Education has long traditions in the Czech Republic. 6-year compulsory schooling was introduced in 1774. There is now compulsory 9-year compulsory school for all children aged 6 to 15 years. The vast majority of young people continue in high school with four choices: public vocational schools, vocational schools, technical schools or integrated schools. Secondary education usually lasts for 3 to 4 years. Extensive changes were made to the country’s education system after 1989. The earlier communist goals based on Marxist-Leninist ideology were replaced with the principles of the individual’s right in the humanist and democratic tradition. The authorities have opened up private funding in addition to public support for schools. Many private schools, especially at the high school level, were established after 1990. The education system was previously centrally controlled.
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The country has 56 higher education institutions, half of which are private (2005). The oldest university in the country, and one of the oldest in Europe, is the Charles University of Prague (founded in 1348 by Karl 4), the Palacký University in Olomouc (1573, reopened in 1946) and the Masaryk University in Brno (1919).
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Reforms in the 1960s
The crisis prompted, from 1960, some reforms from the otherwise conservative party leadership with Antonin Novotný at the forefront. This was a delayed « stalinisation ». First, a school reform was implemented which made the education system more modern. In 1963, the innocent victims of the political processes of the 50s were rehabilitated. In the period 1964-1966, measures were taken for comprehensive economic reform. The main features of this were that the management system should be decentralized and that the planning economy should have a supplement of market economy elements. Science and the arts were given more freedom and the worst arbitrariness was abolished.
In the struggle over how far the reforms should be and how quickly they should be implemented, a strong opposition developed within the Communist Party. In 1967, there was an open conflict between the “progressives” and “the conservatives” in the party’s governing bodies. In January 1968, Novotný was forced to step down, Alexander Dubcek became new party leader and Ludwik Svoboda became president.
In the months that followed, the reform-friendly forces had control of important positions both in the party and the state. The so-called ” Prague Spring ” sprang up. It was a strange process of democratization. One should go the way of reform and win over the bureaucratic dictatorship and replace it with a historically new socialist democratic system.
The Czechoslovak Reform Communists received great support from the people. At the same time, they received support from Romania, Yugoslavia and Communist parties in the west. However, there was little understanding from Moscow and the other Warsaw Pact countries. There, they perceived the democratic revival of socialism in Czechoslovakia as a counter-revolution.
On August 20, 1968, military forces from the five Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia. However, the march was not able to immediately overturn the Dubcek regime. The popular non-violent resistance forced the Soviet leadership to negotiate a compromise solution, and some important reforms were implemented – even after the intervention. Most corporate self-government bodies were built after August 1968, and as of January 1969, Czechoslovakia was transformed into a federal state consisting of a Czech and a Slovak sub-republic.
But at the same time, Moscow acquired the right to have strong forces standing on Czechoslovakian soil. They made constant threats and interfered with the country’s leadership, forcing Dubcek to resign in April 1969.