Record: Yvona Kostelecká, “The Legal Status of Home Education in Post-Communist Countries of Central Europe” in International Review of Education 58, no. 4 (August 2012): 445-463.
Summary: Kostelecká, on the faculty of education at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and author of a fine 2010 piece on home education in the Czech Republic, here expands her scope to five post-communist states in Central Europe: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, and Hungary.
Kostelecká begins by explaining that after the 1989 collapse of Communism in Central Europe many countries moved toward “more democratic and more individualized education.” (p. 448) This did not at first, however, include home education, which was viewed as a little too radical at the time.
In the early 1990s some countries began to warm to home education at least a bit. Poland was the first to do so when its 1991 Education Act legalized a form of the practice. Hungary followed suit in 1993, and Slovenia joined in 1996. The Czech Republic began a very limited experiment with home education in 1998, finally legalizing the practice more generally in 2004. Slovakia only began allowing for home education at all in 2008.
Though legal, home education remains heavily regulated in all of these countries. Each country’s laws have developed independently and have hit upon different ways to regulate home education. The rest of Kostelecká’s article explains these differences and also provides the best information she can on demographics.
Relatively few families in these countries seem to be choosing home education. Here are estimates of numbers of children based on the best data Kostelecká has:
Czech Republic: 500
Poland: about 40
Slovakia and Slovenia: less than 20 each.
Despite these low numbers, every country has at least one support group for home educating parents.
Here follows a rundown of the differences between the laws in the various countries:
1. Permission: In Hungary and Slovenia parents may simply decide to educate their children at home without having to provide a reason why. In Hungary, permission must be granted by a local child welfare officer, who must be contacted by the director of whatever school the child had been attending. Slovenia also requires that the director of the school which the child had been attending be contacted. In Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia parents must not only be granted permission by a local school professional but also must explain the reason why they want to choose this option. All three countries have extensive requirements that must be met before permission is granted.
2. Requirements: In Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia home educated children must pass the same annual examinations non home-educated children take. If a child does not pass, permission to home educate is revoked. Slovenia allows a second exam in case of failure of the standard national content exams, and Hungary does not have this requirement. In all five countries the local school is the body responsible for supervising the child’s home education and determining whether or not a home educated child can advance to the next grade.
3. Qualifications: Slovakia is the strictest here, requiring home educators to be highly qualified educational professionals. That means that most parents who want home education in Slovakia will have to hire a professionally certified tutor to do it. Other countries are less strict but still have vague requirements about appropriateness of setting or curricular quality that give wide discretion to local school operators.
In general, Kostelecká concludes, all of these countries have decentralized regulatory oversight but tight national regulations. These regulations ironically require that home educators be in far closer contact with local school professionals than they would have had to be were their children still attending school. While post-communist educational policy in all of these countries has generally led to greater parental participation in the nations’ schools, home educators are confronted with a very restrictive regulatory climate that puts them in an extremely subordinate position. A gradual loosening of these restrictive regulations would doubtless increase the number of families choosing home education in the future.
Appraisal: This article is a clear and authoritative guide to its topic. There is very little English language scholarship on home education in Central and Eastern Europe. Kostelecká’s survey here joins Hagen’s article on Albania and her own more detailed study of the Czech Republic to provide the most complete picture available in English of home education practice and regulations in Central Europe. For this we are all in her debt.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College