Czech Republic: OSF Prague agrees with ombud that "preparatory classes" are not the same as nursery schools
The Open Society Fund Prague, which focuses on inclusive education, among other things, does not agree with the option of allowing children to complete their mandatory final year of preschool education by attending "preparatory classes". Like the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombud), Anna Šabatová, the foundation sees the threat that socially disadvantaged children will be segregated into such classes, according to the spokesperson for the foundation, Jitka Rabitsch Adamčíková.
Czech Education Minister Marcel Chládek (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) rejected that interpretation after last Friday's statement by the ombud. After the recent approval of an amendment to the Schools Act, "prepartory classes" will be open to all children as of next school year.
Open Society Fund Prague, however, considers such classes an "insufficient, random took of support". The foundation refers to the results of an analysis commissioned by the Education Ministry in 2009 according to which the influence of "preparatory classes" on the increased chances of children to achieve a quality education is not as strong as the influence of attending nursery school.
Currently such classes are frequently established at "practical primary schools" or at schools with a predominace of Romani pupils, which can have negative consequences. "The Czech schools are facing the problem of segregation not just in the 'practical schools', but also in mainstream primary schools. The Education Ministry has not yet proposed a solution for how to stop the creation of segregated schools at the level of nursery schools and preparatory classes. According to the current version of the law, there is a great danger that Romani preparatory classes will be created in segregated schools, while nursery schools will have no Romani children," said Robert Basch, Executive Director of the foundation, in a press release.
Šabatová is concerned about the perpetuation of segregation. "It's very dangerous to set this up to run along two separate lines, because that means two tracks will be created that will then never come together," she warned on 20 April 2015 during a panel discussion on the topic of equal access to education.
The ombud is convinced that during the single mandatory year of preschool education it is important for all children to be educated in nursery schools. Instead of "preparatory classes", she believes nursery schools should be supported to know how to work with children with special educational needs, including the socially disadvantaged, and to want to work with them.
Last Friday the Czech Education Minister emphasized that he believes "preparatory classes" are not segregating anyone under any circumstances. The Education Minister counts on introducing the mandatory year of preschool education in September 2017.
The hope is that children from less stimulating family environments will get a chance to make up for their handicaps prior to entering first grade. Introduction of this measure should also reduce the number of children who delay the start of their mandatory school attendance.
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