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Branko Ružić, Serbian Minister of Education

Predstoje nam velika ulaganja u visoko obrazovanje

The educational process fully adheres to the requirements set before it by the process of transforming Serbian society into a modern society with a knowledge-based economy

Serbia’s educational process is under constant modernisation, which is testified to by the series of reforms that are being implemented by the Ministry of Education with the intention of providing school pupils and university students with high-quality educational content that’s aligned with the needs of the labour market.

At the same time, this education is inclusive, as evidenced by the increasing participation of children from vulnerable groups in the educational process, says Serbian Education Minister Branko Ružić.

There are 850,000 people in Serbia who haven’t completed primary school, while every fifth citizen lacks a high school diploma. In a situation that sees Serbia increasingly lacking a trained workforce, how can these people be included in the educational process, and subsequently in the labour market?

There is an existing system of schools, institutions, including more than 450 of them nationwide across Serbia, where adults can also be educated and can, through lifelong learning, acquire the competencies and qualifications required for their personal and professional development, work and employment.

People aged over 17 can complete primary and secondary school in accordance with special programmes for adults, with a range of programmes available for additional qualification and retraining, and no costs are applicable for those acquiring primary education and their first profession. Considering how important it is for any adult completing primary school to also acquire some qualification and skill, a new programme has been introduced that enables people aged over 15 to complete primary school over the course of three years and to also, in parallel with their completion of the third cycle (7th and 8th grade), attend a training programme for an occupational profile required by the labour market.

A novelty was introduced as of 2021 with the establishing of a system that recognises previous learning. Through this procedure, knowledge and skills that have been acquired through various training courses, life experience and work practise are recognised, evaluated and acknowledged, with the issuance of either a confirmation notice showing the acquired competences or a certificate confirming the qualification acquired.

During the 2019 to 2021 period, almost 36,000 mature students traversed the adult education system, completing primary or secondary school and obtaining a qualification. Given that the adult education system is advancing and new opportunities are being created for lifelong learning, I believe the statistics from the latest census will also highlight these positive trends.

To what extent do educational programmes in secondary and higher education converge with other public policies, such as the Smart Specialisation Strategy Serbia?

In the process of transforming Serbia into a modern society with a knowledge-based economy, it is essential to incentivise the development of innovations within the scope of innovative private companies and other organisations, but it is also equally important to enable the acquiring of the required entrepreneurial knowledge and skills within our education system and to enable them to be valued on the market through innovative products and services that are competitive on the world market and produced in Serbia.

Serbian education is oriented towards innovation and entrepreneurship, and will equip future labour market participants to readily await the demands placed before them by the knowledge-based economy

Serbian education is oriented towards innovation and entrepreneurship, preparing future labour market participants to engage in modern business flows and continue activities launched through science and technology parks or innovative startups, as well as equipping them to successfully utilise state and international funds intended to develop the knowledge-based economy. As an example, for 2020 and 2021, we allocated 20 million dinars for the financing of 41 projects aimed at improving and developing the curriculum at higher education institutions with a focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and improving cooperation with the economy.

The Unified Education Information System (JISP) was established recently. How will the Ministry use the available data to make further improvements to the education process and monitor the outcomes of educating pupils?

When it comes to education, the Unified Education Information System represents the foundations of the modernisation of management. It enables decision-making on the basis of relevant information, the rationalisation of funding and the reducing of the administrative burden for all personnel employed in the education and training system. This system also enables transparency. One example is the Open Data Portal, which is actually a “showcase” for the Unified Education Information System. Thanks to this portal, every citizen, researcher, journalist, or anyone else, will be able to search data simply and glean statistics related to the education system. On the other side, parents will be able to access information about schools individually – about the languages studied and educational profiles offered, which will mean a lot to them when it comes to making those important life decisions like enrolment in primary and secondary schools. It is important to emphasise that this system does not track pupils individually, i.e., nobody accessing this system will be able to see data related to any individual pupil/ student. This system offers summarised data and statistics at the system level, as well as basic information about schools and what they offer.

The comprehensive reform of the curricula in primary school grades began in 2017 and concluded at the end of the 2021/2022 academic year. What are the key results of that reform?

The comprehensive reform of curricula in primary school grades began in 2017 with the introduction of new compulsory subjects. It firstly introduced a new teaching concept for programmes oriented towards the learning process and outcomes, i.e., towards pupils’ functional knowledge, which shows what the pupil will be capable of doing, undertaking, performing and accomplishing thanks to the knowledge, attitudes and skills they’ve built up and developed during their studies on a specific subject.

It is too early to talk about results and effects at this juncture, but analysis will certainly be conducted and the programme will be further harmonised with new requirements and standards, because education isn’t an isolated island and, as such, is dependent on broader social changes and requirements.

To what extent are children aged up to three included in preschool education programmes? How much has Serbia progressed in this area?

Measures and activities carried out in previous years resulted in us having, for the first time, in the last ten years, the inclusion of children aged up to three in preschool and primary education, by approximately 34 per cent. Our strategic objective is for this percentage to be even higher. That’s why we currently have major infrastructure investments in the construction and extension of nursery schools across the whole of Serbia, with which we are – with the support of the World Bank – securing an additional 11,000 places for youngsters.

How inclusive is education in Serbia if we measure that, for example, on the basis of results in the area of support for the early education of Roma children and access to primary and secondary education?

The Serbian education system is inclusive in all segments. There is a constant increase in the number of pupils exercising their right to an individual education plan that is unique for each of the 17,000 pupils currently enrolled in primary schools. There is also growing inclusion of pupils with developmental and physical disabilities in secondary schools, where they acquire skills that qualify them for the labour market. There is also an increased number of personal assistants, with this service being utilised by over 1,800 children with developmental and physical disabilities, while pupils are also supported by 260 teaching assistants in schools. Free and adapted textbooks are provided each academic year for primary school pupils belonging to vulnerable groups.

Preventing children from dropping out of school remains one of the Ministry of Education’s priorities, as well as recognising children potentially at risk of dropping out of the education system

Significant progress has also been achieved in terms of supporting the schooling of Roma children through the securing of scholarships, affirmative action measures for enrolment in secondary school and advanced support for pupils transitioning from primary to secondary education, as well as mentoring support. Approximately 85 per cent of Roma children today enrol in primary school, while 80 per cent of them attend the preparatory preschool programme, which marks a 15 per cent increase. The rate at which Roma pupils transition to secondary school stands at 52.6%, while 61 per cent of them completed secondary education, which is an increase of 20 per cent.

Preventing children from dropping out of school remains one of the Ministry of Education’s priorities, as well as recognising children who are potentially at risk of dropping out of the education system, with the aim of providing timely and adequate support to children and their families.

Considering the economic growth slowdown and reduced budget revenues, will it be possible to implement the investments envisaged in higher education at the same pace as before?

It is important to maintain synergy between the state and university in order to together improve the system, preserve the quality of education and make it available to every citizen. Due to this strategic commitment, we have ahead of us significant investments in higher education infrastructure. Some university colleges – like the Faculty of Music, Faculty of Geography and Faculty of Security Studies – will have their own buildings for the first time. We will also invest in expanding the capacity of student dormitories and improving their conditions. The plan is to expand the capacities of student centres in Belgrade and Niš by an additional 1,400 places. This will be an investment in university infrastructure the likes of which haven’t been seen in the last 30 years. The funding for these investments has already been secured. It is our task to prepare these projects for implementation, secure project design and technical documentation, resolve property rights relations, acquire all permits and ensure implementation unfolds without problems.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme was introduced two years ago and is being implemented by three gymnasium high schools in Serbia. Given the existing interest among pupils, do you intend to expand the number of schools where it’s possible to earn a diploma in this way?

Another characteristic of the Serbian education system is its diversity and variety, i.e., the options and opportunities available to pupils/students when it comes to education for future professions or further/ higher education. The education system’s diversity is most evident at the level of secondary education, where a large number of different courses are already available at the high school education level. Alongside traditional general, social and mathematical courses, our gymnasium high schools also offer bilingual teaching in Serbian and another five foreign languages, while there are also specialised gymnasium high schools and departments for gifted youngsters who are interested in eight fields – from mathematics, biology, chemistry and linguistics to IT.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme was introduced to Serbia two years ago and is implemented at three gymnasium high schools. It is specific, conducted in English, and enables our children to complete a programme that provides a diploma recognised by the world’s most prestigious universities. Our pupils, at all three of these schools, took the diploma exam last year, together with their peers from other countries. They all passed and achieved results that exceed the world average, while all of them – with the exception of one student – continued their schooling in Serbia. The Ministry monitors interest among pupils who apply for these departments and take the entrance exam, and the number of departments is currently sufficient.

INVESTMENT

We are awaited by significant investments in higher education infrastructure the likes of which haven’t been seen in the last 30 years

TRANSPARENCY

Introducing the Unified Education Information System will make it simple to search data related to the education system

SUCCESS

In the last ten years, for the first time, we’ve seen the inclusion of children aged up to three in preschool and primary education, by approximately 34 per cent

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