Nikola Božić, Program Director, Petnica Science Center: The Future of Education

International conference “Education 4.0” pertaining the new model of education introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic was held jointly by Petnica Science Center, Color Media Communications, and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)

Nikola Božić, Program Director, Petnica Science Center

Main conclusion from the Conference was that Serbia need to be a learning nation and to foster online and traditional methods of education to be complementary. It is important for educational system to be elastic, not just to adapt to the extreme extraordinary circumstances. A 21st century educational system should be able to hold up to a rapidly changing world. Key note speakers at the conference were Mr. Branko Ružić, Serbian Minister of Education and Science; Mrs. Dejana Kostadinova, Head of the UNICEF country office in Serbia; and Mr. Alessandro Bragonzi, Head of the European Investment Bank office in Serbia.

The conference covered numerous topics and various aspects of the online and hybrid education. The first panel discussion tackled important policy issues „(Not just) another brick in the wall?“. The second panel discussion focused on the real-life experiences „Classroom view: A new Models of Education from the perspective of the teachers, parents and students“. And finally, the third panel discussion deal with the topic of “Education from the perspective of the business”.

The last twelve months have brought us unexpected challenges and one big educational experiment along with all other aspects of the „new normal“. We should learn from that experience and acknowledge effects of the experiment. The digital transformation of education requires a complete change in the way we think about education, and not only the technological transition to distance learning. Thus, we embarked on the effort to bring together all the stakeholders to discuss how we utilize this experience and lessons learned to move forward.

We should all use an (temporary) exit into the online world to understand that the school of the future is shifting to a new direction

Distance learning was rarely presented in our system. This is evidenced by isolated cases such as few colleges or schools with expert lectures occasionally organized via Internet platforms. In just a few days during the lockdown, everything has changed. Everyone has adapted to the new circumstances – students and their parents, teachers and education in general. However, in the long run, it has been shown that understanding of technologies and familiarity with software is not enough to make a complete digital transformation of the educational process.

For a successful transition to distance learning it is important to think outside the box. The paradigms of education of the twentieth century should be abandoned. We should all use an (temporary) exit into the online world to understand that the school of the future is shifting to a new direction. The “new” school should not be aimed to solely teach a large number of facts. Anyhow, we have access to information and our common knowledge is multiplying every day. Hence, the school of the future (not exclusively online) need to prepare students to be independent, able to adapt and capable to respond to all future challenges.

The new technologies are of great benefit to the development of (non-formal) education. They allow us to easily reach to long distances, visit large laboratories, science centers, museums, galleries, entire cities just by sitting in front of our computer. Current mobile phones allow us to make use of all sources of information, resources, and educational materials, despite our location. Innovations and new solutions have made education accessible to everyone. However, technologies cannot affect whether we will devote time and energy to learning and exploring new ideas. It can not affect our dedication or motivation to continue with the learning process. For that we need a mentors and teachers who represent indispensable segment in every educational system.

The most important question we are facing right now – In what direction should we lead our educational system in order to create the school of the future?

The fundamental role of the schools should not be transformed but should explore an effective method to teach the new generations about the phenomena, processes, and mutual interactions between them as well as to teach the basic facts about the world around us, nature, society, and technologies. But without a doubt, the modern school must incorporate in its curricula methods and programs to introduce students to critical thinking, problem solving, interdisciplinary relationship among different scientific fields, modern excellence, skills of cooperation (teamwork) and communication.

The school of the future should teach the pupils and students how to learn. Teachers have the crucial role in this development. Not to just serve as a source of information and symbolize authority of knowledge, but to be the mentors in a cognitive and social development of their students, the future of our society.

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