Sunday, 4 October 2020

Most Students, Staff Feel Teaching Poorer than Before Quarantine

ZAGREB, October 4, 2020 - The Agency for Science and Higher Education has presented the findings of a survey on studying and social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, which show that students and staff feel the quality of online teaching and teacher-student interaction have been poorer than before quarantine.

Fifty-seven percent of students and 54% of staff at higher education institutions feel the quality of online teaching via field practicum has been much poorer or poorer than before quarantine. Also, 42% of students and 44% of staff feel the possibility of teacher-student interaction has been much poorer or poorer than before quarantine.

Fifty percent of students feel the quality of online teaching via lectures has also been worse than before quarantine, while 38% of staff feel the quality is the same.

The survey was conducted in June and July across Croatia by e-questionnaire with the aim to better understand the effects of extraordinary circumstances on studying and teaching.

Forty-two percent of students were unhappy with access to libraries, while a little over 50% of higher education staff were happy with it.

Eighty-two percent of students and 86% of staff said they were happy with their digital competences.

Respondents mentioned the need for a stable Internet connection and adequate computer equipment, ensuring e-literature access, better organised online exams, preventing unethical behaviour, and the possibility to conduct some classes in person.

 

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Online Schooling in Croatia 1 Month On: 5 Teacher Views

April 15, 2020 - It is almost a month since online schooling became the new education norm in Croatia. TCN intern Janja Sestak talks to five teachers to understand their perspectives.

Students, professors, even parents - all of them are going through something they have never experienced before. While students enjoy waking up a bit later than usual, they struggle with much more work. While teachers get attacked that they are doing less than usual; some of them have spent 10 hours per day in front of their laptops trying to do their best. While some parents are going insane with their children at home, they message teachers, telling them they can't do the homework because their kid is unbearable.

As I am a student myself, I can say that is true - we do have much more work to do. Then again, we do not go to lectures (and not every single professor holds an online lecture), so I believe we are about the same as before. Most of my professors are doing a fantastic job, and I am grateful for that. Yes, it was a bit confusing at the beginning, but just because it was something new for all of us.

Unfortunately, reading comments on social networks, a lot of people at this time of online schooling, still don't understand what it is like to be a teacher. There are many of them who did not leave the best impression in our heads of themselves, of course. But in this piece, I want to show you what it is like currently to be a teacher - in primary school, high school, and an assistant on faculty, and how are things handled by the headmaster of a primary school.

I spoke to five people, and one of them wanted to remain anonymous. I will start with that person, and I will call him John.

John is a form teacher in primary school, handling two classes at once because there are not enough children to split the class. Maybe you are asking yourself: "How can someone teach children of the second year while at the same time, in the same classroom, there are children from the fourth grade?"

Well, a lot of things are possible here.

One of the very first things John said to me is that this type of schooling is not the solution. "It seems like we are not doing anything because there are lectures on television. What is worse, lectures on television don't match the ones where we stopped."

Teachers who are teaching from first to fourth grade in primary school are not required to hold online lectures. But still, John has made a web page for his pupils and their parents, to make things easier for everybody. He puts all the work material on it, and for now, everything is under control.

My second source is a teacher who also works in primary school, but she teaches the Croatian language to children from fifth to eighth grade. Maja Priher was my teacher, and I chose her for this because I knew she would be honest. I sent her a message saying I'm hoping she is doing fine in these crazy times and whether or not she would be interested in giving me a statement about the online school reality.

I received a message that is a statement in itself: "Hi! Here is total chaos, and I am frustrated with this online school because I spent most of the day in front of my laptop (10+ hours). I barely find time to help my kid with the homework and prepare lunch. And, the spring cleaning is the last thing on my mind. If you don't have too many questions, send them to me. I will find time for you."

I know she is dedicated to her job since I was her student, so I know how she gets things done. But this message left me in shock. In further conversation, she said that it is her responsibility, but also a willingness to read and comment on every single homework she gets from her students. Mrs. Priher checks daily if students saw the task and reminds them if they didn't. "I'm trying to prepare my video lectures, and this requires a lot of time and learning about tools for it." Again, she is not obligated to do video lectures on her own. She wants to give everything not to hold her students back.

I asked her to send me one photo that would suit best to her profession in these terms. She sent me this, with the caption: "The real situation. And me behind it, wrapped into a blanket because I'm cold from so much sitting."

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(Photo credit: Maja Priher)

After covering the situation in primary school, let's move to the high school. My source for high school is Cecilija Nekić, a teacher of Italian and Philosophy.

If we leave behind the occasional network problems, according to professor Nekić, the whole system is functionating very well. Professor Nekić says that the transition to online classes was painless. "Everything was done in one day because of the key people from the school who did a great job. Also, I have to mention helpful the parents, who are being understanding and cooperative."

But what she misses the most is the inability to communicate directly with students. "The Socratic method, which consists of well-prepared questions by teachers, leading students to a solution, cannot be implemented," says professor Nekić. Professors tend to send students interactive content, which takes a lot of time. Not only to prepare it but also to find ones that are good enough. Professor Nekić claims that everybody needed some time to get used to the new system, but also, both students and professors understand each other's position.

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(Photo credit: Cecilija Nekić)

"I often tell my students that the definition of intelligence is the ability to cope with new situations and that this is a real opportunity to practice this premise."

Professor Nekić holds lectures for 250 students, of which six classes are graduate ones, who are now in the biggest panic. Students who are now at the turning point of life told her that they are scared. They are worried that Matura won't be held and that their dream of enrolling in their long-wanted faculty won't happen. They are afraid that they will never return to the classroom with their friends. Professor Nekić tries to calm them down. "I cannot imagine how they feel, but I am always saying to them that we, the teachers, are here for them. I tell them to look at this situation reasonably and rationally, and that it is crucial to maintain a cool head." Also, she advises them to stay away from fake news and to listen to the Ministry.

When asked whether this situation is a good experience or a necessary evil, she answers with something I want to conclude the story from high school. "By no means do I want to underestimate the seriousness of the situation, quite the contrary. I want to emphasize the importance of caring for mental health and drawing attention to the fact that it is our free decision about how we will cope with the same."

After high school, let's see how things look from university. Petra Kovačević is an assistant at the Department of Journalism and Media Production at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb and a Ph.D. student at Cardiff University. As one of four lecturers who teaches about Television, she collaborates on courses that are related to the multimedia environment and learning the production of multimedia journalistic forms and exploiting the opportunities of this "virtual" world in the advancement of their journalistic stories.

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(Photo credit: Petra Kovačević)

She sees this online schooling as a challenge, especially for professors who teach future journalists practical, cognitive, and other skills that are crucial to their profession. "Honestly, this is great for me. I see this as an opportunity for creativity and strengthening one-on-one communication with students."

Besides regular lectures and seminars, she also holds one-on-one Zoom consultations, trying to be the most helpful to her students.

"We came up with a lot of practical tasks for our students so that they can do them with the knowledge they got on regular lectures. This is the way I learned the most while studying Journalism in Cardiff."

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(Photo credit: Petra Kovačević)

Assistant Kovačević believes this is the way students learn the most in a situation like this, but also because students maintain a sense of continuity in fulfilling their obligations. "This means a lot more work for us, professors, but this is fine with me. It is essential that students feel that they are actively traveling towards their destination, that they are concentrated, and less concerned with everything that is happening around us."

She thinks teachers have more responsibility in this process and that they need to think about what is best for their students first. For her, that means transforming the teaching into new circumstances so that students get the same as they did in classical teaching, and maybe even more. "Changes are sometimes good because they stimulate creativity, both for teachers and students. Personally, the well-being of my students is a priority for me. I am fully committed to the task, and it depends on them how much they are prepared to receive."

When it comes to the transition to an online system of schooling, assistant Kovačević agrees with professor Nekić. There was no problem when they already communicate a lot with their students via e-mail or social networks. The only new thing was the Zoom. Assistant Kovačević finds both positive and those less positive sides. "The positive is that we can all see and hear, and the less positive is that you can't 'feel the vibe' in the classroom, the rise or fall of energy, which is very important to me in teaching. Some students never turn on the camera or sound, and sometimes it just means a lot to see and exchange a smile or nod, as we usually can live. I think such small things also mean a lot!"

I asked her for an opinion about those who don't do their obligations. Like students, as do professors. She gave me a humble yet an answer that is worthy of thinking. "Everything a man does; he does to himself."

Assistant Kovačević doesn't think this situation puts knowledge and learning on hold. "Still, it does ask us to be flexible - to ourselves, and especially to students, because they are - for me - first and foremost young people and then my students." Assistant Kovačević sees this as an experience where we all grow together, both professionally and personally.

Lastly, I asked the headmaster of one primary school to share her experience with online schooling. Anđelka Rihatarić explained to me that everything moved online in just one day, as well as that all students and parents were informed about it in a short time. Students from fifth to the eighth year got introduced with MS Team application, the one they use for the virtual classroom, and got their tablets. Thanks to the professor of informatics, Tamara Pofuk, all technical issues were solved. 

Lower-grade students watch television classes, which are daily prepared for them by teachers within the School of Life (Škola za život), and their teachers send them additional explanations, materials, assignments, and provide them with feedback on their tasks. This communication goes through the parents - mostly via e-mail or Viber groups. "I have to say that this collaboration is wonderful, quality, cordial both from the teachers and the parents and students. It is a pleasure to watch, and it is, I confess, a spiritual joy how wonderful works, tasks, poems, drawings, recitations are sent by our students."

One of the questions the most people have is how this online schooling will reflect on children who have just started to learn the basics - read, write, build social intelligence, and more. Headmaster Rihtarić gave a positive yet honest opinion saying that at the level of factual knowledge, not all students may adopt all the outcomes they would have acquired if they were in the classroom and constant interaction with their teachers. "But that human contact, the personal warmth of teachers and students, is also realized through this virtual path. In the next school year, we will all make up for any gaps in knowledge, and this experience is of great interest to us, unexpected - and it is an opportunity for us to learn. To all."

Headmaster Rihtarić "definitely and nameless” prefers regular school over the online one. "If school were only about transferring knowledge, we wouldn't even need to be a teacher - Google provides us with all possible information today with just a few clicks ... but what is today the greatest wealth of person-to-person teaching and learning is - humanity, warmth, character." 

She continues by saying that this is the reason why schools will never disappear. Today, even under these conditions, distance learning and social self-isolation crystallize that a good teacher is a society's most significant treasure. One teaches with his two authorities: the authority of knowledge and the authority of humanity. "A teacher teaches with his whole person, with his character, with his smile and voice, with his every action," the headmaster said. 

That is why the teacher should continue to be exemplary because in his hands, parents put their children every day for 6-8 hours, and society for teachers entrusting the shaping of his future. 

online-schooling.jpg

(Photo credit Anđelka Rihatarić)

For headmaster Rihtarić, this situation is a necessary evil, but as in every crisis, this is also a chance for growth. "Teachers are learning a great deal during this period, and students in this environment of distance learning take far greater responsibility for their own learning, for their own success, for planning their day and learning."

When it comes to her job, she works longer hours and in a more demanding environment than usual. In addition to all the regular tasks that she performs, such as daily communication with the competent, official correspondence, planning, and communication with teachers and professional assistants, as well as with parents, she is taking care of the necessary maintenance of the school premises. As a principal, she is obligated to monitor and inspect distance learning. "But that laughter, that youth and courage of our students, that persistence and caring of our parents, that dedication and dedication of most of our teachers - all help me to feel only physical fatigue after 10-12 hours of work. Not spiritual."

If you paid attention, all those people are doing more than is required from them to do; web page, video lectures, friendly advice and support, one-on-one Zoom meetings, and many more. I feel like I shouldn't say anything more but rather let their words and actions speak for themselves. A lot of things stopped, but education is one of the things that can't be put on hold. 

For the latest TCN coverage on all aspects of the coronavirus crisis in Croatia, follow out dedicated section.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Union Tells Government to Leave Teachers Out of Its Plans for Wage Cuts

ZAGREB, March 29, 2020 - The Independent Union of Research and Higher Education Employees of Croatia said on Sunday that in addition to doctors, police and the army, employees in the education and research sectors should not be mentioned in public debates on possible public sector wage cuts either.

The union notes that unlike medical workers, civil protection, police and the army, the work of teachers from home, on which online education in the current coronavirus epidemic is based, is not visible to the public even though it requires greater and significantly different engagement on their part.

Interactive communication provides an individual approach to each student and apart from virtual classrooms and staff rooms, teacher-student communication is maintained also through closed groups, social networks and by phone, says the union.

"Work in the education system in the current crisis is much more complex and requires much more time than the usual classes - for teachers and students alike - even though it is not publicly visible like the usual work of educational institutions," the union says, noting that the system of education is functioning well in the current crisis and that it expects that work to be recognised not only by students and their parents but also by the broader public, notably the government.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Regularity of School Year Not Brought into Question

ZAGREB, March 26 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Thursday underscored that the regularity of the school year would not be brought into question adding that several scenarios were being prepared for graduation examinations and that the ministry would issue relevant instructions early April.

The plan we prepared for online lessons is being implemented successfully however there are certain issues that need to be advanced, she said.

Several scenarios have been worked out for secondary school state graduation examinations; however, this epidemiological situation is totally unfamiliar and no one knows how long it will continue. "Depending on its duration, we will activate some of those scenarios and we will inform everyone of that on time," she noted.

Early April the ministry will release instructions for assessment and evaluation so that online assessment and evaluation is the same at the national level.

It is not necessary to give marks for the first two weeks of remote learning, she said but it is essential to embark on support and adaptation.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

109 Pupils Showed up at School on Monday

ZAGREB, March 17, 2020 - A survey by the Croatian Teachers Union (SHU) covering 627 primary schools across the country shows that a total of 109 pupils showed up at school on Monday as their parents did not have anyone to care for them at home.

According to information reported by 1 pm by 627 primary schools, on the first day of remote learning, introduced due to the coronavirus epidemic, the most pupils attending Grade 1 to 4 who showed up at school were in Sisak-Moslavina County - 41.

Sisak-Moslavina County was followed by the City of Zagreb, where 21 pupils showed up at school, and Split-Dalmatia County, where 20 pupils showed up. In ten counties fewer than ten pupils turned up.

No pupils showed up at school in eight counties.

The union recalled that under the government decision of March 13, primary school employees have to ensure the reception of children who attend Grades 1 to 4 if both their parents are employed and there is no other way for them to ensure child care. Recalling also instructions by Education Minister Blaženka Divjak to school principals regarding the "scope and duration" of school employees' stay at work, the SUH called on school principals to reconsider whether it was necessary for all school employees to show up at work in order to additionally reduce the risk of infection.

The union also called for patience and solidarity and thanked all those involved in removing the current problems in the implementation of remote learning.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Online Classes Functioning Despite Cyberattack

ZAGREB, March 16, 2020 - Despite a cyberattack on the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet) and Srce service, Croatia on Monday was ready for the beginning of online classes amidst the coronavirus epidemic and the Science and Education Ministry has been conducting further preparations, Minister Blaženka Divjak said.

She noted that postponement of high school leaving exams was not being planned for the time being.

"School is functioning even in these difficult, extraordinary circumstances. It's virtual school but it does function," the minister told reporters during a visit to a Zagreb primary school.

Classes have started on the HRT3 channel as well as on Sports Television, which serves as a back-up for virtual classes for students of senior primary school grades and secondary school grades. Classes are already televised on Sports Television in Istria County and Sports Television is expected to start broadcasting them for the rest of the country as of Wednesday.

As for those who have problems with TV classes on the third channel of the HRT public broadcaster, Divjak said that those classes would be available on YouTube immediately after they were aired on television.

She noted that principals had been sent questionnaires as to how many children had turned up in school on Monday and that those questionnaires would be published subsequently.

Answering a reporter's question, she said that information on classes for children with developmental problems was available on the ministry's website as well as that televised classes with sign language would start by the middle of the week.

The minister expressed optimism that difficulties would be overcome after the start of virtual school was marked by a cyberattack on CARNet and Srce on Monday morning, causing problems with registration via official authentication passwords and profiles.

She expressed satisfaction that the nationwide coverage was larger than currently expected, considering that around 450,000 people were in the system.

"Since late Sunday evening we have had around 280,000 user accounts, and we could reach the figure of 400,000 users by Wednesday," she said.

The minister said that the quantity of digital teaching material was sufficient to cover a week of online classes and that work was underway on one more week of online classes as well as that the ministry was prepared to organise online classes for more than two weeks, depending on how the situation would develop.

The minister also said that for the time being there were no plans to postpone high school leaving exams and that they would be held as planned, starting from May 16.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 21 February 2020

EYCS Council Adopts Resolution on Education and Training

ZAGREB, February 21, 2020 - Croatian Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak in Brussels on Thursday chaired a meeting of the European Union's Education, Youth, Culture and Sports Council, which adopted a resolution on education and training and held a public debate on brain circulation.

The resolution on education and training calls for appropriate involvement of education ministers in the European semester process when education and training related issues are being discussed. It reflects member states’ commitment to further improve the quality of education and training.

Education and training are essential for future sustainable growth, competitiveness and employment. As well as responding to the needs of the labour market, quality and inclusive education and training enable personal fulfilment, social cohesion and inclusive societies, the resolution says.

"Without a quality education there is no sustainable development, and investment in education is investment in our future," Divjak said ahead of the Council meeting.

Speaking of the debate on brain circulation, she said that "Croatia's plan was to include a debate on the agenda on how to achieve more balanced mobility in the EU, because talents are evenly distributed, but opportunities are not. Our task is to give equal opportunities to all countries and all regions."

Divjak said it was necessary to ensure synergies between different policies and use different investment opportunities to create favourable conditions to attract and keep talent.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Milanović Criticised for Selection of Education Advisor

ZAGREB, February 20, 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said on Thursday that she did not have "anything particularly good to say" about Jadranka Žarković, whom President Zoran Milanović chose to be his advisor on education, and that it would be better to wait for Žarković's first moves.

"If I don't have anything good to say about people, I rather wait for them to make their first moves," Divjak told reporters in Brussels, where she attended a meeting of the Council of the EU on education.

Milanovic has confirmed that Žarković, a psychologist and former head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency, will be his advisor on education, dismissing media reports that as the head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency, she used to send teachers and children to lectures organised by "In the Name of Family" association and the association of retired generals.

Žarković was appointed head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency during Milanović's term as prime minister in 2015, when Vedran Mornar was Science and Education Minister.

She was chosen among as many as 12 candidates, and the media reported at the time that the selection procedure was shrouded in secrecy.

The media also questioned her decision, made at the start of her term, to abolish an award for the most successful Croatian students participating in national and international competitions.

Žarković taught psychology for a long time at one of Zagreb's high schools, which was attended by one of Milanović's two sons.

More news about Zoran Milanović can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Children in Ogulin Kindergartens Learning Quantum Physics

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - A set of workshops entitled "21st century professions", at which kindergarten children and those above kindergarten age are acquainted with the scientific view of the world, including quantum physics, were held at the Local History Museum in the central town of Ogulin.

Not even in the most developed countries can the system of education follow the extremely fast development of science and technology, which is why methods should be developed to give children an insight into those areas and motivate them to turn to modern professions at an early age, said coordinator Dalibor Paar of the Zagreb Faculty of Science.

For children living outside big cities to have prospects and for life in small communities to be given new quality, the best possible education should be provided at an early stage and children should be interested in the 21st century professions, which are based on science education, known as STEAM, said Paar.

STEAM fields are science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, or applied mathematics.

The workshops in Ogulin are designed to encourage children to think and realise how complex and interesting the world around them is.

The topics discussed at the workshops are future digital technologies, the study of atoms on Earth and in space, exciting phenomena in physics, modern biology, the study of karst and caves, and the traditional skills of making and using hand tools.

The workshops were organised by the Ogulin town authorities, the local history museum and local schools and kindergartens, in cooperation with the Zagreb Faculty of Science and the Croatian Physical Society.

The main purpose of the project is the introduction of STEM/STEAM content in kindergartens and schools, with emphasis on the teaching of physics as of the age of four. The project initially covered three kindergartens from Zagreb and Samobor, after which numerous workshops were held in Pazin, Krasno, Križevci and now in Ogulin.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Education Minister to Present Curricular Reform at Education World Forum

ZAGREB, January 19, 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak will present Croatia's curricular reform at the Education World Forum in London on Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, she will be in Brussels to present the sector priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the European Parliament (EP) and attend the 12th European Space Conference.

At the Education World Forum, Minister Divjak will be speaking about the goals of the curricular reform in Croatia, the results of its experimental stage and the course of the education reform, her ministry said on Sunday.

During her stay in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, Divjak will inform members of the EP's committees on culture and education and industry, research and energy about the priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the sector of education, research and space.

On Tuesday, Divjak will attend the 12th European Space Conference, where she will speak about Croatia's position and goals of its EU presidency in the development of the space sector of the EU and Europe in general.

Special emphasis will be put on the need for a complementary specialisation of all member-states in the development of space technologies and the importance of the space sector in dealing with the burning problems of today, such as climate change. Emphasis will also be put on the sector's role in encouraging research and innovation and motivating young people with regard to the choice of their future profession, the ministry said.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Lifestyle section.

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