Czech milling school energized

by Teresa Acklin
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   Milling education has long been valued by Czechs. The first milling school was established in North Moravia in 1911; jurisdiction for the school transferred to Czechoslovakia in 1919, the date marked as the school's official founding. Classes for bakers were opened in 1929.

   The commitment to milling and baking education persisted even during World War II. As the German occupation advanced, Czechs moved the school twice to keep it open. The school relocated to Pardubice in 1939, where it operated until closed by German forces in 1943.

   The end of World War II brought the 1945 reopening of the school in a building donated by the Pardubice town government. Over the years, the building was expanded and modernized to include laboratories and workshops in addition to classrooms, a mill and baking facilities.

   Today, the School of Food Technology serves about 500 students through its curricula in grain storage; silo, flour and feed mill design; flour milling; baking; and confectionery products.

   Unlike milling schools in other countries, the Czech school's core consists of a complete four-year, secondary education program. Although a handful of millers have attended for a portion of the coursework, the school is designed for adolescents 14 to 19 years old who wish to enter the milling or baking fields. Coursework includes language and economics subjects in addition to specific milling and baking studies.

   The school has been administered by the Czech government since 1922 and continues to be funded by the Ministry of Education. Students buy books and pay for room and board, but the Ministry pays all tuition costs.

   After 30 years as a technical engineer and instructor at the school, Josef Skalicky was appointed its director shortly after the revolution in 1989. Mr. Skalicky said the school had experienced numerous changes in the past five years, including the content of the curricula.

   “Since the revolution, education is more independent,” Mr. Skalicky said. “We can study more milling and baking and less politics.”

   Another change is the mix of students, Mr. Skalicky said. In 1994, slightly more than 60% of the students were women, a percentage that is dropping as male student enrollment increases. Mr. Skalicky said prior to the revolution, most males were directed to enter either the military or heavy industrial careers.

   Other changes also are occurring that have energized the school's milling program, Mr. Skalicky said. The school has established cooperative arrangements, including student exchange programs, with milling schools in France and Austria.

   “Our students now are able to see how other countries mill,” Mr. Skalicky said. “In the past, this was impossible.

   The school's mill, built between 1945 and 1947, was the first in Czechoslovakia to have a pneumatic system, Mr. Skalicky said. It still uses roller mills, plansifters, baggers and other equipment installed in the 1950s.

   The mill has a capacity of 6 tonnes per week and produces four types of wheat flour and two types of rye flour. Its flour output is used by baking students or sold to the public at the on-site store, where bread, cakes, fancy desserts and other baked goods also are sold.

   In the past year, the school has acquired 25 personal computers, which eventually will be used in process control courses. The school also is upgrading its milling laboratory equipment and recently acquired a new Alveograph.

   Mr. Skalicky clearly was excited about the progress made in the past few years, but he said the school was not fully satisfied and eagerly anticipated further quality improvements and modernization.

   That attitude — pride in accomplishments since 1989 mixed with impatience and zeal for the future — characterizes much of the Czech Republic today. As the Czech milling industry continues to evolve, that attitude, as well as its historical legacy of courage, should serve millers well.