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Lowering inequalities in education is one of the three principal goals of the Strategy for Education Policy of the Czech Republic until 2020 (the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports). Concrete steps in order to reach this goal are named in the Strategy as follows:
- To increase the availability and quality of pre-school education and early care;
- To limit external differentiation in basic education and effectively integrate pupils into mainstream education;
- To strengthen the common elements in the branches of secondary education;
- To maintain open access to a diverse range of tertiary education;
- To create conditions for easier transition of graduates into the labour market;
- To support the availability and quality of further education;
- To individualise the offer of consulting services.
Equal opportunities in education are one of the priorities of the current Long-Term Plan for Education and the Development of the Educational System (pages 47-56), especially in relation to the integration of pupils with special educational needs:
- These pupils should have financial support (financing of supportive measures with the purpose of their individualised integration into mainstream classes), support through an individualised approach, but also support through the developing system of special pedagogical, social and psychological services, which will assist pedagogues in integrating and caring for pupils with special educational needs.
- Support in this area should also be provided for the activity of specialists in schools and school facilities, as well as for the implementation of a system of diagnostics of special educational needs.
- In this context, the system of pedagogical-psychological counselling and the system of career consulting should be supported in particular.
TheEducation Act was changed in line with the above mentioned, whereas inclusion of pupils and students with special educational needs is regulated by the Decree no. 27/2016 Sb., in effect since 1st of September 2016.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS) also provides methodological support, namely through publishing materials online.
The whole process is also supported by the Action Plan for Inclusive Education for 2016-2018, which aims to revise the Framework Education Programmes (FEP) in this area, to issue an implementing regulation to the amendment of the Education Act and to introduce diagnostic tools, as well as methodological documents for these tools.
These changes are connected to secondary schools, as well as school facilities for leisure-based education (public providers of non-formal education and youth work) and the MEYS has prepared summary documents for directors of these facilities in order to familiarise them with the changes and to facilitate the transition to the new regime.
Further relevant documents were issued by the MEYS specifically for the education of foreigners.
Information packages were also issued aimed directly at parents and the general public with the purpose of facilitating the transition to the new regime, since the debates during the introduction of the reform polarised society to a significant degree, partially thanks to false information spread in society at that time.
Among other things, equal opportunities are also mentioned explicitly also in the current Strategy of Digital Education until 2020 (More on this Strategy in Chapter 6.8), which states that it is necessary to: 'Ensure a non-discriminatory access to digital educational resources.'
In the field of non-formal education and youth work we see inclusion also as a priority area, namely directly in the Youth Strategy 2014-2020, where it is the strategic goal 10: To facilitate inclusion of children and youth with fewer opportunities.
This goal includes diverse mechanisms supporting the participation of young people with fewer opportunities in leisure-based and non-formal education (page 18). Within the realisation of these goals financial support was provided for work with children and youth.
'The support for the involvement of children and youth with limited opportunities into regular leisure time activities.' is one of the MEYS priorities for the year 2017.
Subsidy programmes and subventions to enhance social inclusion of young people through education
State support for Higher Education Study inclusion
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports provides several kinds of subsidies every year from budget line II 'Social Affairs of Students' based on the Act no. 111/1998 Sb. On Higher Education Institutions (HEI). Students fulfilling the criteria apply at their HEI and the Institution claims it from the Ministry, however, it needs to prove the claim. Students need to study their first HEI programme accredited in the Czech Republic in order to be eligible for specific support they need to meet other criteria (e.g. for boarding to have permanent residence in another city). The kinds of support and the funding in years 2014-2016 can be seen in the table below.
|Subsidy of the Ministry of Education within the budget line 'Social Affairs of Students' (in Thousands CZK)|
Scholarships for PhD students
|1 062 360||1 041 277||1 009 678|
Grants for student accommodation and boarding
|155 937||147 527||135 45|
Contribution to social scholarships of public HEI
|38 964||33 582||34 221|
Grants for social scholarships for private HEI
|1 551||1 240||1 084|
Contribution to accommodation scholarships of public HEI
|816 497||776 966||731 081|
Grants for accommodation scholarships for students from private HEI
|28 879||26 446||25 072|
|Source: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports|
Subsidies to HEI for the study of students with specific needs
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports provides subsidies to HEI for the study of students with specific needs every year from the budget line IV 'International cooperation and others' every year. Among students with special needs are included students with disabilities, visual, hearing, and mobility impairments, students with a specific learning disorder, with an autism spectrum disorder and persons with other mental disorder or illness, including neartistic neurodevelopment disorders, e.g. disturbed by language, speech and other communication skills, or suffering from a chronic somatic disease preventing standard ways of performing objective study obligations, or calling for organisational measures from the side of the school. The financial support in 2014 was in the amount of 46 600 000 CZK, in both 2015 and 2016 the amount of 51 300 000 CZK was provided.
Elementary school social inclusion subsidy programmes:
'Promoting school catering for elementary school pupils, whose family has been in a long-lasting unfavourable financial situation'
The purpose of this grant scheme is to support school catering for elementary school pupils whose family has been in a poor financial situation for a long time. It is not only about ensuring a regular diet for pupils but also about improving their conditions of stay at school. The side effects also include helping the family so that the pupil has the opportunity to take part in out-of-school activities which are usually organized after the lunchtime. Pupils are thus not excluded from the classroom because of not participating in extracurricular activities or the lunch, which in the Czech Republic is usually a common activity of the class collective.
'Support for gifted pupils at primary and secondary schools'
A Grant Program aims to support out-of-school education for gifted pupils, especially through new forms provided by organisers, primarily from universities, public research institutions, non-profit organisations and leisure centres using lecturers and leading experts from various technical and scientific industries. The allocation of the fund is 10 million CZK per year (ca 400 000 EUR).
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports runs the following programmes enhancing social inclusion of young people to education:
Development program on Equipping school counselling facilities with diagnostic tools
The reform of the educational system towards more inclusiveness described above is also viewed as a tool for strengthening social cohesion in society, as described in the MEYS’ statement on this matter.
Apparently, the most closely connected to this issue in practice is the FEP system, as each FEP also takes into consideration the areas of social cohesion and principle of equal opportunities in many different ways, e.g. the FEP for general secondary schools accentuates these areas within the topics 'The human and the society' (pages 38-39), 'Personality and social education' (pages 66-69), 'Education on thinking in a European and global context' (pages 69-73) a 'Multicultural education' (pages 73-75)
In mid-2017, a special call for applications for subventions from the ESF was realized to build school capacities in the priority of equal access to pre-school, elementary and secondary education with an allocation of 700 000 000 CZK (27 500 000 EUR). One of the activities supported were also the Competencies for a democratic culture according to the Council of Europe Framework on competencies.
In the same way as with the implementation of the new Education Act, the support structure in the case of the FEP is the National Institute for Education. From 2017, the process of updating the FEP on a national level is prepared; the exact process is not known yet, but it is foreseen that it will last until 2021 and will be gradual.
The field of non-formal learning and youth work again supports this area through strategic goal 10 in the Youth Strategy 2014-2020, which contains diverse mechanisms focused on the support of tolerance and fight with prejudice in young people (page 18). For detail see Chapter 4.3.