The Gymnázium Andreja Kmeťa (Andrej Kmeť Comprehensive School) in Banská Štiavnica, also known in the past under different names that have changed alongside political regimes, rulers, and states; has a long history that goes hand in hand with the very history of education in the town and the Slovak Republic.
Early written mentions of the town appear in the 13th century when Banská Štiavnica had already been a significant free royal town. At that time, the Dominican Order served in the town. As it was in other towns, it is highly probable that there was a monastic school at the monastery in Banská Štiavnica too, which was situated near the Church of Ascension of Virgin Mary. After the monks abandoned the town, the school was taken over by the town magistrate. There was the pastor of the town who provided education for children of burghers and town lords. The written historical documents about municipal school are dated from the 14th century.
Since the year 1536 the school operated under the administration of secular professors for 42 years. Later in 1649 after the arrival of the Jesuits, the school got into systematic service. Gradually, the original three-year school turned to be three grades´ and later the four grades´ gymnasium (high/secondary grammar school in Latin). The Jesuit Order was abolished in 1773, and the former Jesuit teachers had to become secular friars. According to the order of the Empress Maria Theresa, the gymnasium´s administration was given to the Piarists on the 11th November 1776. In this period German replaced Latin as a teaching language. In May 1806 the building of the gymnasium was damaged by fire and lessons had to be cancelled for one year.
The “long” 19th century was typical for the arising national consciousness and conflicts that broke out in 1807 with the introduction of Hungarian as a teaching language to the schools. For a short time, Latin came back, but since the half of the 19th century, Hungarian was the teaching language and Latin was only a special subject. Despite this fact, many famous Slovak personalities were teaching or studying at this school, such as Ondrej Radlinský, Martin Hattala, or Andrej Kmeť. Gradually, natural sciences subjects were introduced and higher grades were opened. That is why a new larger building was necessary for the school. The old building on the place of contemporary archaeological excavations of medieval Dominican monastery was in decay, so the school moved to the new building nearby in 1914. During the World War I, the school bore the name Imperial and Royal Hungarian-German Roman-Catholic Piarist Gymnasium.
The modern gymnázium in Banská Štiavnica as it is known today has its roots in Protestant education, too. During the 16th century, there were both, the evangelical municipal school and the high evangelical school founded in Banská Štiavnica. The Religious Wars in the 17th century caused the temporary closure of the schools and conflicts with the Jesuits in the 18th century decreased the school to lower gymnasium. It was promoted to higher gymnasium after passing the Educational Act Ratio Educationis in 1777. In the year 1808 the school was proclaimed the District (regional) gymnasium with the support of the Mining District Chamber Office. Then Evangelical Lyceum, it was moved to a new building at the upper part of the Holy Trinity Square in 1830. Gradually, the school became an important centre of the Slovak National Awakening movement. As teachers, Daniel Lichard, Ján Severíni, Martin Hamaliar, Štefan Boleman, Pavol Dobšinský, or Ján Brezník were working here. Andrej Sládkovič and Kálmán Mikszáth were studying here, too. Shortly and unsuccessfully, even the Romantic Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, the school was magyarized (Hungarian language, national consciousness, and affiliation to Magyar ethnicity were introduced to all aspects of education) step by step. In 1880, the preparatory higher classes for upcoming teachers at the Evangelical Lyceum were founded. Since the year 1908, it existed as the Teachers´ Institute.
With the end of World War I and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Banská Štiavnica became part of the new Czechoslovak Republic. After the period of Magyarization, it was necessary to “reslovakize” the educational institutions. Therefore, in March 1919 the Ministry of Education in Prague gave the order to close the Hungarian gymnászium and thus be replaced by the Czechoslovak “real” gymnázium. The Evangelical Lyceum became part of this school, too. The building of the Hungarian Piarist gymnászium was passed by the last headmaster Jozef Rauchbacher to a new steward of the gymnázium professor Ladislav Seitl on 7th April 1919. The professors and students were offered to continue at school under condition of using Slovak language and paying the oath of loyalty to the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
The new “real” gymnázium was named after Andrej Kmeť, who studied at the Piarist School in Banská Štiavnica in the years 1852 – 1858. The name of the new school the 1st Czechoslovak State Real Gymnázium of Andrej Kmeť (1. československé štátne reálne gymnázium AndrejaKmeťa) and the coat-of-arms of the Czechoslovak Republic are still visible on the tower of the gymnázium´s old building. The school´s name represents the secular and Slovak character of the school and the name of the archaeologist and botanist Andrej Kmeť expresses the teaching aimed on the harmony between natural sciences and humanities. As well as the other schools in Slovakia, after 50 years of Magyarization there was an acute lack of Slovak teachers, so paradoxically Slovak language had to be taught by Czech professors. They had to leave their homes and families and for small salary bonus they brought up the brand new generation of the Slovak students and scholars.
The Slovak actors Gustáv Valach and Július Pántik had been studying here until their leaving examination in 1940, shortly after the dawn of the World War II. During the period of the Slovak Fascist State, also known as the First Slovak Republic, the Czech professors were forced to leave the school and the school changed its name into State Real Slovak gymnázium (Štátne slovenské reálne gymnázium). The resistance against fascism was supported by Alžbeta Göllnerová-Gwerková, a teacher of Slovak language and the wife of a local painter Edmund Gwerk. She took part in the illegal anti-fascist movement and after the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) was suppressed she had to seek a shelter at Lake Počúvadlo. After being given away to the Nazis in November 1944, she was imprisoned in Banská Bystrica and in December 1944 she was executed in Kremnička. The street our school resides in was named after her.
The form of education was changed shortly after the War by the central regulations of the socialist government. The four-grade gymnázium first transformed into the 11-grade high school, which was eventually changed into the 12-grade secondary comprehensive school named Stredná všeobecnovzdelávacia škola and later Gymnázium. In 1973 a new educational facility, Preparatory school for the studies in the Socialistic abroad (Prípravka pre štúdium v socialistickom zahraničí) was established at the school. In the fourth grade new classes were opened for students from all around Slovakia who were supposed to continue their university studies in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. The education was focused on the language of the target country as well as on the basis of students´ future academic specialization. Lecturers from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, Poland or Bulgaria were preparing students for the studies in the field of international relations, journalism, medicine, technical or natural sciences at prestigious universities such as those in Halle or Moscow. Some of the alumni of this preparatory school, which is commonly referred to as “tuzex”, ended up as successful diplomats and highly ranked officers, among which the most famous is Miroslav Lajčák, the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic.
Apart from the fall of socialism, the Velvet Revolution of 1989 also brought changes in education. In the school year 1992/1993 the school´s classic form of study was extended by a new eight-year reálne gymnázium, which lasted until the school year 2010/2011. The Preparatory school for the studies in the Socialistic abroad was substituted by language preparation courses focusing on the English language lead by American and British lecturers. The classes focused on the humanities, Biology and Economics. This was how the “tuzex” lasted until the dawn of the third millennium. On the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Czechoslovak real gymnázium the honourable name Gymnázium Andreja Kmeťa was given back to the school. In 2011, a new bilingual form of study with a focus on English language was established, serving as a successor to the language gymnázium from the end of the 20th century. Gymnázium Andreja Kmeťa in its current state offers two forms of study – a four-year Slovak section and a five-year bilingual English section with 10 classes.