THE Communists believe they can penetrate Czechoslovak society most pervasively by taking over the educational system from top to bottom -- a process that has proved particularly painful in a country long proud of the high standards and liberal traditions of its educational institutions.
Whereas the schools of the First Republic -- schools of a great many kinds -- tried in general to encourage independent thought, the new educational system seeks to shape a "socialist man," blindly loyal to the leadership of the Communist Party; and whereas the people's aptitudes and prospects as individuals were guideposts of the old education, the Communists train pupils to conform strictly to the needs of planned economy.
To clear the way for their type of education the Communists, soon after they had taken power, set about eliminating all competing influences such as parents and church. Taking the view that no one is too young for politics, they began introducing Communist symbols and the collectivist attitude at nursery schools. Attendance was made compulsory for five- and six-year-olds, and will become compulsory for all, from the age of three, as soon as sufficient buildings are available. For those below the age of three, there are crèches.
By August 1950, there were 147,437 children regularly enrolled at nursery schools and the Minister of Education Zdenek Nejedly declared that every effort must be made "to enroll particularly children of rich parents who have thus far evaded general basic collective and socialist education." Since then, no new figures have been published, so it may be presumed that enrollments have not increased as rapidly as was hoped.
The nurseries also serve the very practical purpose of enabling mothers to take jobs and thereby relieve the labor shortage, and to that end the Ministry of Education in 1951 extended the system to centers for "all-day care" of school children of all ages.