Crusader for 21st Century Skills
"Crusader" may seem like an exaggerated way to describe Roman Baranovic. (His actual title is Director General, State Institute of Information and Strategies, Ministry of Education, Slovak Republic.) But if you speak with Mr. Baranovic for a few minutes, you are certainly struck by his intense commitment improving Slovakia's education system—and his belief in the role that technology plays in that transformation. In 2000, with a new master's degree in computer science and education, Mr. Baranovic was ready to embark on his professional career by bringing technology into Slovakia's schools. His quest has taken him from working in the Slovak Republic government, to industry, and back to government again. He has even trained teachers in rural Kenya to use technology in the classroom.
After graduation, Mr. Baranovic began working for the Ministry of Education and launched INFOVEK, an initiative that has brought Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to schools in Slovakia. The initiative began by providing computers for schools, training teachers, and connecting schools to the Internet.
Partners in the Campaign for ICT in Schools
During his first stint with the Ministry of Education, Mr. Baranovic partnered with Cisco Networking Academy: "We could leverage the Networking Academy to teach instructors about technology, and some of the early adopters went through the Networking Academy to learn how to manage their infrastructure in their schools. And Networking Academy could use the infrastructure we were building for our project."
Currently Networking Academy is available in 60 schools and five universities in the Slovak Republic, either as part of the school's core curriculum or as an after-school activity. Some schools even offer Networking Academy courses to neighboring school students, with the result that most of the students have access to Networking Academy. According to Baranovic, "Some of the best teachers in the country have been involved with Networking Academy from the beginning."
Students Expect Technology in School
When asked why he thinks technology is so important in education, the director general said, "There are many answers to this question, but my favorite one is: because today's students expect it. They expect teachers and the schools to use technology. The students live with technology. They use it when they are talking to each other, when they socialize, when they are having fun. And they just expect they will use it when they are learning."
Students dropping out of school is not a big problem in Slovakia— at least not yet. But Mr. Baranovic has observed a trend over the last few years and is concerned his country may be losing students due to boredom. He believes Networking Academy can reverse that trend through the hands-on training in technology, which is relevant to today's students. He adds, "In fact, some of the students have become big Cisco technology evangelists."
21st Century Skills Are Paramount
Like all good campaigner, Baranovic has an unwavering goal: to provide students with 21st century skills. "Today's schools should prepare students for the 21st century and teach them skills such as teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, and communication." In the absence of a crystal ball revealing what the world will be like - and what jobs will be required - Baranovic believes the best that educators can do for their students is teach them the skills they'll need to adapt to new demands.
Innovative Curriculum Appeals to Students and Schools
Networking Academy provides practical skills and professional certification, which, Baranovic says, is very useful for students. Students don't just learn about networking; they actually learn how to make networks work.
Mr. Baranovic says, "The Networking Academy approach and methods are very compelling. These include the networking simulations, which enable students to virtually set up and maintain networking systems without requiring the schools to replicate an actual network."
Teachers and Students Benefit from Networking Academy
Students aren't the only ones learning from Networking Academy. As Mr. Baranovic says, "Teachers working with the program have learned something new. They've become flexible and have adopted some new methods that work. I believe including 21st century skills as part of the program has benefited the school system and significantly enhanced students' education."
When asked if he has any advice for colleagues in his country and other countries, Mr. Baranovic says, "I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to introduce change in an educational system to look at Networking Academy and actually use it because of the results I've seen in our schools: Teachers started to think differently about their approach to students and the way they teach in classroom. They experience first-class e-learning, use new methods, and focus more on 21st century skills learning."