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Culture International Voices

Education in the Czech Republic is No Joke

Pavlina Cerna April 1, 2019

Illustration credit: Peter Naktin

I was born in the Czech Republic and lived there for 20 years. I moved to the U.S. after high school and let me tell you, the educational system in the Czech Republic is no joke!

While many schools in the Czech Republic use a generic standardized test similar to the SAT, some have their own exams specific to the field and tailored to the college.

My first career choice ever since I watched Gilmore Girls as a teenager has been journalism.

Nevertheless, there are universities that have their own entrance exams. The one for journalism consisted of a general knowledge exam, including information about famous journalists from various countries, current world events and the history of journalism. On top of that, the test is also partially in a foreign language.

Needless to say, I did not pass. Heartbroken, I accepted admission to the Institute of Economic Studies in Prague where I was accepted thanks to my SAT-similar test score and knowledge, yet no passion, for math.

Early in my first semester I realized that I had no interest in such a major, though I did enjoy math to a certain extent.

I decided to fight harder for my dreams.

My new goal was to move to the U.S. for a year, become fluent in English, then return home to apply for journalism again.

That plan did not end as I expected. Six years later, I am still here, happily studying journalism at Temple in a language I was not even fluent in at the time I moved to the U.S.

From the beginning, I noticed many differences not only in the university-level education, but starting in the elementary level in the U.S.

In the Czech Republic, we don’t take big yellow school buses every morning. Instead we walk or take public transportation. I was eight when my mom decided that I was big enough to walk home alone.

We also don’t have letter grades. Our grading system is a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 means A+ and 5 means F. We receive a grade report twice a year, one at the end of January when the first half of the school year ends, and one on the very last day of school.

We don’t have middle schools. Elementary school runs for nine years, up to the age of 15. Instead, we split elementary school into lower level, which encompasses first to fifth grade, and upper lower, which encompasses sixth to ninth grade.

What we do have are warm lunches every day! Almost every school and high school has a huge cafeteria where students get warm lunches for $1 to $3 depending on their age. We can usually choose from two different options.

By the end of elementary school, students decide what high school they want to attend. The decision is very important because it is the beginning of their career path. High schools in the Czech Republic have specific majors and focuses. You can learn about I.T., nursing, business, economy and many different industries to a sufficient degree, which allows you to look for a job right off high school without further education.

High school normally ends with one single final test, called MATURITA, which could be translated as “graduation.” Depending on the field studied, a student picks four to five subjects from which he or she will graduate with, studies all he or she ever ever learned about them based on categories the subject is divided into.

The day the student graduates, he or she picks a number from a bowl and is then told the category he or she is assigned with. He or she has 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to present as much information about the topic as possible. There is a panel of professors asking the student additional questions and testing his or her knowledge.

Having to summarize successfully years of knowledge within 15 minutes is based entirely on luck, and maturita was one of the most stressful days I have experienced thus far.

After the fall of the Communist era when one had to be a member of the party to further his or her education, getting a bachelor’s degree in my country has become more and more popular in recent years.

However, because entrance exams weren’t proven to prepare students for college, many universities divert from them and prefer their own tests, or simply admit students based on maturita scores and the final grades from their last three years.

There are two semesters each year just like in the U.S., but that’s where the similarity ends.

Students are mostly not obligated to attend classes, although there are exceptions and professors who take attendance. While there might be some small tests throughout the semester, it is the big final test in each subject that matters the most. Students have to prove that they understand all the materials discussed during the semester in written and often verbal exam, sometimes during a one-on-one with the professor.

I don’t know about you, but there is attendance taken in all my classes at Temple and there is always so much to do from one day to another.

The U.S. system makes so much more sense. Collecting grades throughout the year and weighing them accordingly at the end of the semester, instead of having to prove all the knowledge within a-few-minute-time block, proves hard work.

Overall, while we start our education “late” in the Czech Republic , we outrun the United States before we finish high school.

Being a nanny to three children, one first grader and two preschoolers, I saw American kids go to first grade fluent in reading and able to write to a decent degree. They could count and write numbers. While it might be just be about the individual, we spend our time in kindergarten playing, not learning, in the Czech Republic.

On the other hand, I once took a math class in college in the U.S. whose content I learned in 8th grade and I was bored the whole semester. Helping a friend studying for his chemistry exam, I also found out that I knew most of what he was learning from my upper level elementary classes. It made me feel that Americans start off running a marathon, then just walk toward post-secondary education.

What I cannot forget to mention is that the education in the Czech Republic is free up to the age of 26. Why am I studying in the United States then? you might ask. Know that I ask myself the same question very often. It is probably for my love of the English language. It is also for my ambition to achieve big things beyond the borders of my small country. But know that the Czech Republic has a great education system and if you ever have a chance to study abroad there, you should go!