Science and economy meet for a stronger state. Interview with Minister of Education Srđan Verbić.

September 23, 2014

To what extent is the educational system of a state important for the development and prosperity of its people? “Education is in fact the key component that the development of the state depends upon. Here I mean above all else the quality of education and the corpus of knowledge that secondary school and university graduates have mastered, which certainly makes for an important factor in our economy. However, transfer of knowledge is just as important – the know-how and the skills which are yet to enable a future economy. The link between science and economy, which isn’t strong enough or recognized in Serbia yet, is key for the development of every state.” What needs to be changed in Serbia’s educational system in order for us to be able to create educated and well-rounded professionals? “In our educational system there is nothing that’s so bad to be preventing us from creating well-rounded and educated professionals. However, if I were to name one thing, I’d say that our biggest problem is lack of motivation of all those directly or indirectly involved in the education process.” On a functional literacy scale going from 1 to 10, where would you place our population? “The results of the PISA test, which measures something else – student achievement , i.e. their functional knowledge – put Serbia in the bottom half of the scale among OECD countries. But, if we are talking about functional literacy which includes the knowledge and skills enabling individuals to be in control of their lives and to solve the sorts of problems that people are oftentimes faced with in the family, at work, and in the society at large, we don’t have precise data. In fact, Serbia hasn’t yet taken part in the functional literacy competence assessment of those above the age of 15. However, the very fact that in this country there are about 17 per cent of the population over the age of 15 who have not finished elementary school is a cause for concern. That is certainly a big number, and therefore one of the important tasks of this country is to focus on just this part of the population and enable and motivate them to gain elementary education at the least.” You have collaborated with the Petnica Science Centre. How important are such institutions for the development and education of young people, and what will the state do in the way of support for this type of education? “Petnica is a unique organization in this part of Europe, and it takes a highly specific approach to the education of young people. It focuses on a rather small portion of students, motivated and interested in learning ever more. This is why Petnica is said to be a proper breeding ground for proactive people who will think up their own jobs. And that’s the reason why it is so important for this country, its science, technological development and economy, and the state recognizes and supports this.” Through its “Energy of Knowledge” programme, NIS helps young people and the Serbian education system. What is your assessment of this programme and to what extent can the support of the economy and businesses contribute towards improvement of the educational system in Serbia? “Since I assumed the post of the Minister of Education, Science, and Technological Development, I have spoken on many occasions about the importance of forging strong connections between the economy and education and science. Scholarships for talented students, additional professional development, lifelong learning, and other benefitsoffered through the “Energy of Knowledge” programme are very important and they provide young and motivated people with great opportunities. This article was published in the My NIS corporate magazine.