Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Serbia has been among the few countries that has managed, without postponements, to enable pupils and students at all levels of education to follow classes online from the beginning of the school year. We believe that we will end the school year equally successfully – Branko Ružić
The most important thing for us is to preserve the health and safety of children and all employees in the education system – says First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development Branko Ružić. This is also the key guiding notion that will determine how teaching the curriculum will be organised in this school year, as well as the return to school in the autumn. Thanks to the self-sacrifice of education workers, but also companies and pupils who attend classes in dual education, children had the opportunity to conduct all teaching units that are ordinarily performed in companies.
Thanks to the support of donors and the engagement of the ministry, classes can also be attended by children from particularly vulnerable groups without hindrance.
How resistant to the challenges of COVID- 19 has the education system proved itself to be?
– The education system responded fully to the new and sudden circumstances that were imposed by the Coronavirus Pandemic and displayed great flexibility. I will remind you that we are among the few countries in Europe, and the only one in the region, to have enabled students at all levels of education to attend classes without postponements since the beginning of the school year. No school day was lost. Teaching has taken place in continuity, according to established models, and even under these difficult and unpredictable conditions, no one has been denied the right to an education. In this situation, everyone in the system – school pupils, educators and extracurricular staff – showed a high degree of responsibility, professionalism and self-sacrifice.
What are your key objectives when it comes to the successful completion of this academic year?
– Our goal is to successfully conclude this school year and implement all planned and envisaged activities, starting from enrolment activities to legislative amendments and other reform moves. However, the most important thing at this juncture is to preserve the health and safety of children and all employees in the education and training system. It has been shown so far that educational institutions are not places where the virus is transmitted, because everyone in that system adheres to the prescribed epidemiological measures.
I would like every child in Serbia, even in the country’s most remote parts, to have an opportunity to use the most modern equipment
In the meantime we’ve seen significant progress on the digitisation of the education system. How many educational institutions are today equipped with the most modern e-classrooms?
– I would like every child in Serbia, even in the country’s most remote parts, to have an opportunity to use the most modern equipment. That’s why it’s important to maintain the continuity of reform processes and continue to advance education and science in accordance with contemporary global tendencies.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development is striving, through various projects and in cooperation with partners, to digitise the entire system to the greatest possible extent, but also to improve the teaching process and increase the skills and digital competencies of pupils and teachers. It is planned to equip another 10,000 digital classrooms in the second half of this school year, as well as to secure another 11,500 digital classrooms for the next school year. Plans also include the renewal of equipment in computer rooms, in order for pupils to be bale to use more modern computers. Apart from this, last year saw the start of the process of digitising the final exam for primary education, while this year we will advance this process even further.
As you know, alongside equipping rooms with IT equipment, digitisation also means, among other things, developing new electronic services that save time for our citizens. The e-enrolment service thus enables the easier enrolment of children in preschool institutions and primary schools, as well as enrolment in secondary schools and university colleges.
What kinds of plans do you have when it comes to preparing for the next academic year? Will some of the teaching content still be provided online?
– It’s too early to discuss this topic. The organisation of classes will first and foremost depend on the epidemiological situation.
We expect mass immunisation and the implementation of epidemiological measures to lead to the normalisation of all segments of life, including teaching and the education process. So, when all teachers and pupils will return to their classrooms will depend exclusively on the epidemiological situation, which we are monitoring on a daily basis in cooperation with the Crisis Staff and the competent institutions. During the COVID-19 viral pandemic everyone had an opportunity to see the possibilities offered by online teaching for themselves, and this type of teaching will certainly be applied under certain circumstances.
To what extent were vulnerable groups of children covered by online classes and how will they manage to make up for the backlog in their schooling?
– One of the priorities of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development is to make education equally accessible to all pupils. Vulnerable groups of pupils were not excluded from the education system in any way during this period. For the small number of pupils who didn’t have the opportunity to follow remote teaching, teachers and professional associates provided teaching materials and, when necessary, delivered them to pupils in the settlements where they live.
In order to enable greater access to education, we are implementing the project “Bridging the digital divide in Serbia for the most vulnerable children”, which will be implemented in 30 local governments. Under the scope of this initiative, “digital libraries” and “learning clubs” with 1,800 tablets will be established in 30 selected schools. Moreover, 900 teachers who work at these schools will have the opportunity to strengthen their capacities. This will benefit at least 12,000 children. The second area of focus will be on providing psychological and social support to schoolchildren from the Roma population. This project is being implemented by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, with funds provided through a European Union grant.
How were teaching processes in dual education conducted, considering that there were a lot of production delays within companies themselves?
We also enabled pupils of four-year and threeyear profiles of secondary vocational schools, who weren’t able to do their internship due to the epidemiological situation, to acquire practical knowledge remotely. Furthermore, intensive activities – through the preparation of video materials and broadcasting these materials on the RTS Planet portal – enabled pupils in dual education to acquire knowledge about learning through work under conditions when it was impossible to visit companies.
Some 1,200 lessons had been filmed by the end of last year, 764 of which can be found in the National Online Database of Lessons for Dual Education Profiles, which was created for eight areas of work.
Teachers from secondary vocational schools and instructors from companies jointly filmed the lessons. Responding to the invitation of schools was a significant number of companies that normally cooperate with schools in the realisation of learning through work experience. Companies that operate in Serbia showed a high level of social responsibility and responded to the call of the Ministry and school principals to enable classes conducted on their premises with licensed instructors to be recorded.
The state maturity diploma represents a serious change to the education system. That’s why we postponed its implementation until everything is completely ready
How much have your ministry’s long-term plans suffered as a result of COVID-19?
– As a result of the COVID-19 viral epidemic, changes were made in the organisation of educational work, but we organised all activities – such as enrolments in preschool institutions, primary and secondary schools and university colleges – in accordance with the plan under these altered circumstances.
As in other segments of society, there were slight shifts in deadlines, which didn’t have a long-term and significant impact on the flow of the educational process. Despite this, the “Power of Knowledge” Strategy of Science and Technological Development has been completed and adopted, while the Strategy for the Development of Education until 2027 will be adopted soon. The Law on Amendments to the Law on Higher Education has been prepared, which will enable the National Accreditation Body to return to full membership in the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), as well as the Law on Student Organisation that is being adopted in Serbia for the first time.
How will this be reflected in some of your plans, such as the plan to introduce the state maturity diploma?
– The state maturity diploma represents a serious change to the education system. I formed the Commission to monitor the activities of introducing the state maturity diploma not only because of the existing epidemiological situation, but also because of the essential exhaustive preparations that are required for its introduction into the education system. This commission will continuously and carefully monitor the preparation of each of the phases of the state maturity diploma, which will be postponed. Until the state maturity diploma is introduced, special attention will be paid to ensuring the detailed and proper informing of pupils and parents, teachers and other representatives of the professional public, regarding the importance of the maturity diploma, as well as all new introductions to the laws and by-laws regulating this area.
It’s important to maintain the continuity of reform processes and continue to advance education and science in accordance with contemporary global tendencies
Everyone in the system – school pupils, educators and extracurricular staff – showed a high degree of responsibility, professionalism and self-sacrifice
Vulnerable groups of pupils were not excluded from the education system in any way during this period