This post reviews Yvona Kostelecká, “Home Education in the Post Communist Countries: Case Study of the Czech Republic” in International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 3, no. 1 (October 2010). Available Here.
Kostelecká, a member of the education faculty at Charles University in Prague, here tries to get purchase on homeschooling in the wider world of post-Communist Eastern Europe by looking in detail at the Czech Republic. Her conclusion? It’s legal but rare and heavily regulated.
Kostelecká begins with a survey of changes made to education law in the various post-communist European countries. Poland, Russia, Estonia, and Hungary all made provisions for some form of home-based instruction in the early 1990s. The Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia would do the same over the next two decades.
In 1998 the Czech Republic, responding to the activism of parents and some well-placed experts, created a five year experiment, allowing a target group of children in grades 1-5 to be educated at home to see how it went. Eventually 5 schools (two religious and 3 public) were designated as part of the experiment, and parents interested in joining it had to ask the school for permission to keep their kids at home. Kostelecká notes that several other post-communist countries similarly tied early homeschooling oversight to the local school. In the Czech Republic, local school directors decided who could do it and compiled lengthy annual reports of the experiment and its results. 62 children were enrolled in the experiment’s first year. By year five there were 307.
Study of the reports filed has revealed two basic types of homeschoolers in the Czech Republic during these years. One kind had been led to the practice by necessity given their children’s negative experiences in school. For them, homeschooling was a last resort. Many of these children had special needs.
The other kind were committed in principle to the concept of homeschooling, eager to exert a more complete influence on their child’s upbringing and avoid some of the perceived negatives associated with institutional schooling. Most of these families were devoted Christians and had larger than average families. Kostelecká explains how this dichotomy has been found in many post-Communist countries. Some have even enshrined it into law, making different provisions for students homeschooling because of a behavioral or learning disability than for students homeschooling by parental choice.
Each school involved in the study had its own approach to homeschooling. The religious schools were more hands-off, while the public schools created elaborate and, to the parents, quite invasive policies and procedures that had to be kept. All children were evaluated twice a year, though it was left up to the school how to do it. Again, the religious schools tended toward softer forms of evaluation like discussion between a teacher and the entire family, who presented a portfolio. The public schools tended toward testing.
The year after the experiment concluded, in 2004, the Czech parliament adopted a new Education Act. The act basically extended to all elementary schools the same rights accorded to the 5 experimental schools. Parents could submit to the school an application to homeschool their child. So long as the parents have completed secondary education and have obtained a letter of support from an accredited psychological counselor, the school has the authority to grant their request. Children permitted to homeschool must be evaluated twice a year. Kostelecká notes that other post-Communist countries have similar or even more restrictive laws. Slovak law, for instance, requires that the primary educator be a certified teacher.
In the Czech Republic parents can send their kids to any elementary school they want, so schools who have developed a reputation for being homeschool friendly have become popular havens for Czech homeschoolers. Though current law still only allows the practice through the fifth grade, another experiment is currently underway with a few 6th to 9th graders to see if an extension of the home education provisions is feasible.
And there you have it. This was the first piece I’ve ever read about homeschooling in these countries, and I found it fascinating and accessible. It will be interesting to see what the future holds in these regions–whether these early experiments with homeschooling will lead gradually to fewer regulations and more homeschooling or not. I was particularly intrigued by the two homeschooler types laid out. They’re very different than the two types most commonly described in the American literature (pedagogues and ideologues, inclusives and believers, or, to use my own terms, open and closed communion). In the Eastern European reckoning, BOTH the conservative religious homeschooler and the liberal unschooler are one type, and the other is homeschooling by necessity. Readers may recall that the most recent NCES data found that 11% of American homeschoolers reported a child’s special need as a motivation for homeschooling. Maybe it’s time to think of these homeschoolers as a different animal than the religious or pedagogical radical homeschoolers.