Following the declaration of a state of emergency, the physical presence of students in basic, upper secondary and tertiary professional schools was prohibited by the Resolution of the Czech Government of 12 March 2020. The state of emergency was declared for 30 days and subsequently extended until 17 May 2020. From 12 March 2020 until the end of the school year, 30 June 2020, online forms of learning have been used.
On its website, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT) kept updating information on crisis measures and published a schedule for the gradual release of measures and students’ return to school.
On 11 May, schools reopened for final-year students of:
- basic schools to prepare for their entrance examinations leading to programmes with Maturita exam (VET schools and secondary general schools, Gymnázia);
- upper secondary schools in programmes leading to a VET certificate or Maturita exam;
- tertiary professional schools and conservatoires, to prepare for their Absolutorium, and for students in all years of higher education. Consultations and practical training are carried out in person;
On 25 May, schools reopened for the students at primary level of basic schools, to resume their learning, and lower grades of tertiary professional schools to complete their practical training and take exams;
As of 1 June, final examinations, Absolutorium and Maturita exams began. The students in lower grades of upper secondary schools continued with practical training. As of 8 June, the students of secondary level of basic schools and lower grades of upper secondary schools are having class meetings and consultations for the final assessment.
However, students’ full-time participation in school is optional and online learning continues. MŠMT prepared a set of hygiene and safety guidelines: a maximum 15 students per class is allowed and there must be a statutory declaration confirming the absence of symptoms and other risk factors.
The MŠMT website provided regular updates on recommended procedures for online education/learning. It was supplemented by a signpost indicating where materials for teachers, parents and students were continuously being added, including materials for VET. Online teaching for basic schools was also provided by the public service broadcasters Czech Television and Czech Radio. With the focus on basic and upper secondary schools, Czech Television launched a dedicated portal offering a wide range of documentaries. The Czech Academy of Sciences prepared tips for parents and children on home experiments, e-resources, electronic versions of various journals, online exhibitions and educational videos.
For teaching vocational subjects, schools were able to use electronic textbooks or instructional videos created within various projects: such as elecronic texbooks; ejilova, or in cooperation with employers, such as heluz.
Access to didactic tests and worksheets for Maturita exams was available to both students and teachers. A version for smartphones and tablets was also provided.
The Czech School Inspectorate carried out a comprehensive survey of how teaching was being implemented in all types of schools. Based on the results, the Ministry decided to help one thousand selected schools with technical equipment and the use of communication platforms to secure quality online teaching. There was also an excellent volunteer response from teachers who shared their experience with colleagues via webinars.
Practical training, which is an integral part of all VET programmes leading to a VET certificate or Maturita exam, and study programmes in tertiary professional schools, was suspended during the ban on in-classroom teaching. Work obligation was announced for students preparing for professions in social services or healthcare; they actively helped while working or participated as volunteers. The MŠMT Decree of 6 May 2020, on education response to the coronavirus epidemic, allowed the headmasters of tertiary professional schools to adjust the accredited curriculum for the summer period.
Some companies provided free teaching materials, including the didactic division of FESTO and Scania. In the gastronomy field, usual paid registrations were made available free of charge to those students who were interested in watching training videos from courses for professional educators.
Admission to and completion of education programmes
Act No. 135/2020 Coll. was adopted, with special rules for admissions to certain types of education and for their completion in the school year 2019/20. It stipulates that final examinations, Maturita exams and Absolutorium may take place no earlier than 21 days after the resumption of in-classroom learning for final-year students; it also cancels the written part of the Maturita exam common component in Czech and foreign languages. Where learning in school cannot take place, a VET or Maturita certificate should be issued based on the students’ learning outcomes from the last three school reports. However, Maturita and final examinations are taking place starting from 1 June 2020.
All students who submitted an application will be admitted to the examination without the obligation to have completed the final year of study. The law stipulates that entrance exams will take place no earlier than 14 days after resumption of in-classroom learning, and there will be only one available date this school year. The content and form of the entrance exams remain unchanged (only the timeframe for completing individual tasks has been added), and there are no changes to the admission criteria set by the headmasters. The implementing regulation in the form of Decree No. 232/2020 Coll., On admission procedure, Maturita exam and final examination in 2019/20, regulates the course and assessment of entrance, Maturita and final examinations and sets the rules for the admission procedures in the school year 2019/20.
Another implementing regulation issued in connection with online learning is Decree No. 211/2020 Coll., On the evaluation of students’ learning outcomes in the second half of 2019/20. This repeals the evaluation rules set out in the school regulations and stipulates that students in the final year of upper secondary schools cannot be assessed with the grade ‘failed’ or ‘not evaluated’ due to the effects of force majeure. Student evaluations should not get worse relative to their usual results.
In May, a series of interactive webinars was prepared to familiarise the schools headmasters with measures releasing the emergency. The webinars provided them with hygiene guidelines for schools and rules for student assessment as well as modified secondary school entrance exams, Maturita exams, Absolutorium and final examinations.
Despite varying levels of digital literacy, most teachers showed a proactive attitude in the unprecedented situation. However, differences in standard and quality of education were also evident in terms of infrastructure. The schools vary in terms of technical equipment and not all were able to equip their teachers with laptops. Some students’ families experienced similar difficulties. In 2014, the Digital Literacy Strategy mentioned opening up to new methods and ways of learning through digital technologies as one of its objectives. The coronavirus pandemic has significantly accelerated the gradual use of these methods. It showed that the students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable in terms of connectivity and learning habits. In multiple cities, volunteers and teachers decided to help, copying and distributing learning materials to students in need. Some schools were able to lend tablets to their students to allow them to engage in online learning.