Pavel and Fiala Visit Regional Schools To Mark New Year, Amid Concerns Over Education Budget Cuts
Pavel visited schools in Bukovany and Sadov in the Karlovy Vary Region. Credit: Tomas Fongus / hrad.cz.
Bukovany, West Bohemia, Sept 4 (CTK) – President Petr Pavel arrived in a school in Bukovany in the Karlovy Vary Region this morning to wish the first-graders a successful start of the school year, telling the children that the important thing is not to be the best, but to be the best one can be.
“You will remember this day for the rest of your life,” Pavel told the children. “It is a big change in your life, you have been playing up until now and now you will have to learn, too. Everyone will enjoy something; the worst thing that could happen to you is that you would not enjoy anything.”
He also encouraged them to read. “Books are not the enemy, they are a window to the world. Books are beautiful things,” he said.
Pavel also said that education was a priority that the Czech Republic definitely cannot push aside, even in times of austerity, reacting to the Finance Ministry’s current proposal for a reduction of 20,000 jobs in the education sector. He said that if that proposal came to pass, the government would seem not to want to fulfil its education priorities, though he stressed that he did not yet know the current form of the proposal.
From Bukovany, the president went to the nearby Sadov, also in the Karlovy Vary Region, where he visited the primary school and kindergarten. He wished the children not to be afraid of school and to enjoy it.
The primary school and kindergarten in Sadov is one of the first schools in the Czech Republic established by a voluntary “union of municipalities”.
Explaining why the president chose to visit these particular schools, his communication department said he wanted to draw attention to how these schools can improve the quality and accessibility of education in the region through the cooperation of municipalities, noting there are very few such schools in the Czech Republic so far.
Prior to his inauguration in March, Pavel already highlighted the shortcomings in the education system as one of the main problems of the Karlovy Vary Region, along with the absence of universities.
The region had 8,277 secondary school students and 26,071 primary school students in the previous school year. Many of the schools face a shortage of teachers, and the proportion of unqualified teachers in primary schools in the region is the highest in the Czech Republic (based on data from 2021/2022). The region also has a higher rate of pupils who do not finish primary school, and lacks tertiary education.
Pavel visited the Karlovy Vary Region for the first time shortly before his election as president, and then again before his inauguration in March.
He said in February that if there were more universities and colleges in the Karlovy Vary Region, it would guarantee that young people would not leave the region. He also said that structurally affected regions, including the Karlovy Vary Region, deserved more attention and support from the state.
Meanwhile, PM Petr Fiala (ODS) and Education Minister Mikulas Bek (STAN) visited students at the horticulture secondary school in Rajhrad, near Brno. Fiala, whose wife is a graduate of horticultural school, told the students that one of the most important gifts they can get from school is the desire to be open to new things and to learn throughout their lives.
Fiala commended the school for its combination of practical and general education. “You have a science lyceum and that is a good example of how education should be developed in our country,” he added.
The Education Ministry is preparing a change that will allow regions to better reflect the local demands for education. He said during the visit in Rajhrad today that lyceums and grammar schools will be developed as part of this change.
Bek also reiterated that his ministry’s budget for next year would almost certainly not be reduced, despite the fact that the draft published by the Finance Ministry mentioned CZK 11.6 billion less in spending than this year. “We are somewhere in the middle in terms of budget negotiations,” said Bek. “I want to urge us not to panic. I now consider it virtually certain that the budget of the education sector will not fall, although I would like the result to be even better.”
He added that teachers would probably be the only group of public employees whose salaries would rise, while any savings in the school sphere would affect non-teaching professions. He refused to comment on the planned reduction in the number of these jobs by 20,000.
The education sector employees’ trade unions criticised the Finance Ministry’s draft education budget for 2024, and the EDUin organisation also expressed reservations, saying the proposed cuts would harm regional education the most.
Although the draft budget envisages a rise of teachers’ salaries to 130% of the average pay, the ministry proposes cuts of CZK 13 billion in regional education. “The government has given up the accepted strategies and a systemic view. Cuts are being made without any attempt to implement a systemic reform,” said EDUin director Miroslav Hrebecky.