Ahoj! This is Maddie Dosser and Jessica McDowell and we're here to tell you all about our day in Prague!
We started out this morning with a trip to a gymnasium. A gymnasium is like the Czech's version of high school. Students can enter gymnasium after 5th grade, 7th grade, or 9th grade at their primary school. Gymnasium is optional, and goes from the time students enter through grade 13. All the students at this gymnasium came from the 9th grade because it is only a four year school. Gymnasiums are more academic than primary schools.
The name of the school was "Gymnazium Na Zatlance". The head mistress talked to us for a while, but she spoke only Czech so she had an interpreter. She spoke to us about the history and make-up of the school. The school was built during the First World War. There are 16 classes and 480 students. Mostly all of the students that attend this gymnasium will attend university. This is a language school so many languages are taught here, such as English, German, and French. They have a program with the European Union called the Erasmian European Youth Parliament. Projects are encouraged in the curriculum here. The ministry sets the basics of the curriculum, but the schools have the freedom to write their own year long curriculums.
Jessica had the chance to talk to five first year students. The students were able to ask and answer question with amazing English. We learned that a lot of focus is put on conversing in Czech schools during foreign language instruction. When students matriculate from primary school to gymnasium, they must take an entrance exam and may be able to choose where they go, depending upon their scores. In gymnasium, there is an option to study abroad; however, the student's parents would have to pay all of the expenses. These students told us that the teachers typically lecture them and they take notes. They also said that they study or do homework for about an hour every day, a stark contrast to American high schoolers. The teachers here also seem to use tests as a motivational tool.
Maddie was able to go watch a fourth year student perform her final exam for English language. Afterwards, she got to talk to the student and get her to explain what happened. She went into the room and chose a number from a bag, and the number correlated to a prompt in English for which the student had to prepare a speech. She had twenty minutes to write her speech. Then, she basically had a conversation with two teachers. She said that the English classes are split up by ability group, so it was her English teacher and the "better" English teacher. She answered questions about the weather, acted as though she were planning a party, and gave her speech on current events. The student told Maddie that she was very nervous, but it was her last exam so she was happy to be done. These exams are only given at the end of the final year, and students have to take five exams total. They take two from the state - Czech and either English or Math. Next year, Math will be a mandatory exam as well. They can choose their three best subjects to take at the school level. This student chose Biology, Chemistry, and Geography. After these exams, students can choose to go to University or some sort of higher education, if they want to at all.
We ended the school visit with a tour. We saw a chemistry classroom and lab, a biology classroom, and the library. Overall, the school was very interesting.
After lunch, we toured a pedagogical museum called J.A. Komenského. The museum showcased different time periods in Czech's history. We wrote with quill pens and ink, used old Slovic impressions, and saw artifacts. The Czech Republic had a communist period and was on the Axis side of World War II, so they have a lot of interesting history involving the education of children.
To end our day, we had a lecture. Our speaker, Bob, studies both Scandinavian and Czech education systems. He works for a non-profit NGO that is working to actively reform the Czech education system. This was a nice review of both Finnish and Czech systems. The speaker said that the biggest difference between the two countries laid not within the education, but within the societies. For example, the Czech spends a very small amount on education. Without funding, teachers are not paid well and not as motivated to work well. Teachers are paid less than $1,000 a month in the Czech Republic. The wealthiest people pay to send their children to private school, because they're more concerned with their children than with children across the whole area. This is similar to the US system in that it is a more selfish society. As Americans, we tend to think of ourselves before we think of others.
The lessons are set up fairly similarly to the United States in my opinion. Here, the classes are set up as instruction followed by reproduction. Most of the teachers started their careers in totalitarianism, so this system works well in the majority of teacher's eyes.