For most children and young adults in the Czech Republic autumn means the beginning of the new school year— new books, new friends, new teachers, new subjects.
The love of learning is a long-held tradition in the Czech Republic. In the Middle Ages, Prague was known as one of the most respected centers of academics and scholarship in all of Europe, where noble children and talented students from all over Europe studied in places like Charles University (founded in 1348). Unlike in medieval times, when only noble children received education, today schooling is mandatory for all children up to the age of 15, after which students can continue their studies or take a trade/join the work force. Like in America, basic public education is free, although the larger cities like Prague and Brno have several private academies for students whose parents pay for the opportunity to receive an American or British style private education in English or other languages.
After age 5, most children begin their studies in the local primary schools, many of which are only taught in Czech. Here, they are taught the basic subjects including reading and writing, mathematics, and the sciences. Many public schools offer foreign language instruction (most often English these days, but Russian and German are also popular options) as well, which begins earlier than in America.
Unlike in America, students have to decide after their 5th year of primary school where they would like to continue their education. Students who show academic promise can progress to a variety of programs which are often geared towards their particular talents and feature intensive foreign language programs. Other students, who would be better suited learning a trade or would like to enter the workforce more quickly can attend a range of schools suited for their needs.
Students who have not learned a trade and have attended more advanced lyceum or gymnasiums are offered the chance to take the maturita exam (an intense and comprehensive exam which is necessary to advance to the highest levels of Czech education) and university entrance exams. Like the elementary schools, Czech-language university tuition is free, regardless of degree or school, though books, supplies and room and board cost money. Students who wish to receive their university education in English must apply for special programs pay for their study. Many universities also offer internationally-famous courses of study for non-Czech speaking students in areas such as fine arts and medicine.
And last, but not least, a range of private universities and colleges have opened following the fall of Communism. Although these universities are not free nor quite as prestigious as the older Czech universities, they often have American or British accreditation, which are accepted abroad. They are also increasingly popular with foreign students who are attracted to the Czech Republic’s reputation for quality education, but who do not have the time or opportunity to learn Czech.
So, take advantage of the changing of the leaves and send your children off to school Czech-style! You’ll give them a great education, they’ll meet new friends, and you’ll even get them out of your hair a few hours a day.
Have fun and enjoy the schoold year 2015/2016!
Your Team of PraguExpats