Does Slovakia need schools for the elite?

The results of international tests support the critics of schools created to take the most talented pupils.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Sme)

Considered the schools for the most talented pupils, eight-year grammar schools often become the number one choice for parents when deciding on the future of their children.

However, the premise that pupils at eight-year grammar schools achieve better results than their peers from primary schools seems to be untrue, with the gap between the two groups gradually narrowing.

“Eight-year grammar schools, often described as the driving force of our education system, have been reporting worse results in the international PISA tests in the past 10 years,” Miroslava Hapalová of the Learning Makes Sense initiative told The Slovak Spectator.

The Education Ministry claims to be changing the system in a way that makes education more inclusive and limits elitist schools.

New quotas introduced

The first eight-year grammar schools classrooms opened in Slovakia in 1995 as places for the most talented pupils. Students could opt to leave primary schools after five years, at the age of 11, for eight-year grammar schools.

The studies enable pupils to develop their skills with a focus on a specific field, like mathematics, natural sciences, computer science or foreign languages, the Education Ministry informed.

Since the number of the best pupils leaving for eight-year grammar schools was too high, which the Education Ministry saw as having a negative impact on the quality of the education system as a whole, the ministry, at the time led by the Slovak National Party’s (SNS) nominee Ján Mikolaj, introduced the 5-percent quota in 2008.

The date the quota was supposed to take effect has been postponed several times. Finally, it is to be applied for the first time in September 2018.

The postponed problem

The problem occurred when district authorities were to issue decisions on which eight-year grammar schools would be allowed to open classrooms for first graders. Though the original deadline was set for September 15, 2017, they did so only on December 22.

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