Yesterday was registration day at the local nursery school in our neighborhood. Our babysitter decided we needed to make a good first impression, so she dressed Caroline up in her favorite dress (navy blue top over a green plaid skirt), pink sweater, brilliantly white tights, and Sunday shoes. Then all three of us: babysitter, Will and myself, herded Caroline to the little skolka that is just across the street from our flat.
When we walked in we realized there was a crowd of people ahead of us. Czechs are expert at self-regulating lines though, so we just had to ask to find out who we would go after, how many families were in front of us (four), and how long the wait might be (an hour). We spent the hour entertaining Caroline, chatting with the other waiting parents, and trying to figure out just why it took twenty minutes to sign a three year old into a public nursery school program.
Our best guess is that the filtering system so obvious in middle to high school education in Europe gets its start with 3 year olds, and that these meetings are designed in part for the director to check out the parents and child and decide if she wants to see them again. It’s a guess only because we didn’t get a chance to hear the regular spiel.
Instead, as we sat down for our meeting, the director said, “Aha, you are the foreigners who visited during open house. I’m so sorry to tell you but because you are not EU citizens, your daughter probably cannot go to this school.“
It turns out that the government doesn’t pay schools a stipend for children who are either not Czech or non-EU. In the past, schools have gotten around this problem by charging foreigners a certain amount a month, but then a story appeared in the Czech press about a town where the elementary school was funded mostly by the Vietnamese families who sent their children there. Although what the school was doing was technically legal, the story created a stir around the country, and so some schools now have decided it is just easier to not accept foreigners until the laws are straightened out.
We spent most of the meeting listening to the director explain all of this, and then in the end, she asked us what we did and if the laws get worked out, if we could afford the stipend. She didn’t care a whit that I had my own company (only question, when will your next child be born?) but when she found out that Will works in the educational sector and what he does, her hands started trembling and she began to randomly apologize (for spelling his name wrong on the application form, for the bother of the whole thing). It amused me at the time, but when we got home and started talking about the meeting, we both thought - do we really want Caroline to go to a school that didn’t want her until they found out what her father does?
So now I am looking into private schools for Caroline. Some place in Prague 2, 4 or 10 that doesn’t charge outrageous prices for children to get to together and play. Some place where Czech kids go but a kid from another country could fit in happily too. Suggestions welcomed.
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