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Unions: Stabilize schools

JÁN Gašperan is the head of a trade union [OZ PŠaV] that represents employees in schools and the science fields. Gašperan spoke to The Slovak Spectator on September 6 on the occasion of the new school year.

JÁN Gašperan is the head of a trade union [OZ PŠaV] that represents employees in schools and the science fields. Gašperan spoke to The Slovak Spectator on September 6 on the occasion of the new school year.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What will the new 2005-2006 school year bring from the point of view of school employees and those in science fields? What are your goals for this year?

Ján Gašperan (JG):OZ PŠaV does not expect any major changes in the regional school system this year, but rather a continuation of the current trend. From the union's point of view, the priority is to stabilize Slovakia's network of schools and have them characterized by quality and effectiveness. Only then can schools contribute to the positive development of children in every aspect.

TSS: Under the current minister of education, several changes have taken place in the regional education system. These include curriculum reform and decentralization of the public school administration. How do school unions perceive these changes?

JG:We think that very little - no, let me say nothing - has been done in terms of content [curriculum] reform. There is a new project called Minerva that we are hopeful about because, among other things, it focuses on the development of education, science, research and human resources. Minerva will help bring about modern education legislation. But there are many hurdles.

We consider it necessary to increase [state] expenditures on education. It is necessary to transform teaching into an attractive, dignified career. Though action plans for individual Minerva themes were introduced in April and the cabinet approved them at the beginning of the summer, recent developments suggest there will be problems with its practical realization.

Fiscal decentralization showed weaknesses in terms of school funding. We think this has to do with a lack of communication between schools, science workers and municipalities. In many towns the division of funds between schools is not transparent; at that point, financing schools per number of pupils loses meaning.

TSS: Many schools have shut down and some have merged. Do you expect this trend to continue, and is the school system ready to accommodate the changes so the quality of education does not suffer?

JG: In the first half of 2005, around 7,500 school employees were laid off - too much for our taste. We realize that student numbers are decreasing, but too big a cut will negatively affect the quality of education. Our programme is directed towards increasing quality.

TSS: From the point of view of those working in education, what is the outlook for wages and school budgets?

JG: There are two priorities ahead of us this school year. One is to create pressure on our partners to fully cover the new wage system, implemented July 1, 2005, so that it does not interfere with other forms of remuneration, such as bonuses. The second priority is to increase state and municipal funding for schools in 2006.

In terms of financing, we will continue to support the requirement that the state, private and municipal expenditures as well as EU sources and various grants for education reach 6 percent of GDP, and for science, 3 percent.

TSS: Do Slovak schools have enough teachers? Are the ministry's plans to increase the wages of teachers having an impact on the profession?

JG: Slovak schools currently do not face a teacher shortage. Quite the opposite: teachers are being laid off. The problem is in the quality of the teachers. Quality teachers of foreign languages and IT at the elementary and secondary levels are missing. The new system [increased wages] has only been valid for two months, so its effects are not yet reflected in practical life.

We expect that the development of clear career paths for teachers together with higher salaries will eventually attract young people and more men to the profession.

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