According to the Infrastructure Readiness Index, Serbia is ranked 75th among 139 countries on the list of the World Economic Forum. The development of networks and services impacts significantly on the growth of business and generates highly stable economic development, which is why this is one of the most important topics in the work of our ministry.
Infrastructure is the starting point for the fast development of the IT sector. What kind of infrastructure applicable to this area does our country possess; where do we stand in relation to the region and Europe, and what are the priority steps towards improving the current situation?
– With the aim of encouraging the development of access to broadband, we devised the Strategy for the development of new networks, are preparing the Law on Broadband and soon expect to adopt the new Electronic Communications Law, which will contribute improving networks and the telecommunications market.
With the aim of developing a national broadband network, we have compiled maps, promoted wireless networks and are encouraging funds for rural development.
A Strategic Partnership Agreement on the development of a national broadband network has been signed between the Government of Serbia and Huawei. We have also launched the project “Development of ICT infrastructure in the institutions of education, science and culture”, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.
To what extent do budget constraints impact on the development of IT and its growth nationwide across Serbia?
– More investment is needed, particularly in infrastructure, industry and human resources capacities. Total investments in the electronic communications sector last year amounted to 32.3 billion dinars, which is 4.9% less than in the previous year. It is estimated that there is a shortfall of around 15,000 workers in the IT sector, while in contrast only 1,500 to 2,000 professionals are being educated at colleges annually.
A major shift was achieved with the introduction of informatics as a compulsory subject in primary schools. This ensures long-term increases in digital competences among new generations. However, there is no doubt that additional investments are needed in the modernisation of all levels of education.
The digital direction is also clearly defined politically. The previous and current compositions of the Government of Serbia strategically opted for the utilisation of ICT with the aim of accelerating economic and social progress. Likewise, the economy, thanks to foreign investors but also our experts, keeps pace with the global digital progress – developing and applying innovative solutions in industry and business generally.
A major shift was achieved with the introduction of informatics as a compulsory subject in primary schools. This ensures long-term increases in digital competences among new generations. However, there is no doubt that additional investments are needed in the modernisation of all levels of education
You approach the safety of children on the internet very seriously. What are you doing on this issue and which projects are conducted?
– Security is the basis for successful digitisation and, among other things, also for the wide application of new services in the economy and administration. When it comes to children, ensuring their protection on the internet is a priority. They apply new technologies from their earliest childhood, but don’t have enough life experience to recognise the hazards and real consequences of behaviour on the internet.
In order to provide an institutional response to this issue, the Ministry devised the Regulation for the Safety of Children on the Internet, which formed the basis for establishing the National Contact Centre. In eight months of work, this unique advisory and educational hub for reports received more than 3,500 calls and 750 formed and processed cases.
We also raised the Pametno i bezbedno (Smart and Safe) digital platform, while our Centre’s educators, in addition to online presentations, have begun holding lectures in schools. They have so far visited more than 30 institutions in Serbia and held lectures for about 3,000 pupils and 800 parents. In the past two years we have carried out the IT caravan campaign in all major cities. This campaign promotes the benefits of IT, but also highlights the dangers present on the internet.
The higher representation of women in ICT is a global topic. Your ministry is implementing various gender equality programmes in this sector. In which ways do you support women persevering and thriving in the ICT sector?
– The Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications has allocated funds for nine re-training projects for women in ICT, more precisely for 220 future computer programmers. This programme was launched in accordance with the Strategy for the Development of the IT Industry, where staffing shortfalls have been identified as a major problem. The strategy’s goal is to empower women in economic and social terms, and to promote their greater representation in a sector that offers numerous opportunities for rapid professional progress.
These projects have generated enormous interest, so a new cycle of retraining programmes is planned for next year, which will involve more trainees.
Moreover, the Ministry also commemorates ‘Girls in ICT Day’ every year, which is celebrated in UN member countries every fourth Thursday in April. The aim of this activity is to bring young and teenage girls closer to the field of IT, where women are not sufficiently professionally represented at present.