SLOVAK schools will not begin using digital textbooks in this school year as originally planned. After months of questions and numerous media reports criticising the educational programme called Planet of Knowledge, the Education Ministry announced it will not complete the multi-million-euro purchase and will invest the money in traditional textbooks instead.
“After months of negotiations, concerns and what we believe was a transparent approach, we state that an agreement to purchase Planet of Knowledge wasn’t reached,” Education Minister Eugen Jurzyca stated on October 4.
The ministry will not sign the contract with Agemsoft, a software firm, worth an estimated €6-12 million, to supply copies of the digital education programme to schools across Slovakia. A disparity between the quality of the product and its price was the decisive factor in his decision to scrap the idea, Jurzyca explained to the media.
But making more digital education materials available to schools will continue, even without the Planet of Knowledge package, with the minister pledging to do so in other ways with financial assistance from EU structural funds.
The negotiations between the ministry and Agemsoft took place amid heavy criticism in the Slovak media, with the Sme daily and the Týždeň weekly in particular running multiple stories in recent weeks highlighting several factual mistakes in both the Slovak and the English versions of the digital text.
What is Planet of Knowledge?
Planet of Knowledge is a digital education programme for primary and secondary schools in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and other natural sciences. It is a Slovak version of an English-language original called Universal Curriculum developed by the Young Digital Planet company.
Agemsoft is the holder of an exclusive licence to develop similar materials in Slovakia.
The company started piloting the project at Slovak schools in 2008 after the material was recommended by the State Pedagogical Institute (ŠPÚ) and approved by former education minister Ján Mikolaj even though Sme wrote that there were no expert evaluations available to either ŠPÚ or the ministry at that time.
Agemsoft stated that its investments for the Slovak version, Planet of Knowledge, have amounted to several million euros and that translation of the content into Slovak took two years and cost over €1 million.
Both Sme and Týždeň weekly wrote about what they called errors in the content and format of Planet of Knowledge. The Education Ministry’s spokesperson, Miriam Žiaková, stated that the ministry had identified 126 errors, Sme reported.
While the first part of Universal Curriculum, the original English version of the product, is geared towards children aged 11 to 13 it was to be used with children 10 years and younger in Slovakia, Týždeň wrote.
Týždeň’s reporters also wrote that there were many similarities between the materials in Planet of Knowledge and Knowledge in Pocket 1, another product developed eight years ago by Young Digital Planet which more than 1,200 Slovak schools already have but do not regularly use. Týždeň wrote that Knowledge in Pocket 1 was still available six months ago at a cost of €150 for a multi-licence for one school.
Software firm responds
Agemsoft rejected these statements in an official release and called the criticisms “a mixture of demagoguery and untrue claims”.
“If anyone proves that Planet of Knowledge is a product identical with Knowledge in Pocket 1, Agemsoft will provide a licence for Planet of Knowledge to all schools for €1,” states the firm's release.
After the minister announced that Planet of Knowledge will not be purchased, Agemsoft responded that it is ready to use all available legal tools to challenge the decision, Sme reported, adding that the company stated it has suffered significant damage to its name from what the company called misleading statements from the ministry.
10. Oct 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani