Oxford nemusí být utopie

Oxford need not be a Utopian dream

Oxford nemusí být utopie
You probably only know the Oxford University campus from movies. What you may not know is that getting into the prestigious school is not as difficult as it might seem. “It is crucial to have a clear vision and be prepared to fight for it,” says Petra Dobešová, member of the Board of Trustees of The Kellner Family Foundation. Students who need financial backing to study a bachelor program abroad can apply with the Foundation until April 30, 2021.

What activities to support education do you engage in? How do you want to help students?
We approach projects systematically, carefully and with a long-term focus to ensure that good quality education is accessible to children and young people in schools of all stages. We also want to motivate students who want to go abroad to study but would not consider applying because they cannot afford the tuition fees. It is definitely worth a try, and we encourage them to try. I am convinced that the experience that Czech students bring back home will finally benefit us all.

How many Czech students have you helped in universities abroad?
We have 53 grantees studying all over the world this year, and all in all, we have distributed grants to 193 students since 2010. Currently, there are three in Oxford, five in Cambridge and others at prestigious schools in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, the US, Austria and Switzerland. They study in various fields from physics to medicine to aerospace technologies to violin playing with the best teachers. They will gain international experience and go on to inspire more young people in the Czech Republic to start their careers at universities abroad. Our grantees include Martin Kábrt who studied at the London School of Economics and won The IPPR Economics Prize, the third most prestigious economic award in the world, two years ago.

Your Foundation accepts grant applications from high school students who want to study bachelor programs abroad until the end of April. How do you select your grantees?
This is the twelfth year that we have been offering grants; we usually receive about 120 applications and choose 10 to 20 new grantees from among them. It is always important for us to see that a student focuses on a specific field of their choice consistently. Just writing, “I want to go to Oxford!” is certainly not enough. We need to understand their personal motivation and vision for applying for their selected university. Luckily, the number of applicants who amaze us with the breadth of their activities is growing. Not only do they get very good academic results – they often also volunteer in their local communities or help the elderly. All of this means plus points that are important for the future too. When applying for the university study abroad, extracurricular activities are seriously taken into account.


Do you use any other criteria?
We are certainly interested in students’ family background because we want to primarily help young people who cannot afford to pay tuition fees. This is why a certificate of income should be attached to the application, and any evidence of other sources of financing is good as well – for example, the student can write that they have saved her or his own money or obtained a loan from the university. We accept applications electronically through our website until April 30; then we select about 30 applicants who we invite to an in-person interview in Prague in mid-June, and we publish the names of the new grantees by the end of June. This year, we will again distribute CZK 10 million to Czech students in support of studying bachelor programs anywhere in the world. We usually grant CZK 100,000 – 300,000 per applicant per academic year. We realize, though, that this amount will likely have to be increased for new students with regard to Brexit. We never grant 100% of the requested amount because we believe that everyone should fight for their dream and seek funding from multiple sources.

The Foundation also provides grants for the Open Gate eight-year grammar school in Babice near Prague. So, is it not a school “for the rich only”?
One-third of Open Gate students come from families that cannot afford tuition fees. The majority of those come from Prague, but we would really like to find more academically gifted children from the country’s regions. We are building a network of contacts among social workers and teachers in the first stage of elementary schools. We encourage them to let us know whenever they find a child who is gifted and has a desire to learn. It can be an extroverted person who grabs attention because they are bored in usual classes, or it can be a totally introverted person who suffers in school because the environment is not motivating enough for them. One social worker told me how she came across a talented boy. She came to an event for children from foster families and she noticed him because he behaved differently from others. He fully concentrated on various tasks and worked on them with a great deal of focus. She later recommended the boy’s grandmother, his guardian, to apply for Open Gate, and he indeed passed admission tests in our school. Interestingly, his own teacher would allegedly never have recommended him… 

Your school tries to connect older schoolmates with younger ones – what does that mean?
We find it important for newcomers to Open Gate to receive expert assistance from teachers, trainers and assistants as well as help from their schoolmates. They can give them advice on how to navigate a new school or give them after-school lessons. This cooperation works within the school as well as outside it. Students are involved in various activities in the local community – for example, they can teach foreign languages in children’s shelters or kindergartens, and prior to the pandemic, they used to help the elderly at the local Alzheimer Center.

You focus on reading literacy as part of Helping Schools Succeed, a project targeting elementary schools. Do you think this is where our country is lagging behind?
We noticed years ago that Czech students were not very successful in international competitions, whether it was in mathematics or other subjects. We consulted experts on this issue and the result is a program for public elementary schools focusing on teaching reading literacy, writing and critical thinking. We currently work with 115 schools all over the country. We try to improve the learning for all students and their results through professional training of teachers. The teachers who participate in our program share their experience and help each other in preparing tuition focused on students’ research. They work actively with learning goals. Our special consultants and mentors give them advice on innovating the teaching of Czech language and History as well as Physics and Chemistry. Thanks to this program, children learn to find the principal ideas in a long text, analyze them and defend them in the presence of others.

Do you find that Czech schools do not pay enough attention to teaching critical thinking and cultured behavior and presentation skills in general?
Unfortunately, schools almost never teach these basic skills. It is not all about speaking – it is about writing too. It is commonplace abroad to write a number of essays to demonstrate that you are able to find information and defend your opinion. And this brings us back to what is still lacking in the Czech Republic – young people are not systematically taught to think critically, nor does anyone teach them to use arguments correctly. I believe that we can help improve these skills and support children so that they can succeed in the subjects that they like.


Oxford nemusí být utopie

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