee in the lower house, Czech MP Václav Klaus, Jr, allege that the mass presence of two-year-olds would upend preschool education if it were to become state-organized babysitting.
"This will also yield enormous pressure on local budgets, as it could increase the necessary capacity of the preschools by one-fourth," reads the bill's explanatory memorandum, which was also signed by the chair of the STAN movement, Czech MP Petr Gazdík. The authors allege that there is no rational reason to oblige five-year-olds to attend preschool.
The current situation, according to the authors of the bill, is increasing bureaucracy for both parents and preschools and raising costs, which they estimate at CZK 1 billion [EUR 40 million] annually. "The public interest of the amendment now in effect may have been based on the integration of Romani children and their preparation for school attendance, but in that case it is more than enough to use the time-tested so-called preparatory classes," their justification reads.
The bill would also allow public preschools to introduce fees for five-year-olds, who currently access them free of charge. If the principal of a primary school were to decide that a child's compulsory school attendance should be delayed, then he or she could recommend parents educate the child either in a preparatory class at the primary school or in the final year of preschool.
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