17 SES 09 A, Education in Collective and Totalitarian Regimes
The paper is one of the individual results of the research project entitled Post-socialist Transformation of Czech Primary Schools – Processes, Stories, Dilemmas (supported by the Czech Science Foundation; grant no. 20-11275S).
The fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in November 1989 can be deemed one of the greatest milestones in modern Czech history, opening up as it did the way to creating a modern, democratic state. Fundamental changes in schooling and education also proceeded in Czechoslovakia at that time, and indeed later in the Czech Republic.
Transformations in education and schooling became the subject-matter for a whole range of studies and books after 1989, contributing toward reflection on the post-November changes. We can, for example, mention the studies conducted by von Kopp (1992) or Mitter (2003). A number of studies were also initiated by international organisations. In the sphere of education, for example, the studies conducted by the Council of Europe (Bîrzea, 1994), OECD (Čerych, 1996), or the World Bank (Berryman, 2000). These studies primarily involve an analysis of the key principles and processes involved in the transformation of education and schooling within the context of the transformation of society. It is clear from the studies cited that a whole range of organisational, structural, content-related, and pedagogical changes were made. We therefore have an overview of the fundamental developmental trends or lines of the post-socialist transformation of schooling. The question remains whether and how the changes were actually implemented and how they affected real events in schools.
The post-socialist transformation of the education system in Czechoslovakia is linked to the tendency to abandon the system of state socialist schooling, symptomatically expressed by the motto “break the socialist uniform school”. The transformation of schooling was, according to the rhetoric of the time, to have been as vigorous as global development after the revolutionary year of 1989 (cf. Berend 2009). Current trends in historiographical research, however, are of the view that changes cannot be fully understood unless we observe continuity. Major reworkings as the starting point for defining a study of the past could lead to overlooking the levels that existed beneath the surface of the narratives of change. The roots of post-socialist transformation can therefore be identified in the narrative of perestroika policy of the end of the eighties.
The aim of the paper is to present partial results of research focusing on an examination of the everyday life of the teachers at primary schools (ISCED 1 and 2) before the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and during the time of subsequent transformation as the eyewitnesses themselves lived it. We will specifically focus on the perception of organisational or pedagogical changes in schools themselves, how senior members of staff were replaced, and how the passage to school autonomy proceeded. In this paper we will also look at the methodological issues of research, in particular the method of oral history. We will mention in brief the preparation of interviews, the execution of pilot interviews, the evaluation of these, and the subsequent adjustment of the structure of interviews. We will also consider the issue of research that is based on interviews at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, which affects the organisation of the research and indeed the quality of the interviews.
The paper is based on historical research which uses oral history as its primary method. The method of oral history can at the same time be understood as a specific type of heuristics. The authors of the paper draw their “source” from the narratives / memoirs of the respondents/teachers that were working at primary schools at the time of transformation. We generally conducted two interviews with each respondent. In the first interview, we were interested in motivating the respondent to talk freely about his or her “biography”, with the researcher intervening as little as possible. The interview was then transcribed and analysed, the objective being to prepare for the second interview. The second interview was a dialogue between the researcher and the respondent, in which the themes or events from the first interview were discussed with the aim of clarifying any ambiguities, obtaining more detailed information about important topics, or broadening our knowledge of the topic considered to include further circumstances, etc. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. The data obtained were analysed in two fundamental ways. The first, analytical approaches drew on research into the life stories of the teachers. The procedures that followed were based on open coding, but focused on the topics of discussion (content analysis).
By using oral history, the authors gathered unique information about the everyday life of primary schooling and teachers at the time of the Velvet Revolution and of transformation in Czechoslovakia, their personal and professional lives. It is shown in the interviews, for example, that teachers did not see the transformation merely within the context of “major events” and measures coming from the centre, but that their view was influenced by a whole range of factors: personal (family life), social (interpersonal relations), and local (differences between the centre and the periphery). Recollections of the transformation must therefore be considered within the broader context of time and space, this being linked to the limitations placed on generalising the results of the research. Another factor that affected the form of the research is naturally human memory and the way in which people remember the past. It is interesting from the methodological perspective that teachers do not recall the Velvet Revolution as a fundamental change. Instead they have the tendency to compare the situation surrounding 1989 to the present. From this perspective it is very important to be prepared for the interview and to conduct it carefully so as not to push forward the narrative of changes (that is traditionally associated with revolution) when asking questions.
Abrams, L. (2016). Oral history theory (Second edition). London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. Berend, T. Iván (2009). From the Soviet bloc to the European Union: the economic and social transformation of Central and Eastern Europe since 1973. New York [N.Y.]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-49365-9. Berryman, S. E. (2000). Hidden Challenges to Education Systems in Transition Economies. Washington: The World Bank,. Bîrzea, C. (1994). Educational Policies of Countries in Transition. Strassbourg: Council of Europe Press. Mitter, W. (2003). A Decade of Transformation: Educational Policies in Central and Eastern Europe. International Review of Education, 49(1–2), 75–96. Vaněk, M., & Mücke, P. (2011). Třetí strana trojúhelníku: teorie a praxe orální historie (The third side of the triangle: the theory and practice of oral history). Prague: Faculty of Humanities, Charles’ University in Prague von Kopp, B. (1992). The Eastern European Revolution and Education in Czechoslovakia. Comparative Education Review, (36),1, 101-113.
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