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AmCham proposes education solutions

THE DESIRE, expressed by firms, for closer cooperation between the Slovak education system and businesses, as well as the attractiveness of the role of teachers, were among the top issues discussed at a conference, The Future of Education in Slovakia, held in Bratislava by the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia (AmCham) on October 30. Besides teachers, who are planning another strike for higher salaries on November 26, the conference focused on the struggle with bureaucracy in Slovak schools, and problems teaching students who will later fit into the labour market.“Quality education and science are a priority of Slovak society and should therefore become also a priority of the Slovak government,” Executive Director of AmCham Jake Slegers told The Slovak Spectator while explaining the aims of the conference.

Jake Slegers opens the event.(Source: Courtesy ofAmCham)

THE DESIRE, expressed by firms, for closer cooperation between the Slovak education system and businesses, as well as the attractiveness of the role of teachers, were among the top issues discussed at a conference, The Future of Education in Slovakia, held in Bratislava by the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia (AmCham) on October 30. Besides teachers, who are planning another strike for higher salaries on November 26, the conference focused on the struggle with bureaucracy in Slovak schools, and problems teaching students who will later fit into the labour market.
“Quality education and science are a priority of Slovak society and should therefore become also a priority of the Slovak government,” Executive Director of AmCham Jake Slegers told The Slovak Spectator while explaining the aims of the conference.

The conference is part of the AmCham Initiative 2012: The Year of Education, which consists of 80 members from the academic and business spheres. The initiative has led to nine discussions about education since January 2012 and its members are now offering 70 proposed solutions for the Slovak education system, the Third Vice President of the AmCham board, Marcel Rebroš, explained during his speech.

“Firms organised in the American Chamber of Commerce are motivated to cooperate with schools,” Rebroš stated. “However there is neither a standardised system nor legislation which would allow [the government] to support firms interested in this [kind of] cooperation.”

The government should provide tax benefits for such firms and create possibilities for firms to sponsor schools and their materials, as well as provide technical support. The law should also allow schools to reveal students’ assessments to employers, allowing for the fact they must firstly agree to that, Rebroš said.

“I was impressed by the firms’ interest in improving the situation in the education system and in setting schools’ models of education to suit the demands of work,” Education Ministry spokesperson Michal Kaliňák told The Slovak Spectator.

Since the teacher is the most important part of any effort to increase quality, the initiative also suggests improving teachers’ education as well as motivating secondary school graduates to go into teaching by offering scholarships.

The government should also maintain or increase the number of students per teacher in order to use its funds for teachers more effectively, according to an AmCham document listing solutions.
Teachers receive salaries 55 percent lower than the average college graduate’s salary in Slovakia, while the average salary of teachers in members grouped in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) varies from 82 to 90 percent of their nation’s average salary, depending on school level, the OECD survey Education at a Glance 2012, using data from 2010, found, according to the OECD website.

Schools and their students

The conference also raised the issue of a graduate’s profile and the education he or she receives, which is considered by some initiative members in many cases to be out of date. As well as adopting student profiles to identify the most important standards which Slovak industry demands of potential employees, the government should support students’ practical abilities by implementing accredited professional internships for students at bachelor-degree level, they found.

“We believe that as the economic environment is changing and therefore the business environment has to change [in the same way], the graduate’s needs are changing and not only the college ones,” Rebroš said.

The initiative also proposed that college teachers should also have an internship after every fifth year of work at a school.

Rewarding quality

Members of the initiative believe that Slovakia needs to improve the quality of its schools and education processes, as well as the quality of students, and that the government should reward improvements.

Things could be made better, they said, by decreasing bureaucracy and removing the current “information inequality”, meaning that schools should regularly release information about their national exams results as well as information about students’ usefulness in labour market, Rebroš said.

School governing bodies should be also improved, according to AmCham initiative participants, who advised the government to make them simpler, with fewer members, and added that schools should release information about them and their decisions.

Another idea was to allow firms’ representatives being members of school governing bodies and to lower the formal requirements demanded of applicants to these bodies.

A new institute?

The last issue which Rebroš set out was the need for the education system to respond to labour market demands.

The solution he proposed was the optimalisation of existing institutions and the creation of an apolitical professional institute for analysis and forecast of the development of Slovakia’s society and economy, according to Rebroš.

“The AmCham experiences are valuable to us [i.e. the Education Ministry] and we are trying to connect their activity with European models of ‘dual education’,” Kaliňák concluded, adding: “To solve accumulated problems [in the education system] it is necessary to get the support of the whole of society.”

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