Interview with Šimon Pánek about the Better Schools for All project

One of the local projects supported by the Zátiší  Group is Better Schools for All, established by the non-profit humanitarian People in Need organization. This charity project is active in more than half of the schools in the Czech Republic, primarily in areas where schools lack proper state and other institutional support.
"We want today’s generation of children to remember school as a pleasant place where they were encouraged to study, acquired knowledge and were respected, "says People in Need director Šimon Pánek, with whom we spoke about the project.

Why did you decide to focus on Czech education?

People in Need has been active in the field of education for a very long time – from One World in Schools, which provides schools with documentaries and other teaching materials, through our Variants program, which offers schools information services and methodological support, as well as our work with children from socially disadvantaged families or localities where children have little or no access to education. So we know very well that much needs to be done in the many crisis areas in the world as well as at home. Perhaps you know that we are active in education all over the word, from Cambodia to Syria. Education and teaching have always been very important to us, and this allows us to deepen our work in the Czech Republic.

How do you choose the children you help?

On the one hand, we work with educators - we assist teachers and introduce new teaching methods and materials to schools. On the other hand, with the children that are in our tutoring program, we work through colleagues in our local branches who know the families personally and can work with them, if necessary. Basically, children qualify for this program simply if they or their parents want to join it. Or because the family is not able to support their child and the parents themselves have only elementary-school education. Our social workers know the situation in the field and recommend the child. Ethnicity does not matter. There are places where half the children in the program are children who are not Roma. On the other hand, there are places where most of them are Roma, because in these areas Roma are excluded or otherwise kept out of the normal education system. That’s the reality.

How do parents react to your work with their children? Probably you help them change their lives, no?

Most of the parents are of course happy that their children receive some support. Some families see it as something prestigious that a college student comes into "our deprived and neglected neighbourhood". But some parents don’t realize that their children need support, to be able to prepare for education beyond elementary school. Our family tutoring helps to ‘educate’ them and thereby change the environment at home, so that they see the need for supporting their children. It’s unfortunately true that there are also parents who are so unhappy and demoralized that they’ve given up on their kids, and then it's up to the tutor, our social worker, and or the school to encourage and ‘teach’ them the importance of education for the children. We are trying to work with a support triangle – parent, child and school – but, unfortunately, parents who have given up hope for their children still exist. And this doesn’t apply only to Roma families. There are children from families that have become dysfunctional because of alcohol, drugs or gambling, and there are parents who just don’t give a damn about their kids. Then it is extremely important that the child has someone to help him outside of the family.

How can people help?

It is always possible to support us financially. For example, you can become a member of Friends of People in Need. This is a community of people who support what we are doing and send us a fixed amount once a month. This helps us build a reserve of funds we can count on in case we need to react quickly to a humanitarian crisis or anything that requires fast action.
People can support Better Schools for All if they choose to donate to education in the Czech Republic. Or they can get personally involved by volunteering to tutor a child themselves. Just contact us. All the contact information is on our website, which is also in English at Depending on where the volunteers live and if we are active there, we can always find a little boy or girl in need of tutoring. That would be an important investment in a better future for that child.

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