The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Czechoslovak Secondary Education

Czechoslovak Secondary Education


Conditions in Bohemia have always been favorable to higher education. For a thousand years the regulations of the Catholic Church made necessary the training of candidates for priesthood in the Latin language. Other classes of the population were also reached very early by school influences. From the Hussite wars we have much contemporary evidence to show that knowledge of reading and writing was widely spread; Silvio Piccolomini, papal legate, states that plain Hussite women knew the Bible better than many an Italian priest.

Prague, the seat of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, became the cultural headquarters of Central Europe after the foundation of the university in 1348. This institution organized after the manner of the Paris university promptly took charge of the lower schools in the country in order to raise their standards and man them with university graduates. At the beginning of the 16th century we hear of more than one hundred such secondary schools of which about 30 could be compared to our present gymnasia. These schools were primarily Latin, but the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Bohemian Brethren) which used the language of the people in divine services infused a little of the national spirit into the Bohemian schools. The great bishop of the Unity, John Amos Comenius, began his work as school-teacher in Moravia and from schools of the Brethren he received inspiration for his epochal idea that school education must be based on mother-tongue. Unfortunately the youth of his own nation had to wait centuries for the liberation of its mother-tongue.

After the Hapsburgs had suppressed the revolution and religious reformation, higher education was turned over to the Jesuits. Latin ruled the schools, and a boy who would so forget himself as to speak Czech in school precints was rebuked. During the reign of Maria Theresa education was transferred from the church to the state. Gymnasia received boys at least ten years old and trained them for six years; then there followed a two year course in philosophy to prepare the students for the university. In the 19th century there came to be established the Austrian type of the Latin school, gymnasium with an eight year course; the language of instruction was German regardless of the language of the pupils.

In addition to the gymnasium there were found early in the 19th century so-called real schools, of a practical type. Originally this term signified trade schools with a curriculum of two or three years, resembling in their theoretical branches our present grammar schools. Later four more classes were added giving general education, and thus arose our present type of a secondary school with seven grades and without Latin. Reorganization of all Austrian secondary education was carried out in 1849. This reform was for its period very modern and practical. But later development was held up by constant political controversies which made parliamentary discussion and regulation of schools impossible. All higher education of the various nationalities of the empire was down to its break-up regulated from Vienna; the Poles alone had a certain measure of autonomy in secondary education. From the legal point of view the diets of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia had the right to regulate "real schools", but this remained a paper right. Vienna gave all the nations the same mental food.

In Austrian secondary schools there was a division between the four lower classes and the upper classes. Knowledge obtained in the lower classes in the sphere of history, natural history and physics is gone over once more and broadened in the higher classes. This, method has not proved its efficiency, it wastes time and is clumsy. Secondary schools were placed under such strict control of the state that even private institutions could not afford to vary from the type. Thence the excessive uniformity which is so startling to every stranger, thence lack of experiments and original innovations. Austrian schools in general lacked great leaders. Whereas in 1849 secondary schools were far superior to Prussian schools, gradually they became modeled after German types and German pedagogy was exclusively applied, as if other races did not have other needs. Then an account must be taken of the influence of the Established Catholic Church, hostile to the growth of modern ideas in schools, and the result was a type that only Czarist Russia was willing to imitate. Among the Czech people secondary schools as purely Austrian official institutions, were far from popular, although their number grew, because without their diplomas public posts could not be obtained and because no other higher education was available.

In the Bohemian lands development of secondary education, in spite of enforced uniformity, was marked by certain special characteristics. Language struggles and economic influences made themselves felt. For a long time Austrian ministers would not permit the introduction of Czech language into the secondary schools. When finally in the revolutionary year 1848 one Prague gymnasium was transformed into Czech school, the concession was recalled shortly after, when absolutism came back. But from 1860 the Czech language makes a victorious progress in all directions. The government, unable to suppress national aspirations, at least refused to establish new state schools. Czechs knew how to help themselves, and Czech cities, their request for a gymnasium turned down by the government, established their own secondary schools out of their insufficient means. Still more difficult was the struggle in the Moravian cities in which Germans maintained themselves articicially in control. The Czech people made penny collections and maintained secondary schools through special organizations, called School Funds (Matice Školská). Strangers find the development of these peculiar self-help organizations highly interesting. Later as the influence of Czech deputies grew, the government was compelled to take over the maintenance of these municipal and private institutions. But it had to be done in the Austrian way: if a Czech school was taken over by the state, a German school was immediately established, so as not to “favor” unduly the Czechs. Thus it came to be that Germans have in the Bohemian lands a great surplus of secondary schools; in Prague and suburbs, where Germans form about one-fourteenth of the population, there are 10 German state schools in comparison with 21 Czech. Altogether there are in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia 72 Czech gymnasia and “real” gymnasia, and 43 “real schools”, whereas the Germans have 58 gymnasia and “real” gymnasia, and 26 “real schools”. The Austrian government maintained for the Germans up to the very end quite superfluous schools in Czech districts, for instance an eight-grade gymnasium with 88 scholars and a seven-grade “real school” with 64 pupils. On the average Czech gymnasia had 350 students, German 220, Czech “real schools” 320, German 260.

Secondary schools thus became one of the bones of contention in the struggle of nationalities. Often in small towns both German and Czech secondary schools were erected, as the two nationalities vied with each other in the size of their educated classes. Whereas in France there was one secondary school to each 115,000 people, in the United States to 100,000, in Austria to 62,000 and in Germany to 48,000, in the Bohemian lands there was a secondary school to each 50,000 Czechs and 36,000 Germans. Thus we get one high school student to each 160 Germans, 170 Czechs and 407 Frenchmen.

Another peculiarity appeared in the development of secondary education in the Bohemian lands. Whereas Galicia, Tyrol and the southern Alp lands remained faithful to the classical course, among us there was more interest in the modern course. “Real schools” grew in number and all were filled to capacity; nearly as many students are found in them as in the gymnasia, although the number of the latter is nearly double. That is explained by the growing industrialization of our lands, although even before this process made itself felt, attempts were made to break the monopoly of classical schools. Half a century ago an attempt was made to push back the necessity of choice between gymnasium and “real school” to the third grade by the establishment of “real-gymnasia”, in which the pupil made the choice in the third grade between Greek and French. When this type of school disappeared through the dislike of the government, our lands were again foremost, after the reform of 1909, to transform nearly one-half of the gymnasia into the new “real-gymnasia” without Greek.

In another department also the Czechs secured primacy. The first girls’ gymnasium in all Austria was established in Prague in 1890. Nevertheless secondary education of girls did not grow rapidly, partly because the people looked upon it a luxury, partly because the reactionary government did not favor it. In 1890 there was created the official type of girls’ lyceum with six grades, without Latin. These schools had a hard row to hoe, because the state would not establish such schools out of state funds nor would it offer to graduates places in public service. Many lycea are being transformed into real-gymnasia of eight grades, or they add a two year course, so as to enable their graduates to be admitted to the university. We have now six Czech real-gymnasia for girls and 10 lycea, while the Germans have 13 lycea.

There has been a rapid growth of girl students in boys’ gymnasia and “real schools”, although the Austrian government did not favor co-education. Girls now make up one-sixth of the attendance of Czech secondary schools, and due to conscription during the war they have become an important factor even in schools of university grade. Nevertheless girls do not attend higher schools in quite the same proportion as in the eastern Slav countries, in Poland and particularly in Russia. Strangers will ask in what way Czech schools differ from German, in addition of course to the difference in the language of instruction. First of all in the choice of modern tongues; Czech gymnasia and “real schools” gave German as much time as Czech (from 3 to 5 hours per week), where as German schools paid little attention to the Czech language, generally giving only optional courses. In Czech secondary schools the German language is a required subject, unless the pupil's parents explicitly ask his exemption. Only in the Moravian “real schools” are both languages required in Czech and German schools equally. Thus on the whole Czech “real school” students had a heavier schedule with both Czech and German, than German students with only German; that meant that they had seldom time for English, although French was taken by all. Gymnasium students took French only as an optional subject, while a few of the Czech “real schools” offered optional English.

In other respects there was surprising uniformity in the schools of the two races. Thus the study of Czech literature was outlined in close imitation of German, although history of Czech literature is very different from German and the periods do not correspond. Instruction in history likewise left little time for Bohemian history after an extensive course in Austrian and German histories. But the culmination of Austrian control of Czech education consisted in “patriotic” written essays which had to be prepared at least twice a year in each language and were submitted to the inspection of the imperial governor.

Only very recently school anthologies have included examples of Slav literary works with some mention of the leading figures in the principal Slav literatures. This savage inculation of loyalty to the Hapsburgs applied only to the Czech schools, and during the war it was sharpened by the command to sing Austrian hymn at every church service. Only a few of the youngest pupils gave expression to this falsified Austrian enthusiasm; all the rest were contemptuously silent.

Thus the Republic inherited from Austria classical gymnasia with a course of eight years, “real schools” with seven year course and girls’ lycea with a six year course. Gymnasia give instruction in Latin throughout the eight years, in Greek from the third grade on, drawing the first four years, preparatory philosophy the last two years; Czech and German are the modern languages. Religion, geography and history, mathematics and physical training are required during the entire course; natural science and physics alternate in the various grades as required subjects.

In the real-gymnasia in addition to Latin there is French, in place of Greek, from the third grade on. Chemistry instead of being taught in connection with physics is an in dependent subject, and descriptive geometry and preparatory philosophy receive more attention.

Austrian ministry started to experiment, after the French example, with the so-called reform real-gymnasia; the first four grades are the same as in the “real schools”, in the upper grades Latin is intensively studied with knowledge of French as a foundation. In Bohemia there is only one school of this type, the German gymnasium of Děčín. The intention here is to unite gymnasium with “real school” and real-gymnasium. In some of the subjects all scholars receive common instruction, while there are separate classes for other subjects, proper to each type of school. A like Czech experiment has been introduced by the present under-secretary of public instruction Drtina and Wagner into the girls’ real-gymnasia of Brno and Valašské Meziříčí. Latin is taught from the second grade on, and in the last two grades there are parallel divisions of classical and modern languages. Classical course prepares for university studies in the sphere of languages and history, while the modern language course aims at preparation for study of natural science and medicine.

Czech “real schools” take up French and descriptive geometry from the third grade on, chemistry in grade 4, 5 and 6, physics in 3 and 4, 6 and 7, natural history in 1 and 2, 5 to 7, religion, history, mathematics, drawing and physical culture in all the grades, geography in six grades. Philosophy does not appear in the curriculum. Stenography is optional in all the secondary schools. In the “real schools” there is also optional chemical laboratory work, and natural science and physical experiments.

Girls’ lycea, originally planned to give girls liberal education, do not any longer require Latin and are thus much closer to the “real schools”. French begins to be taught in the fourth grade, as many pupils enter at this point from the grammar school. Optional subjects offered are Latin, Russian and occasionally domestic science. In recent years lycea had to pass through a serious crisis, as parents sent their daughters very largely to such institutions which prepared for the university or for practical employment.

Lycea now may have supplemental courses of two years with Latin, to qualify for university study, and special practical courses. In these schools is found the most variety. Thus in the Vinohrady lyceum the girls must choose in the first grade either German or French and have to study it during the entire course of six years. Beginning with the fourth grade they may take on another modern tongue, French, English or German. Lately lycea are transformed into reform real-gymnasia. Compared with other countries one is surprised at the small part played in the curriculum by domestic science.

All secondary school courses end in an examination of maturity, written and oral. Written examinations are generally held in May, the subjects being the languages of instruction, Latin or French, mathematics, and in the “real schools” descriptive geometry. At the oral examinations held at the close of the school-year each student of the graduting class is examined by his professors, under the supervision of the land school inspector, the director of some secondary school or university professor as signed to this duty. Students are usually examined in four out of the following subjects: mother-tongue, Latin or French, mathematics, physics, geography and history, descriptive geometry. Examinations of maturity were formerly highly unpopular, but gradually were made less severe. Many argue that they are unnecessary and should be abolished. It is also important that admission to schools of university grade should not be limited by arbitrary decrees. Austria preserved for a long time the monopoly of classical gymnasia to university preparation: no admission to university without Latin and Greek.

With this is connected the anomaly that graduates of higher industrial, agricultural and commercial schools cannot become regular students at the university. Recently some of the obstacles have been partly done away with. Thus if a gymnasium graduate desires to enter the polytechnic, he must submit to an examination in descriptive geometry by a professor of the polytechnic. A graduate of real-gymnasium may enter either the university or polytechnic; but if he desires to study theology or the department of classical and historical studies in the faculty of philosophy, he must first pass an examination in Greek. Graduates of “real school” desiring to be admitted to the university must be examined in Latin and preparatory philosophy, or if they wish to take up theology or classical and historical studies, in Greek also.

Boarding schools or even dormitories, with the exception of a few church institutions, are not customary in the Bohemian lands. The secondary school is in charge of a director who usually teaches a few hours a week. It is generally acknowledged that the director is overburdened with clerical work and has not sufficient time to devote to pedagogical tasks, especially when he has no assistant, as is customary elsewhere. Instructors in secondary schools have the title of professor and teach not more than 17 hours a week, if their subject is language, 20 hours in other subjects, and 24 in drawing and physical training. In addition they have to act as class supervisors and supervisors of collections. Classes never exceed 50; if the number of pupils is larger, the class is divided.

Secondary schools in Slovakia developed in an individual way within the frame of Hungary. One hundred years ago Latin was still used in Hungary as the official and social language; the languages of the people were completely neglected in higher schools. At the beginning of the 19th century the Slovak language began to be cultivated as an optional subject in several institutions of learning, due to the zeal of professors who were by birth Slovak. Of great importance in Slovak literature is the Latin gymnasium of Bratislava.

Against the growing domination of Magyars the Slovaks could defend themselves only through their church organizations which had the right to establish schools. In 1860 there were opened three church gymnasia, but in 1874 the Magyar government closed their doors, and since that time a Slovak had no opportunity to obtain a liberal or professional education in his own tongue. A few went to study in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, but the majority was exposed to Magyarization. In the territory of present Slovakia there existed 33 gymnasia and 7 “real schools”, all Magyar, all completely ignoring the Slovak language. Students who manifested Slovak national consciousness were persecuted or expelled, and out of these boys grew literary and political leaders of the Slovaks.

Hungarian gymnasia and “real schools” have eight grades. They differ from Austrian gymnasia in that third grade students choose either Greek, or French with study of Greek literature; drawing is taught throughout the eight grades, but less time is given to natural science. “Real schools” require German in all grades, French from the third grade on, history and drawing, and in the two highest classes introduction to philosophy and hygiene. Latin is optional in the four higher grades.

As soon as Slovakia was liberated, the Czechoslovak government began to correct the most obvious wrongs. Slovak secondary schools were ordered established by wire and teaching staffs were sent from Bohemia, where there was lack of Slovak instructors. In three months Slovaks had 9 real-gymnasia, 1 gymnasium and 3 “real-schools” of the Czech type. Each of these schools is becoming a center of culture for its district.

In Slovakia there are to be found more church schools than in the Bohemian lands. In Bohemia there are no private secondary schools, established by individuals and maintained for profit. It would be contrary to the democratic sentiment of the Czech people that children of rich parents should go to separate schools with a high tuition. Besides such schools could offer few variations from the prescribed curriculum. All secondary schools in Czechoslovakia have uniform type imposed by the state, even though in Moravia for instance a majority of the “real schools” are supported by the province.

Heretofore it has been the effort of the political leaders to have all secondary schools supported by the state, for that was the only way to make their maintenance certain, even though it implied the loss of all local influence on the school.

It is natural that extensive reforms of the secondary school system, now in preparation by the government of the Republic, will bring about decentralisation of secondary schools, so that local needs might make themselves felt in the curriculum and management. There will be no longer blind copying of German models, and Czech suggestions which Vienna consistently ignored will get fair consideration. Czech pedagogical knowledge and sentiment is fortunately up to the western European level, and our orientation will be turned toward the west. French educational sysstem in particular was recently studied in detail by Czech specialists, and there are men available who know from direct observation Swiss, English, American and Scandinavian models. As we pointed out in speaking of the girls’ lycea of Brno and Valašské Meziříčí, the reforming efforts of Czech pedagogues approximate French types of secondary education.

It may therefore be stated that there will be changes in the following direction:

1. Czechoslovak secondary schools will have a common foundation of several grades without Latin, so that the young people would not be compelled to choose right in the first grade either the classical or the modern course, and that grammar school graduates could enter the secondary school without an obstacle.

2. The secondary school will wind up general preparation in the sixth year, so that the last years might be specially devoted to preparation either for the university or for a definite practical calling.

3. Gymnasia and “real schools” will have the same number of grades. Perhaps we shall have combination secondary schools, with different courses in the higher grades, but united in one system, so that young people in smaller cities would not be compelled to choose either the gymnasium or “real school” according to the type that happened to be in their city.

5. More emphasis will be laid on mother-tongue, on folk lore and domestic history. In Czech schools instruction will be given in Slav tongues and English, in addition to modern languages heretofore taught. More attention will be paid to practical exercises in laboratories and workshops. Manual work and domestic science will find a place in the secondary school curriculum, and physical training will be given more time.

Thus secondary education in the Czechoslovak Republic is to be reformed from the very foundation and made modern, in order that the young citizens of the Republic might be prepared for the manifold problems which they will have to face.

4. Co-education will not be opposed, but at the same time the state will strengthen girls’ secondary schools.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1934, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 88 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.