Psychology in the Slovak Republic's Education System

Eva Gajdosova

History of School Psychology in Slovak Republic

In Slovakia the 1990s can be characterized by two interlocking developments: the development of school psychology in Slovakia, namely as an independent applied psychological speciality, as well as the development of the school psychologist’s activities in schools, pedagogical-psychological counseling centers, children centers, and children’s homes.

In 1991, the School Psychology Association of Czechoslovakia was established with support from the International School Psychology Association (the president of ISPA Mrs. Melden visited Czechoslovakia in that time and helped us to create the National School Psychology Association) . The first members of the School Psychology Association of Czechoslovakia were university teachers from Slovak universities and later on from the Czech universities.

During 1991- 92, the School Psychology Association of Czechoslovakia, at the request of the Ministry of Education, developed a new model for the work of school psychologists in schools and other school institutions based on information provided by the International School Psychology Association and the experiences of its members. The model specified the main missions and tasks of the school psychologists in schools

In 1992, the author of this article prepared a curriculum for training school psychologists in the Department of Psychology, Philosophical Faculty, Comenius University in Bratislava. It was to begin a new era for the training of school psychologists.

During these years, information on school psychologist´s activities was published in conference reports, journals, and books, including university textbooks. The monographs School Psychologist and His/Her Entrance into the Humanization of our Schools (Gajdosova, 1998) and School psychologist (Gajdosova, 1998), School for Emotional Intelligence Developing of Pupils (Gajdosova – Hernyiova, 2002) became important to efforts to advance school psychology.

In 1993, an International School Psychology Association colloquium was held in Banská Bystrica, a town in central Slovakia.

Organisation of Psychologists in the Education System of Slovak Republic

The School Psychology Association of Slovak and Czech republic functionaries include a president, president-elect, past president, secretary and two other members of the executive committee. Despite the division of Czechoslovakia into the Slovak and Czech Republics in 1993, the School Psychology Association of Czechoslovakia continued its unified activities, becoming registered in both republics, as the Association of School Psychology of the Slovak Republic and as the Association of School Psychology of the Czech Republic. Every three years the presidency of the Association rotates between candidates from the Czech or Slovak Republics. Presidents of School Psychology Association were A. Furman, (later President of the International School Psychology Association), E. Gajdosova, J. Mares, J. Zapletalova, and G. Herenyiova.

The development of new concepts of school psychology marks a milestone, contributions that later are used as a legislative base through materials prepared by the Slovak Ministry of Education. During 1991 and 1992, representatives from the Association of School Psychology, educational-psychological counseling centers, and the Ministry of Education met in an effort to resolve multiple controversial issues concerning school psychology. This collaboration leads to the preparation of the Law on School Institutions (No.279/1993). This law, approved in October 1993, allowed schools to employ school psychologists as permanent employees of schools or educational-psychological counseling centers. In January 1996, regulations from the Ministry of Education No.43/1996 were equally significant for school psychology. These regulations described the work of school psychologists and specified their activities in relation to pupils, educators, parents, or legal representatives of pupils and in relation to the school. The formulation of the school psychologist's work contained in this regulation enables psychologists to develop their own scope and contents of activities, reflecting the specific conditions of the school and their own professional and personal dispositions. The Association publishes its journal, School Psychologist twice yearly. It was initiated by members from the Department of Psychology, Philosophical Faculty at Comenius University. The journal contributed to the further development of school psychology in Slovakia.

Although all of the conditions described above are favorable to installing school psychology services in schools, small numbers of school psychologists, about 160, are employed directly in schools. An additional 250 school, counseling, and clinical psychologists work in educational-psychological counselling centers that provide once a week services in two to three nearby schools. At present, due to financial reasons, the headmasters cannot afford to employ their own school psychologist in spite of growing problems in schools.

Training of Slovak School Psychologists

In 1993, school psychology training was started by the Department of Psychology, Comenius University following legislation authorizing this preparation. The preceding period can be divided into three stages.

During the first stage, the 1970s, as previously discussed school psychologists were trained at the university in educational psychology plus another subject (pedagogy, philosophy, foreign languages). Thus, school psychologist gained a teacher certificate in that school psychologists presumably would be teaching the other subject part time. During this period, attempts to establish school psychology in schools were not successful.

During the second stage, beginning in the early 1990s, prospective school psychologists completed either a five year course of study that combined psychology with pedagogy, without receiving a teacher certificate, or a four year course in psychology, specializing in school, counselling and educational psychology. A few school psychologists were employed in secondary schools during this period.

During the third stage, beginning in the later 1990s to the present, following the passage of the Law on Educational Institutions and Regulations of Ministry of Education, the Department of Psychology, Philosophical Faculty, Comenius University, Bratislava began preparing school psychologists in a five year program in psychology. Program features are discussed below.

A student’s graduate study in psychology is ensured through the selection of optional courses (lectures, seminars, exercises). During the first three years of psychological study, leading to a bachelor of arts degree, students take basic theory and methods courses, including compulsory courses in general psychology, developmental psychology, psychology of personality, experimental psychology, social psychology, educational and school psychology, clinical and counselling psychology, organizational psychology and psychological methodology, psychodiagnostic services for children and adults, sociology, philosophy, education, statistics, and computer technology.

Social psychological training of students is compulsory during their four through sixth semesters (terms), with the goal to promote meta-cognition skills, further awareness of others, as well as the acquisition of social skills. Students receive applied psychological practice experiences in preschools, primary and secondary schools and other establishments. After the 6th term, students must take and pass the first state final examination of basic psychological knowledge to gain a bachelor’s degree. Students may continue in their studies at the magister’s (i.e., masters) level only upon passing this exam.

Compared with the preceding three years of study that focus on acquiring basic psychological knowledge, the next two years focus on preparing for one’s intended work and lead to a magister degree. Compulsory subjects include psychology of counselling, psychology of management, clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Optional courses are chosen on the basis of student interests, preferences, and future specialization. They may select from among the following subjects or themes: forensic psychology, political psychology, preventive programs, family therapy, matrimonial counselling, relaxation techniques, art therapy, conflict resolution, and Adlerian psychology.

Students pursuing a magister degree who want to specialize in school psychology may select such courses as career guidance program for teenagers, emotional intelligence program for children, psychodiagnostic methods in the school psychologist´s work, or bulling at schools. Knowledge and skills related to these topics may be applied by working in primary and secondary schools through work with individuals, small groups, classes, teachers, and vocational counselors (e.g. providing assessment and intervention services with children and youth within the context of classrooms and schools). Students may help evaluate the maturity of children entering first grade, engage in some preventive programs with pupils, or consult with their parents under the supervision of the university teachers and school psychologists working in these schools. Preventive and developmental programs commonly appear in ethics or civic education classes. Students also participate in research conducted within the Department of Psychology, especially research on issues important to clinical, social, organizational, counselling and school psychology. During their final year, students write a thesis, are enrolled in a diploma seminar, and may take some optional courses. The second state final examination, taken at the end of their studies, assesses general psychology, developmental psychology, psychology of personality, methodology and two of these psychological subjects: clinical psychology, counselling psychology, school psychology, educational psychology, social psychology and organizational psychology. Upon graduation, students are awarded the title magister in psychology.

Continuing education programs for psychologists working in practice are offered by departments of psychology on the universities that organize short courses in psychology (50 to 100 hours in duration) and specialized courses in psychology (about 240 hours in duration), resulting in certificates that do not award additional degrees or titles. The postgraduate course resulting in the doctor of philosophy degree (PhD) and title may have an internal or external form. Students selecting the internal form study for 3 years during which time they are members of the department of psychology of the university and are required to help with the teaching in selected courses and lessons. Students selecting the external form study for 5 years during which time they are working in psychological institutions. Both programs terminate with a final exam and dissertation defense.

Since 1995, students completing their university study of psychology can take specializing courses in school psychology leading to a certification in school psychology. This specialization requires 240 hours and ends by defending a thesis and taking three exams: one of school psychology and conception of their work; another on psychodiagnostic methods, and a third on prevention, consultation, counseling and correction in their work. This program emphasizes four spheres of knowledge and skills: learning difficulties, behavior difficulties, career orientation and guidance of pupils, and prevention programmes (e.g. tolerance, effective conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, carreer guidance).

Present Issues of School Psychologists in Slovak Republic

School psychologists generally assume responsibility for providing psychological and educational counselling. Educational counselors also provide these services in educational-psychological counselling centers, and the Educational Counseling Board within the Ministry of Education. As employees of the school administration, they report to school administrators. Their work is guided, directed, and sometimes supervised by administrators of the educational-psychological counselling centre. Theses centers are located in each of the country’s 78 regions. Their work conforms to regulations of the Slovak Psychological Association and the School Psychology Association.

School psychologists generally work in one school. They also may work in two to three schools. Their main missions are to promote the safety, well-being, and social development of pupils and to facilitate of the implementation, evaluation and improvement of comprehensive social and emotional education, beginning in preschool and continuing through high school.

School psychologists attempt to work cooperatively with all components within the school system that may influence pupils´academic success. Thus, they contribute to solving school problems and participate in the development and implementation of training of teachers, parents and children. Their work is intended to promote pupils’ development, including their mental health and social-emotional development.

School psychologists perform the following tasks in an effort to improve school effectiveness. In reference to pupils, they acquire an understanding of pupils´ personalities, abilities, interests, attitudes, personality characteristics, and motivation to learn; identify gifted and talented pupils; work with pupils who are failing, those learning below their capabilities, and those with behavior problems. They work in cooperation with teachers, parents, educators, counselors, and other professionals. They participate in the construction and implementation of programmes to promote matrimony and parenthood, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.

In reference to teachers and other educators, school psychologists provide consultation to improve applications of psychological knowledge and to promote teachers’ education and training; counselling services to help address stress associated with teaching; and help solving interpersonal relationships. In reference to parents or legal guardians, school psychologists provide consultation services, assist them in promoting their children’s development, especially their learning, personalities, decision-making, and vocational and occupational choices.

In reference to schools and school systems, school psychologists propose ways to improve the quality and raise the effectiveness of the school as a system; participate in developing and implementing systems interventions intended to promote the personality development of pupils and students; provide services that promote professional orientation and occupational choice; promote the welfare of the gifted and talented; provide partnership and matrimonial counselling and education; provide services intended to promote professional and personal growth of teachers; and provide services intended to increase the effectiveness of personal and social management and organizational development.

Various issues need further attention, including the qualification of school psychologists, the supervision of their work, psychodiagnostic methods necessary for the identification of pupils with behavior difficulties, work with Roma pupils, the integration or inclusion of mentally and physically handicapped children into schools, and the development of tolerance among pupils.