10.1 General context
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The history of youth organisations and youth work in the geographical area of nowadays Czech Republic goes back to the mid 19th century when Czech people were allowed to create their own civic associations during the Austrian Monarchy. It started with sport (Sokol - a physical education movement) and tourist associations (Klub českých turistů - Czech Tourists' Club) engaging also young people.
In summer 1912, professor A.B. Svojsík organised the first boys' scout summer camp near the castle Lipnice. In 1913 the first summer camp using special kind of Czech tents ("podsadový stan") took place, and in 1915 Junák - Czech Scouting was established as the first independent youth organisation.
The first Czechoslovak Republic since 1918 was a friendly environment for youth work. Czech Scouts even helped in the first days of the independent state with the necessary services as post and others. The state elite strongly supported the big Youth organisations, such as several big and small Scout organisations, YMCA and others.
During the Nazi occupation and the Second World War, the independent youth organisations were quickly forbidden, as the Nazi policy towards youth was based on total control under the so-called Kuratorium pro výchovu mládeže (Board for youth education). However, many people from youth organisations were active in the underground resistance and helped to sustain the Czech traditions and statehood. The end of the war opened a few years of flourishing time again, and youth organisations were also helping with the post-war reconstructions.
The communist putsch in 1948 had a very negative impact on youth work in Czechoslovakia. Youth and children organisations that were not set up under the patronage of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (such as Scouts or Sokol), were gradually broken up, and members who resisted the ban or wished to continue their activities illegally were often sentenced to prison.
Czechoslovak Communist Party promoted the Czechoslovak Youth Union (Československý svaz mládeže - ČSM), an umbrella entity gradually replacing all the youth organisations in the country. The main aim was to exert ideological influence on young people and promote the policies of the Communist Party.
In 1949 a single children's Pioneer organisation was set up on the model of the Soviet Union within the ČSM. The banned groups, which had previously united thousands of children and young people, looked for a way to function under the aegis of organisations that were still allowed – for example, within Svazarm (Union for Cooperation with the Army). Organised free-time activities in this period were more or less standardised and were linked to schools or factories, which guaranteed their ideological collaboration with the Communist Party. The Communist regime, well aware of the potential inherent in influencing the youngest generation, supported these organisations both financially and materially.
From 1953 Houses of Pioneers and Young People (Domy pionýrů a mládeže) began to spring up in Czechoslovakia. According to a resolution of the Communist authorities of the late 1960s, they had to be set up in all municipalities with a population of over 5 000. The task of these institutions was to organise free time for children and young people, but obviously everything had to be done in accordance with the prevailing Communist ideology.
Under the influence of social changes and as a result of attempts to democratise the regime of the time of the so-called Prague Spring, the traditional associations of children and young people (e.g. Junák - Czech Scouting, Sokol, Orel) were restored in 1968. Or there was a fundamental transformation of them (in the Pioneers, for example), or new types of such associations came into existence. There were, for example, young technicians' centres, young naturalists' centres and young ramblers' centres.
This relative freedom of association was forcibly interrupted by the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1968.
With the onset of the so-called "normalisation" (meaning getting back to the stronger state control), the relatively liberal Czechoslovak Youth Union was replaced by the Union of Socialist Youth (Socialistický svaz mládeže - SSM), established by the Communist Party as its youth chapter. Its target group were young people aged between 15 and 35. Pionýr organisation was again established as SSM's children age group, mostly organized again at the school level. Within it, young people could engage in diverse activities, such as art, tourism etc., but checks were made to ensure that the activity was in line with the Communist ideology. Some of youth groups under SSM managed to operate for a certain time regardless their sustain to the official Communist ideals. Other previously Scout and independent organisations managed to survive under sport or tourist associations, which were not attached so strictly to the Communist regime. However, their activities were banned in many cases under threat of sanctions, such as police harassment, the risk of being removed from studies or work, as far as the threat of imprisonment.
The change of regime in November 1989 – ushered in by the "Velvet Revolution "– signified a complete change in the field of non-formal education and informal learning and the functioning of civil society organisations, including those working with children and young people.
With the transition to democracy, organisations that had been banned during the normalisation period were reconstituted. This especially concerned organisations run on a scouting or woodcraft basis or organisations originating from a Christian environment. The Union of Socialist Youth split into many independent entities. This was accompanied by conflicts as the organisation's property was put into a special fund, partly returned, partly stolen, partly privatised and partly given to re-established youth organisations. With the logic of democratic development, following 1989, hundreds of new non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private entities appeared, whose alternative programmes began to fill the space in the field of leisure time of children and young people.
With the decentralisation of political power, there was also a gradual transformation of the houses of pioneers and youth. A regulation issued by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in 1992 established to call them "leisure time centres for children and young people ", which are currently an integral part of the official school system in the Czech Republic.
Alongside, in the Czech Republic, there are about 1500 NGOs that are actively committed to providing free-time activities and learning opportunities for children and young people in which children and young people take part on a voluntary basis. These include sports, art activities, environmental education, rambling, technical activities, handicrafts and other areas.
Youth workers active in NGOs are mainly, volunteers working with children and young people in their free time, however they include also professional employees. Their qualifications are not explicitly governed by specific laws or regulations, besides the general ones. Their training is thus subject to the organisation's internal rules, which means that they often have to participate in various courses for leaders or instructors.
In the 1990s, there was a need to deal with the sensitive history of the past 40 years. Challenges were based on the different experience and many wounds from years 1948 and 1968. Youth work property restitution was one of the key questions and reasons for mistrust between youth organisations and their leaders. The conciliatory process started in 1998 when the Czech Council of Children and Youth as an independent and democratic youth organisations umbrella was created. At the end of the 1990s, State started to develop and adopt specific national youth policies (for details, see chapter 1).
There is no legal nor common definition of Youth Work. The concept of “Working with Children and Youth” is more commonly used in different context (i.e., social, educational, cultural, environmental etc.).
At the same time, there are two prevalent concepts of youth work: a youth work based on the so-called “leisure-time-based education”, and a youth work in children and youth organisations.
1) The youth work based on the so-called leisure-time-based education is provided by the network of Leisure Time Centres (Střediska volného času, SVČ), school clubs (školní kluby, ŠK) and after-school childcare facilities (školní družina, ŠD). Participation of young people to these centres or clubs is not compulsory, but they are incorporated to the formal educational system. These facilities are established by the state, regions or municipalities, and to a lesser extent by private entities. They are funded from public sources depending on the number of children in regular free-time activities. Individual participants of the learning activities (children and young people) also cover part of the financial costs.
With the current development of Educational reform and after the adoption of the State Education Strategy 2030+, we can expect closer cooperation between these kinds of youth work and schools. One of the Strategy's goals is to create a concept of the "whole-day educational facility" providing compulsory and voluntary leisure and interest-based education and youth work.
The official definition of Leisure-based education according to the Education Act No. 561/2004 Sb. and the State Youth Strategy 2014 - 2020 is the following:
“Leisure-based education provides participants with leisure time activities focusing on different areas. The term "education" refers to both education and training. Leisure-based education takes place in school facilities for interest education, particularly in leisure centres, after-school centres and school clubs. Leisure centres are also involved in additional care of gifted children, pupils and students, they organise competitions and exhibitions in collaboration with schools and other institutions. The objectives, content and outcomes are usually closely linked to all types of school education and are guaranteed by the state as part of the school system."
2) The youth work in children and youth organizations - based on non-formal education, informal learning and personality development. It is provided by youth NGOs, whose umbrella organisation is called Czech Council for Children and Youth (Česká rada dětí a mládeže, ČRDM). CRDM has 98 member organisations and nine regional Youth Councils. The youth work activities and approaches differ according to the individual subjects and organisation.