'A step backwards': Proposed changes to Czech foreign-language curriculum draw scrutiny

The Education Ministry has proposed abolishing the requirement to learn a second language from the eighth grade onwards.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 21.04.2022 12:50:00 (updated on 21.04.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

The Czech Education Ministry, led by Minister of Education Petr Gazdík under the new coalition government, has proposed sweeping and controversial changes to the Czech curriculum.

Among the headline changes is a motion to remove the requirement for children from eighth grade upwards to learn a second foreign language. The proposal has now drawn criticism from ambassadors of other EU countries who say learning a foreign language provides Czech children with more attractive future job opportunities.

“Language skills are a key prerequisite for crossing borders. Due to the great interconnectedness of our economies, knowledge of the German language is also of considerable importance in everyday life," said German Ambassador Andreas Künne, speaking to Lidovky.cz.

"Coming just before the start of the Czech Presidency of the European Council, the abolition of the second compulsory foreign language would not send a very good signal to European partners; as recently as 2019, the European Council identified multilingualism as a common European goal.”

Proponents of the change argue that removing the compulsory second foreign language would leave children more time to study one foreign language well, which, in Czech schools is nearly always English. Other EU states are, understandably, unhappy with this argument.

“Together with my French, Spanish and Italian colleagues, a letter has been sent to Minister Gazdík asking him to abandon these ideas and have an open dialogue instead,” Künne added. The French language attaché to Czechia, Eric Playout, meanwhile described the proposed change as “a step backwards for European goals.”

The group of ambassadors pointed out in their letter to Gazdík that the move would likely make large European languages a minority interest in schools. The ambassadors also expressed concerns that relegating second languages to optional status could lead to a deterioration in teaching standards.

In Czech schools learning a second language is standard at the latest from 8th (around 13 years of age) but many schools offer a second language since 6th grade after completion of years 1-5. According to the Czech Statistical Office data from 2017, almost 98 percent of all European students, including those from the Czech Republic were learning English.

The Ministry of Education has nonetheless emphasized that even though English is a lingua franca for many Europeans, there is no requirement for English to be the first language learned at Czech schools.

“Making English mandatory as the first foreign language is not foreseen in the proposal,” a spokesperson for the Ministry said.

The Ministry’s proposal was left open to comments from the professional public, and around 500 teachers as well as numerous school associations have already had their say. Again, the abolition of a compulsory secondary language was the most contentious issue.

Public criticisms of the language learning change have also included the claim that if secondary languages are no longer compulsory, linguists specializing in certain languages could lose work.

The Education Ministry has also dismissed this complaint, though, saying concerns about the future effects of the proposal on the labor market are mere speculation. It’s not yet clear what difference opening the proposal up to public comments will have on its final form.

A document on potential revisions to the proposal should be issued in June to be agreed upon by the ministry and subsequently adopted by the National Pedagogical Institute.

The ministry wants to issue the finalized educational framework for primary schools in September 2023, to be made compulsory from September 2025. The new program should be implemented across all school grades from September 2029.

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