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Exceptional Slovak school with a special twist in their curriculum

Updated 08.09.2023
Published 08.09.2023

With summer holidays pretty much over, schools all over Slovakia are slowly preparing for a new year. Among them are a few unique ones, such as Maximilián Hell Primary School in Štiavnické Bane, near the UNESCO town of Banská Štiavnica, central Slovakia.

The school is once again opening a compulsory class attended by no other Slovak pupils, and probably none in the world for that matter: falconry. The course has been part of its curriculum since 2009. Pupils are not only educated in the subject; they are given the prospects of a professional career path should they choose it.

"Perhaps the children will not pick up falconry after school, but they will use what they learned later at work or in their personal life: perseverance, patience, responsibility, tolerance and communication with people; they will not be shy, and be able to answer questions," says the school on its website.

"Falconry is love, and as long as birds of prey fly in the blue sky, falconry will live on because that love is eternal."

Pavel Michal, the headmaster, says that the activity saved the school as it was about to close due to fewer and fewer pupils attending it. Parents preferred to drive their children to schools in bigger towns. The situation has turned around since falconry became a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Children are taught basic knowledge on how to maintain a bird of prey: starting from how the bird sits on their hand, to how to make it feel at ease and train it to make a proper run at bait. Later, a young falconer is given their own bird and has to take care of it on a daily basis, even before the teaching begins. They will, for example, even help the bird build its nest. Thus, the emphasis is not only on teaching, but on protection as well. Falcons are not the only birds of prey the school possesses; there are eagles, owls and many others.  

In 2021, after 12 years of trying, Slovakia's falconry was added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, joining fujara, an overtone flute, tinkery, blueprint, and other cultural phenomena.

Although the activity originated in Asia, it arrived in Europe and the territory of current Slovakia in the 5th century CE, quickly becoming popular in various empires, including Great Moravia a few centuries later, with tangible evidence found in various sites. Falconry is associated with the famous Great Moravian ruler Svätopluk, who supposedly escaped murder by pretending to go on a hunt with falcons.

The Byzantine brothers and missionaries Cyril and Methodius, credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet, were also avid falconers. In later centuries in the Middle Ages, it was a favourite pastime of rulers of the Kingdom of Hungary.

All this shows that falconry not only has a rich history, but a future in Slovakia as well, as the country is considered to be a leader in the education of young falconers. Today, when we are starting to see the impact of climate change, it is important to teach the younger generation subjects such as this, related to ecology and the environment.


Photos: majusko95/Shutterstock, Elzbieta Sekowska/Shutterstock

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