Czech Senate approves education amendment in full, opponents of inclusion failed to convince them otherwise
Last week the Czech Senate adopted an amendment to the law on education in full despite the fact that many reservations to it have been expressed. The vote means that new rules for inclusion in the Czech schools will apply as of September.
The legislation also introduces unified entrance examinations for secondary schools next year. Within four years it will also be mandatory to pass a mathematics examination as part of leaving secondary school.
The amendment also introduces mandatory attendance of the final year of nursery school prior to enrollment into first grade. Of the 67 legislators present, 39 voted in favor.
It will now be sent to the Czech President for his signature. Adoption of the bill was enforced by representatives of all factions in the Senate with the exception of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS).
Twenty legislators in the upper house, including members of governing parties, took a more reserved stance toward adopting the amendment. Senators approved it despite the recommendation of their own committees that they not legislate the entitlement of two-year-olds to a place in nursery school.
Currently children are usually accepted into preschools at the age of three. The change will take effect in 2020.
According to Czech Education Minister Kateřina Valachová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), the move is a natural reaction to demographic trends. The change will make it possible for mothers to return to work sooner.
Nannies will look after two-year-old children at the preschools. Critics of the proposal argued that preschools should not become "dumping grounds" for children and expressed a preference for young children being reared within the family.
Children who live in the catchment area of a preschool will have a preferential right to a place there. Municipalities, according to critics of the proposal, will therefore have to reserve places at nursery schools even for children whose parents enroll them elsewhere.
The mandatory final year of preschool, against which the right wing protested, can still be avoided through home schooling. The sufficiency of the parents' schooling would have to be audited by having the nursery school examine the child.
In any event, parents will still have to enroll their children into their local preschool or be fined up to CZK 5 000 (EUR 185). The Education Committee of the lower house promoted the idea of delaying the new rules for educating pupils with special needs together with everyone else in mainstream schools.
The reason they gave for that proposal was an attempt to provide the schools time to prepare for the change. "We are introducing something that will ultimately harm those whom it is meant to help," Czech Senator Jiří Oberfalzer (ODS) said with concern of that aspect of the amendment.
According to the Education Minister, however, delaying the rules would not resolve anything and would complicate the negotiation of the financial support for that kind of education for children living with disabilities. Support measures in the form of compensatory aides or the services of teaching assistants are, according to the minister, already arranged for this year, including their financing.
Currently one-quarter of all children diagnosed with "mild mental disability" are already being educated in mainstream schools. As for the unified entrance examinations for secondary schools, they will involve tests in the Czech language and mathematics.
The exception will be secondary schools that require auditions, such as arts schools, athletic schools and music conservatories. The fields for which a leaving examination in mathematics will be mandatory will be established by Government decree.
Lower house legislators proposed establishing those fields by adopting a law on the issue, but that idea was not approved. Those taking leaving examinations will be required to pass them in three mandatory subjects - Czech language, a foreign language, and mathematics.
The amendment will also revive assessments of written work in the Czech language and literature as of next year by the Center for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (Centrum pro zjišťování výsledků vzdělávání - CERMAT), which will also create and deliver the unified entrance tests. Czech Senator Eliška Wagnerová (for the Green Party) opposed that idea, questioning whether people who do not know the students at all should assess their essay work.
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