Study and work ethics
In most countries across Europe, it would be advisable for secondary school pupils to think about continuing their educational career for another four years or so. In Finland and Sweden, it would be hard to find a job without a third-level education diploma. Young Slovenians will utterly disappoint their parents if they choose not to go to university. The situation in the Czech Republic is a bit different. Here`s an overview of the Czech school system, which partly explains why so many start working right after finishing secondary school.
The official school life of a Czech child starts at the age of 6. Usually, the kid will by then have attended two years of pre-school, followed by an assessment that determines whether he or she is psychologically ready to start going to school.
`Czech Employers praise hard work over good ideas and own initiatives`
Primary and lower secondary school
According to the Czech school system, the child will then spend nine years in `basic school`, which is divided in primary school and lower secondary school. Oftentimes, pupils can stay in one and the same building during all nine years of `basic school`. Only if they live in small villages, they may need to go to a bigger adjacent city during the four final years. Throughout basis school Classes all have one teacher for all subjects, classes are around 30 pupils in size.
Every year of basic school is concluded by an assessment that decides whether the pupil will be promoted to the next grade. It is however fairly uncommon for children to `double` a year. The final purpose of the basic school is to prepare everybody for the `higher secondary school`.
Higher secondary school
According to the choice of the pupil, higher secondary school can be a general gymnasium or an institution that specializes in a limited number of subjects. During higher secondary school, pupils are focusing on the upcoming Maturita. Most young Czechs are eager pass this exam, as failing to obtain it will limit the choice for a future job to a minimum. `All normal people finish their secondary school`, says Sterpan (23). `Only a handful of gypsies possibly don`t`, he adds. `Out of the 30 classmates I had when I went to higher secondary school, 25 finished at the same time as me. The other five had moved to other schools before or somehow caught some delay on the way.`
Stepan did not really have one specific favourite subject. `I did take English from the age of 13, which is quite common these days. German used to be popular too, but many pupils are now looking for ways to replace it by French or Spanish.` Lubos`s (22) favourite school subject was to drink beer in the pub at the end of the day, `or the combination of girls and biology`, he jokes. Adriana (28) remembers how her school class went on a short trip to Barcelona ? by bus. `The parents needed to pay for the trip, so some children unfortunately couldn`t join. They would spend the same time studying in another class while waiting for the others to come back. It was quite a new thing at the time. It would be more common for pupils to have a `camp week`, just going out in nature and doing scouting-type of activities`, she says.
Adriana also remembers her tricks for passing tests without properly preparing. `I would write small notes and hold them in my hand, or under the exam paper. Whenever I got caught, I would get punished with a 5, which in our system represents the lowest possible grade, and obviously a fail. 1 would be the highest mark one could get.`
To most Czech pupils, the final exam of secondary school is the most significant moment in a their educational careers. The exam is state organised and combines Czech language, mathematics and a minimum of two optional subjects. The year leading to the Maturita is also rich in events that celebrate the forthcoming completion of secondary schools. Most schools organise galas and the tradition prescribes that each class creates a `photo-board` that shows the faces of all pupils as well as the director of their year. The photo boards can have anything from passport photo portraits to nude photography, depending on the creativity of the class. Photo boards are put on display in shops ? the competition obviously being to negotiate the busiest places in town or the most prestigious or elegant shop windows.
In theory, the Maturita allows pupils to pursue a scientific career or enter one of the professional universities. In reality, virtually each and every third-level curriculum has entrance exams for anybody who is not a Straight A student. The competition can be fierce, especially for those applying at the prestigious Charles University in Prague. On top of that, the entrance exams follow the Maturita by no more than a week or two.
Many students apply for several entrance exams in different cities, in an attempt to increase the chances of success. The fact that universities need to reserve about 20% of their capacity for foreign students is frustrating many entrance examinees. The biggest reproach go to Slovakian students, who are the most likely to fill up a good share of the 20% without having to pass the rigorous Czech entrance exams. Iveta (31) thinks that the situation is slowly getting better, simply because the age group that is now getting ready to start university if smaller than at the time she was studying.
Karla (19) is preparing for three entrance exams in the field of medicine. `I would like to study in Brno but it all depends on the results of my tests. My other applications are for Prague and Olomouc University. I prepare by checking out the tests of previous years, because they serve as a good indication of the kind and level of knowledge they expect.`
University ends by a state exam and the submission and defense of a thesis, but only rarely includes professional training. Martina (26, photo) tells me that there is a `practice period`, during which a student will have to spend some time at a company to participate in what`s happening and then write a report about it: `It`s supposed to be related to your final thesis, but you will do it before you cast a definite decision on the subject of your thesis so you can do just about everything you want to do.`
Martina tells me that only 10% of secondary school pupils will choose to continue after the Maturita. `Universities are prestigious, even the professional ones. Having a title sounds good and it has recently even become compulsory for certain areas of the public service. Which is strange by the way, my mother has worked as a nurse for 30 years and she now all of a sudden needs to get a university diploma to keep her job.`
Martine continues: `Anyway, in most industries and particularly the commercial area, employers will not look for theoretical knowledge. It`s not a guarantee that someone will do his or her job right. It is a guarantee for higher salary demands that reflect the time and money somebody invested in studying. University graduates are older then Maturita students but they have less practical experience. Apart from that, Czech employers praise hard work and loyalty. The one who gets promoted is the one who spends most of his time in the office. People who leave their desks at five are looked at with suspicion. In some branches, it is not common to find people who do 50 hours of overtime work per month. The more spare time you are willing to sacrifice, the more of a reliable colleague you are and the higher your chances of promotion will go. And the higher you get up in the organisation, the more work is expected of you. It`s not even so much about the quality or efficiency of the work. It`s about how much time you are willing to invest ? period. In my case, I once worked all the time for one month and remember exactly nothing from that month except that it was November.`
Michael (25) started working after school and quickly got promoted in a company selling medical equipment. `I am only now starting to do a university course. Not so much because of the content or reflection level. It`s more of the ego that tells me to do it. I feel a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by many people who do have a bunch of titles in front of their names. It won`t change the way I work with them, it will just make me feel good.`I think our working ethics somehow compare to the Japanese ones. This overtime habit is quite pressing on people`s private lives. Sometimes you almost forget that you`re actually alive.`
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