At some point in their child’s education, many parents contemplate the question of whether or not to choose a public or private school. In the UK and the US, private schools typically offer more academic support at a heftier price tag, but is this the case in the Czech Republic?
The answer, of course, depends on who you ask. Expat families who wish to fully submerge their kids in the language and culture of the Czech Republic might decide that a state school is the best option. [For suggestions on how to go about choosing the right Czech public school for your child, see our articles here and here.]
Czech natives might also bring up the fact that, originally, Czech private schools held the rather unfortunate reputation of being facilities for troubled children who were unwilling or unable to succeed at public schools and needed more help and supervision. For the most part, however, this has changed, and private schools in Prague now offer many of the benefits we have come to expect of private schools elsewhere.
Class sizes are smaller
One of the primary advantages of private schools, says Petra Šedivcová of the English International School of Prague (EISP), is smaller class sizes. Whereas classes of thirty plus children are not uncommon in public schools, the EISP has a strict teacher-to-student ratio of 1:4 in nursery, 1:8 in kindergarten, 1:15 in elementary school and a maximum of 1:22 in senior school.
Dalibor Herbrich, a final-year student at EISP, agrees, saying that many of his friends in public schools are usually in classes of at least 25 students. After 11 years of state education, Herbrich switched to private school and likes the fact that now most of his optional senior classes are taught in groups of five to ten students, while only the most popular courses reach the maximum number of 22. Because the classes are so much smaller, says Herbrich, “Teachers pay more attention to each student’s results and goals.”
Close attention is paid
The difference in class sizes, reasons Šedivcová, means that teachers are able to adapt their methods to individual students. Teachers at public schools often do not have the time, patience, or the resources to offer anything more than a group approach. As a result, students are given a grade between 1 and 5 (1 being the best, 5 the worst) and their success is assessed based purely on those scores. Private school teachers, on the other hand, have more time to devote to evaluating the whole child. The EISP holds regular “progress conferences”, where teachers meet to monitor each student’s progress with regards to individual targets set for them.
Šedivcová recalls one student who was making As in all her classes, but whose teachers insisted that she be pushed harder because she was underperforming in terms of her ability. Likewise, pupils who are not faring as well academically are able to receive the support they need in order to succeed, rather than being exposed to the sink-or-swim mentality common in public schools.
Better salaries mean happier teachers
In general, Šedivcová believes, the quality of teaching is higher in private schools than in public. This sentiment is echoed by the mother of another EISP student, Adela N., who says that she has noticed a big difference in the quality of teaching since transferring to private school. Instead of focusing on a large volume of information to be memorized in order to pass a test, private school education tends to emphasize contextual knowledge and encourages students’ critical thinking and independent research.
Because teachers are better-paid in private schools than in their public counterparts, it is easier for the former to attract and retain high quality professionals, who also benefit from ongoing training. Of course, Šedivcová is quick to point out, this does not mean that there are not excellent and enthusiastic teachers in public schools who do their best for their students’ success. However, better quality control methods and increased pressure from parents in private schools does have an effect on the standard of education.
Instruction in the mother tongue
Apart from the difference in the quality of education, it seems that many families who opt for private school do so, at least initially, because of the English-language of instruction. Expat families who wish their children to be educated in their mother tongue will find that private school really is the only option. (See our list of international schools in Prague.) Similarly, Czech families who wish to expose their children to a different cultural environment and to improve their linguistic skills also elect to send them to private school.
Although foreign language classes are offered as a matter of course in Czech public schools, receiving the bulk of their education in that language greatly enhances students’ fluency. Dalibor Herbrich chose to study at the EISP because he wanted to be taught in English, and Adela N.’s mother states that they originally switched to private school because it offered Adela “The possibility to study in the English language and in a rich multicultural environment.” As a result, Adela feels more at home in international surroundings and, should she choose to do so, she will find it easier to study at a foreign university in the future.
Worth the price tag?
Of course, families who decide to send their children to private school can expect to pay a lofty sum for the privilege, with tuition fees in Prague private schools ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 CZK for an academic year.
Whether you choose a public school or a private one, Šedivcová stresses the importance of making sure you do proper research into the educational program offered. It is essential to ask questions, meet with the principal and other teachers, speak to families with experience at the school, attend open days and events, look into exam results and university success and, if possible, send your child to a trial day to see how they feel in that particular educational environment.
The main thing, after all, is that your child feels encouraged, challenged, and at home, wherever they go to school.