Peter Pellegrini (Slovak Minister of Education): “Education 2.0 needs faster connections”

by Emanuele Cerroni

Peter Pellegrini graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica and the Faculty of Economics at the Technical University in Košice with specialisation in finance, banking and investment. He worked as an economist and later became an assistant to Slovak MP Ľubomír Vážny.
In 2006, he was elected MP for SMER-SD party and served as a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Policy and Committee for the Review of NSA Decisions and the Mandate and Immunity Committee. After the 2010 general election, he again became MP for SMER-SD and a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Budget and the Parliamentary Committee for the Review of NSA Decisions. He was elected MP for the third time in the early election held on March 10, 2012.  Mr Pellegrini has held the post of State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance of the Slovak Republic from 2012 to 2014, he has also been appointed Slovak Digital Champion. He is currently Minister of Education and Digital Leader of the Slovak Republic. 

Bb4e: You have assumed the office of the Slovak Minister of Education as the Digital Leader of the Slovak Republic. I expect that big part of your activities in the Education Department is focused on the field of digitalization, isn’t it?  Peter Pellegrini: Already as the digital leader I have actively participated in projects implemented by the Ministry of Education in introduction of modern technologies in teaching process. Therefore, it is clear that I continue in this work and try to develop it further, as I can see the new possibilities it brings, and the interest that both the pupils and the teachers accept the technologies with. Of course, I realize that the work of the Minister of Education is not just to enforce digitalization. My task is also to improve position of pedagogues, to find suitable model of financing of primary and secondary schools, or to resolve problems of vocational education.

Bb4e: What is the success in the field of digitalization of education in Slovakia?

Peter Pellegrini: I have to say that we succeeded in many issues, however, it is clear that everything can be done even better. First of all, also thanks to the projects from the EU Structural funds we have significantly succeeded in equipping the schools with computers and interactive boards in recent years, bringing new possibilities to pedagogues in presenting the teaching content to the pupils. For example, there are currently less than 7 pupils per one computer in average in primary schools. In 2004 the indicator was 30 pupils per one computer. Last year the schools have got free access to digital educational content called Knowledge planet with developed teaching content in natural sciences – math, physics, chemistry and natural history, or biology. Educational content for other subjects of general education is being prepared on our own with support of the European funds. We also publish text books and other teaching materials in electronic form. We are trying hard to transfer the administrative agenda of schools into electronic form: forms, statistic statements, where we have recently launched large project of the Department information system. It should significantly simplify work for schools in the field of statistics and other information and to provide more exact data regarding the education system to the Ministry.

Bb4e: Digitalization of education has become a big challenge for all EU states. Have you prepared any plan how it should go further in Slovakia?

Peter Pellegrini: The Government of the Slovak Republic has recently approved the document „Concept of informatization and digitalization of the department of education with outlook to 2020“ describing frameworks, priorities, goals, and creating basic frame of where Slovakia should get in the field of the ICT utilization within the agenda of the Ministry of Education. Digitalization and informatization are based on several pillars closely connected to each other. The key is to select correct mix of investments in infrastructure, modern technologies supporting teaching, digital content, supporting of digital skills and competence of both the pedagogues and the pupils and students, and in electronic services of the department on central and regional level.

Bb4e: You have mentioned that after joining the Ministry you continued the already launched activities and projects. Which of them do you consider the most significant ones?

Peter Pellegrini: I consider the national project co-financed by the EU structural funds called Electronization of the education system in regional education system – Digischool – one of the most important projects. Within the project the schools, starting from kindergartens up to secondary schools, get modern digital equipment, including almost 6000 interactive boards and 20 000 touch-controlled tablets for teachers and pupils. The technologies available for common teaching with digital educational content change the process of teaching in a material way, and they prepare the pupils to cope with the today´s requirements. Even today it is great to see the wide application the teachers are able to find for the new technologies in teaching. My goal is that every pupil regardless of the region or social background gets adequate e-skills, as they will be hardly able to find a job without such skills. Even today we can see the paradox situation that we have high unemployment of young people in the EU, but we have also high number of vacant positions in the ICT field. The requirements on qualified labour force in this field will continue growing. All of us need to adapt to that situation. For example, in Slovakia we introduce motivation scholarships for university students that decide to study informatics, as well as the demanded fields in natural sciences and technical fields.

Bb4e: One thing is to supply the required equipment into schools and another thing is to really use the equipment in teaching. The today´s technologies need the Internet connection. How about the schools in Slovakia in this field?

Peter Pellegrini: I consider the issue of safe and fast connection of schools to the Internet very important. It is true that Slovak schools are relatively good equipped with computers and the digital educational content is available. However, the Internet connection looks worse. Older and slow technologies still prevail not allowing the schools to fully utilize their hardware and software. In lessons all pupils in the class often cannot connected be to the Internet, as the download rate would be reduced so much that, in fact, it would be impossible to work with the digital educational content. Therefore, in September this year we have started cooperation with the National agency for network and electronic services. In cooperation with the agency we will prepare a pilot project. It should test the new type of fast, reliable and secured Internet connection. The discussed concept assumes high-performance WiFi connection in schools, while both the pupils and the teachers could use their own devices, such as tablets, or notebooks. If it turns out well, we would like to provide such connection to all schools, starting from kindergartens up to the secondary schools, using the sources from the EU funds.

Bb4e: Are the teachers in Slovakia ready to such significant and quite fast changes?

Peter Pellegrini: With regard to age structure of pedagogues in our schools, with people in their 40´s and 50´s prevailing, we are aware of the fact that high attention needs to be paid to learning of teachers. Therefore, we deal with this area not only in the above mentioned concept, but also in particular national projects supported by the European funds. They include also trainings for pedagogues performed all over the country. It is true that there is a lot of work in this field, since the new possibilities require also new teaching methods and ways. However, without having trained teachers we will not be able to reach the set goals. And it would be good neither for education system, nor for further development of Slovakia.

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