Sunday, September 5, 2010

Czech School System

September 1st was the start of the 2010-2011 school year for primary and basic school. The university students start at the end of the month.

Here's a high-level view of how the education system works here in the ČR. There are always exceptions for special programs such as conservatories or for children with special needs.

Children begin with preschool and continue on to elementary and secondary school. After that comes university and post-graduate education. The grading system here is on a scale from 1 (best) to 5 (worst). So a Czech “1” is the same as an American “A” and a Czech “5” is an American “F”.

Elementary school here takes 9 years to complete, usually from ages 6 to 15. Elementary school is divided up in to two stages. The primary stage is grades 1 – 5. The lower secondary stage is grades 6 – 9. Students leave elementary school with a Vysvědčení.

Then there are 3 types of secondary/basic school - either general, technical or vocational - and it normally lasts for four years (grades 10 – 13). Students leave secondary school with a vocational certificate or a Maturita (like a high school diploma).

Not many students go for the general option because in the 5th grade most students apply to study at a gymnasium which finishes with the 13th grade. A gymnasium is a “high school” that prepares students for university and professional study.

Across the street from my flat is the high school for technical engineering.

Czech students spend their entire academic career with the same 25-30 classmates all the way from elementary school through “high school”. That’s a big difference from how it works in the U.S.

In order to qualify for university study students have to complete final exams. There’s a Czech language test, several exams in the student’s area of specialization, and an exam on a topic of the student’s choice. These exams consist of two parts. There is a common state portion and portion that is specific to each school. If a student successfully passes these exams then they can apply to specific universities. But that means more tests because each university has its own entrance exam.
In general here's how university system works…

A bachelor’s degree normally takes three years. At the end of 3 years, students take a final exam which includes the defense of a bachelor’s thesis.

A master’s degree takes another 2 to 3 years after the bachelor’s degree. Again, there is a final exam and the defense of a master’s thesis.

For certain fields of study there is no bachelor’s degree…students just work all the way through until they complete a master’s degree. For medicine and veterinary medicine it takes 6 years. Dentistry, law, engineering or teacher training takes 5 years to complete.

It takes 2 – 3 more years to receive a Ph.D. degree. This requires research, final exams and another thesis.

Academic credentials are a big deal here. But more on that later.

There is a lot of competition to study at public universities because it is free as long as students pass the entrance exams. Private universities are becoming more popular here but they charge tuition.

At age 26, students are no longer eligible for student status from social services and lose their health insurance while they study. So everyone tries to finish school before they turn 26.

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