Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) – July 10, 2015

Czech Home-Schooling Grows in Popularity

By Shuang Guo

PRAGUE — It is a sunny Friday morning. Zoe, a ten-year-old girl, has just finished her breakfast. Instead of getting on her mother’s car and heading to school, Zoe entered her study room and took out a history fiction book, starting her day of work. It is a typical day for kids like Zoe, who are home-schooled by their parents.

Zoe’s mother, Jan, is a Czech woman working in the Asociace pro domácí vzdělávání 
( Czech Association of Home Schooling ), and at the same time, a home educator herself. Jan used to be an English teacher of the local school, where she found most students were bored with classes and had no passion in learning. “What led me to home-schooling is that I’m not satisfied with our local school, and we don’t have access to those privilege ones.” Jan explained, “However, aside from that, in home-schooling environment, a parent can choose the type of book that can grab the kids, which would be almost impossible with 20 kids in public schools.”

Recently, Jan and her husband are planing to move to the city and find her daughter a good school. Because according to Czech’s law, only pupils aged 6-10 can be home-schooled. When home-schooled kids reach the age of 11, they have to leave their study room and go back to school.

Jan’s daughter is one of the 6635 home-schooled children in the Czech Republic, a relatively huge number in the post-communist region. Based on the good result of an previous experiment, the Czech government adopted an Education Act in 2004 which assured parents’ rights to home-school pupils aged 6-10 in all primary schools in the Czech Republic. Later on, another experiment targeted to pupils aged 11-15 started, to see whether an extension of the home-education provisions is feasible.The number of families and students involved in the experiment increases from year to year.

The experiment was supposed to end around 2013, since it started in 2007. But it was extended indefinitely , and last year it expanded from 9 to 19 pilot schools. “This extension is intended to obtain additional and relevant information about the experiment before the Ministry decides about the extension to this level of education,” stated Paed Dr. Miroslava Salavcová, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

Mrs.Salavcová explained that members of parliament still discuss on this issue, and there are two different views on the expansion of this form of education to lower secondary school.

Education Minister Marcel Chládek (Social Democrats, ČSSD) described home-schooling as a hotbed of extreme ideologies. His words were strongly criticized by opinion writer, Martin Zvěřina, in daily Lidové noviny (LN). He writes that Chládek has been using false arguments in his effort not to allow home-schooling of students who are over 10 years old. According to Zvěřina, Chládek considers schools an instrument of unified indoctrination, same as former communist regime leaders.

It all began with the 1989 collapse of communism in Central Europe. Many countries moved toward “more democratic and more individualized education” since then, wrote by Mgr. Yvona Kostelecká, Ph.D.  This did not at first, however, include home education, which was viewed as a little too radical at the time.

The modern home-school movement began in the 1970s in America.An educational theorist and supporter of school reform, named John Holtthought that formal schools’ focus on rote learning created an oppressive environment designed to make children compliant employees. Holt’s arguments inspired the first group of home-schooling parents, who aimed to liberate their children from formal education. In this period, early home-schoolers generally cooperated with their local school boards. Raymond Moore, an educational theorist, stated in his book, “ in 80 to 90% of all cases, local public school administrators and primary teachers … are understanding.”

In 1980s, when evangelical and fundamentalist Christians entered the movement, the tenor of home-schooling changed.These newer home-schoolers took an antagonistic outlook toward public school administrators, which eventually ignited the fire of war. With the increasing of uncooperative Christian home-schooling families, the states began to treat home-schooling groups as a threaten to public schools and the mainstream value.

By 1990, homeschooling was no longer connected to the liberal-leaning educational reform movement, as it had been in the 1970s, but rather to conservative religious ideas and the Christian Right. Unfortunately, this was the time people in Central Europe became familiar with the whole concept of home-schooling. Not a good start, indeed.

Back to the post-communist region. In 1990s, some countries started to warm to home-education a bit. Poland was the first to do so when its 1991 Education Act established home-education as a legalized educational option. Hungary followed in 1993, and Slovenia joined the group in 1996.  Around 1998, an five-year-experiment on home-schooling was carried out in the Czech Republic, in which 307 students were involved. One year after the experiment concluded, the government finally legalized the practice more generally in 2004. For Slovakia, it only began allowing for home-education at all in 2008. |

“This idea is not as exaggerated as it may seem,”stated Kara, the leader of Prague home-schooling group, “Things are quite different here”.

Yvona Kostelecká divided home-schooling families into two groups, which is very different than the two types most commonly described in American literature, as those trying to liberate their children and those turning to home-schooling out of serious religious reason. In the Czech Republic and other post-communist countries, existed a unique dichotomy. There are parents who committed to the concept of home-schooling and believe it will be better for their kids to stay away from institutional schooling. On the other hand, some parents saw home-schooling as their last resort. Many of these children have special needs, like some kind of disability, school environment phobia, psychiatric diagnosis etc.

“People still lack of understanding towards home-education,” said Jan, “they are deeply impressed by the worst side of home-schooling which was vaccinated to them by text books, however, didn’t exist in our country at all.”

Kara and her husband aren’t native Czechs, so when their daughter reach the age of 11 and are ought to attend lower secondary school, they could simply leave this country. But for thousands of Czech parents, they don’t have a choice. As a citizen, it is a kind of obligation to learn the Czech language and its history, thus they still have to register at a local school and attend the tests twice a year, which distinguished them from foreigners.

According to statements from The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the result of the newly started home-schooling experiment is relatively good. The pupils´ results do not significantly differ from the results of students who attend a conventional form of education. “However, The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports does not prepare the introduction of homeschooling in upper secondary schools,” stated Mrs. Salavcová, “because it is very difficult to home-school at this level. There would be a need of really high expertise of home educators.” “Individual educational plan can be used, if need be.” She added.