Knowledge in the hands of every child
Obrenovac, Serbia, 18 May 2021 - “I have two sisters and a brother, and one computer. It was difficult because I couldn't follow online classes, as we all had classes at the same time,” says Bora, a bright-eyed and smiling twelve-year-old boy, a pupil at the First Obrenovac Primary School.
Dimitrije had the same problem, sharing one slow computer with two brothers and a sister.
“Sometimes we would be late for class or we wouldn’t finish our homework on time”, says Dimitrije.
Around 20 percent of pupils in this school, who are from the Roma community or other marginalized groups, cannot meet the technical requirements to participate in distance learning, which was often the only way to follow classes during the pandemic.
“They don't even have the internet or cable TV, and children are not able to follow online classes. Some pupils don’t even know what a tablet or laptop looks like. The teachers had to send the materials to the Pedagogical and Psychological Service, then we had to print it, put it in envelopes and deliver it where it was needed,” explains Dejan Jovanovic, who has been working as a teaching assistant for eleven years.
Technical problems, children’s unwillingness, discrepancies in teachers’ expectations, a lack of a working atmosphere and family support at home are the biggest barriers in the distance learning process.
Education during a pandemic is every child’s right. That’s why Delegation of the European Union to Serbia, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development are responding to the COVID-19 emergency through the Bridging Digital Divide in Serbia For the Most Vulnerable Children project. For children to have access to quality distance learning and to improve their digital competencies, 1,950 IT devices have been procured and will be distributed to 30 schools, along with an additional 250 computers for all teaching assistants in the country.
Homework clubs will be established as a new form of learning support for pupils, while in digital technology libraries pupils will be able to borrow tablets. When classes return to a regular school schedule, the equipment will be used to improve class quality and will be available to all teachers and 12,000 children in these schools.
The First Obrenovac Primary School received 63 tablet computers for pupils and 3 laptops for teachers and their teaching assistant. Children are excited to use this new equipment.
Bora will be among the first children who’ll borrow a tablet.
“When I come to school, I’ll have a tablet, so I’ll be able to follow the classes and learn all sorts of things. I’ll be able to learn PowerPoint, send emails, watch YouTube. If I don’t know something, my teachers and friends will help me,” says Bora.
Dimitrije, who spends his free time learning foreign languages and recording interesting history and geography videos for his YouTube channel, will no longer have to wait in line to use the computer at home.
“I'm thinking of being a programmer, I’ve always been attracted to creating various programmes, maybe even video games,” thirteen-year-old Dimitrije tells us confidently.
Their friend Jana admits that she is not a very skilled tablet user yet, but she knows that being able to use a tablet will be very useful.
“Whatever I do in life, I’ll definitely need this knowledge. I can come here to practice. When I finish my classes, I can do my homework on the tablet and then be free and go outside [when I’m done],” says Jana.
This project will not just help children, it will also improve the pedagogical and digital competencies of teachers as they are crucial to increasing the quality of education for all pupils. Jelica Kovacevic, who has been working as a school librarian for 20 years, knows this and will be helping pupils use the tablets.
“The ICT equipment will improve the work of our school library, raise it to a new, more modern level which is necessary in the 21st century, and especially now during the pandemic,” explains Jelica.
Her colleague Dejan agrees.
“It’ll be easier for everyone, especially for pupils. We’ll help them and, with our support, they’ll manage to complete their schoolwork and will have better grades. They’ll be on an equal footing with other pupils,” explains Dejan.
Pupils who are being supported through the Bridging Digital Divide in Serbia For the Most Vulnerable Children project will receive direct, adequate and individualized support to continue their education. Through psychosocial support, which they’ll have access to thanks to this project, they’ll gain greater self-confidence and new competencies, which will decrease the digital divide. It’s important to enable every child in Serbia to have access to education in both regular and emergency settings and to acquire competencies that will enable them to find employment once they leave school.