What does the future look like for the Foundation?
The Kellners always understood charity to be an important part of their life; they were complementary that way. Ms Kellnerová was primarily in charge of the Foundation, but the two would consult each other on its operation. They would often say it was important for them to see the end of the chain. They wanted to see how the funds donated actually helped. That is why they chose three principal projects for the Foundation to systematically support over a longer period of time.
Another important aspect of this, is that Czechia has always mattered to them. This is where the family lives – their home is here. That is why assistance from The Kellner Family Foundation is channelled almost exclusively to the Czech Republic. They want to bring about a positive change to society through the provision of quality education. That has always been the purpose of the Foundation and I believe that this will be the case going forward as well. The Foundation has sufficient resources for it to continue this work.
Petr Kellner was often criticised for focusing primarily on global business and not being that interested in Czechia …
I completely disagree. Petr Kellner lived in Czechia, he paid taxes here, and his children study here. He spent time considering the projects that make the most sense for the Czech Republic. It wasn’t just through the Family Foundation that he helped Czechia – he would also donate funds from other private sources, for example, to procure modern instruments for Czech hospitals, and he would also support the Liberec and Křivoklát regions.
After all, our grants for Czech students who study at international universities are subject to the requirement that, as graduates, they will ‘repay the debt’ by working in Czechia for at least three of the fifteen years after their graduation, or alternatively foster a good reputation for the country abroad.
How does the Foundation pursue its goals?
An initial process of determining what the Foundation should focus on and how it should get there, landed on the idea of helping to eliminate inequality in education. The Open Gate eight-year grammar school in Babice started its first academic year in 2005, with most students utilising needs-based grants. The grant project for university students followed. Open Gate graduates were the first beneficiaries of those grants, but over time, we have expanded our reach to all Czech students intending to study at a prestigious international university in order to obtain education and experience.
The Foundation decided to support bachelor’s programmes as other organisations often focus on backing postgraduate study. Over time, we also realised that we needed to provide greater support to children in primary schools so we established the Helping Schools Succeed project.
What does it do?
We wanted to help primary schools improve their pupils’ literacy and introduce teaching methods that have the greatest impact on learning: both reading and critical literacy, as well as mathematical literacy. To that end, we established an expert group that prepared a methodology which would further these goals.
One by one, we chose twenty-two schools in twelve regions. Alongside other assistance, the schools were able to utilise trained consultants to help their teaching staff educate in ways that push the children to use their individual learning capabilities to the fullest extent.
How is it going now?
Figuratively speaking, these initial schools were similar to a research lab, allowing us to check what works and how we can better fulfil our vision – e.g. a school where each pupil learns to the fullest and experience the joy of learning. Since last September, we’ve greatly expanded the project – it now covers 113 schools. It involves both first and second stage teachers, and we will evaluate the project in three years. Judging by the response of the teachers and principals of the participating schools, as well as the general public, we have taken a step in the right direction.
As far as I know, you have expanded the Open Gate project too. It is no longer a grammar school intended exclusively for socially disadvantaged children…
The grammar school was gaining more and more attention and parents who are able to pay the tuition fees for their children were becoming interested. Alongside the grammar school, a primary school was founded at which needs-based grants are not available.
Open Gate’s ambition is to be a top-notch Czech school, with an international reach. It should guide students to a lifelong pursuit of education and inspire a joy for learning beyond the school curriculum towards overall personal development and the ability to listen and be open towards others’ opinions.
What is the current ratio of the children whose tuition fees are paid by the family to those who are there thanks to grants?
Out of the three hundred children in the grammar school, around one hundred receive needs-based grants, and two hundred have their tuition fees paid for by their parents. The grammar school’s tuition fees are CZK 256,000 per school year. For the students who board on the school’s premises – a sort of ‘all-inclusive’ accommodation with dormitory, meals, clubs, trips and so on – it is CZK 470,000.
Are there any differences between the children?
Children from both rich and poor families meet at Open Gate, which helps to establish mutual respect. Students wear uniforms, but they can still see who is better or worse off financially; for that, all they need to do is look at each other’s mobile phones. The chief purpose of their uniforms is to have them make statements through means other than their clothing; uniforms discourage superficiality.
We place a great emphasis on perfect fluency in English, which enables students to obtain information from international sources, giving them a more comprehensive view of the world. With this knowledge, they can go on to study abroad; a range of opportunities opens up for them, but it also forces them to be responsible for making the right choices. Last but not least: if children come to Open Gate from problematic environments, they get to see that there are other ways to live life.