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On equal footing

SLOVAKS quickly got used to the idea after the Velvet Revolution that shoppers should have a selection of soaps or coffees to choose from. But choosing to send a child to private school has proved a slower process.

SLOVAKS quickly got used to the idea after the Velvet Revolution that shoppers should have a selection of soaps or coffees to choose from. But choosing to send a child to private school has proved a slower process.

Still, data recently collected by the Slovak Institute of Information and School System Forecasting shows that the number of private schools has more than tripled in the last decade, from 88 in 1999 to 288 in 2007.

Private schools receive the same amount of government funding as public ones, except subventions for renovations.

The owners of private schools meet regularly at conferences organised by the Private School and Educational Institutions Association (ASŠŠZ), which encompasses more than half of the private schools in Slovakia.

Its last meeting took place in Žilina from October 23 to 25 and drew almost 100 attendees, including Education Minister Ján Mikolaj.

“The conference focused on the recent revision of the Education Act,” Viera Grohová, executive director of the ASŠŠZ, told The Slovak Spectator. “We showed that private schools are on equal footing in the educational system. We expressed our approval of the fact that the revision did not change the method of funding for this type of schools, because they could not exist without state support.”

As well as various panel discussions and working sessions, the conference included two lectures by Czech and Polish participants, followed by a debate entitled “Plurality in Education – A Guarantee for Desirable Social Development”. Afterwards, the Polish delegation officially took over the chair of the Middle European Organisation of Private Schools (MEOPS), which had been held by Slovakia.
Grohová noted that the conference’s participants held substantive discussions that led to specific solutions.

“Important recommendations arose from the meeting,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “Since information about private schools is often fragmentary and distorted, we came to the conclusion that organisational structure and the overall function of private schools should be regulated by a separate law.”

The conference ended with an award ceremony named after František Tóth, the association’s founder and former minister of culture, who was killed in a tragic accident in 2006.

The František Tóth Award was given to the First Private Business Academy in Štúrovo, the Private Vocational School of Metallurgy in Podbrezová and the Private Secondary Grammar School in Vranov nad Topľou for their “flexibility in adapting their curricula to economic and social changes in Slovakia”.

“František Tóth definitely merits this honour,” Grohová stated. “He made enormous contributions to the development of private schools in the country, concerning both legislation and funding. So we decided to acknowledge dynamic schools that follow in his footsteps.”

Ľubomír Sloboda, president of the ASŠŠZ, voiced certainty that all these activities will help improve the public’s view of private schools.

“Our position has clearly been changing, but it is only half the battle,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “The government has started to take our opinions into consideration when preparing legislation and the School Inspection has invited our experts as members of different committees of the Ministry of Education, which is all very positive.

"Our concern remains, however, that our colleagues at state schools and the public still think of the owners of private schools as ‘capitalists’ and ‘businessmen’ who care only about money. This just isn’t true. Every private school is a non-profit organisation.”

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