On the road of the Digital Expedition: Priboj
Digital skills crucial for youth to stay in smaller communities
April 28, 2023
Priboj, the town on the border between Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the next stop in the path of the Digital Expedition. With little over 22,000 residents it is not among the larger towns and – akin to most comparable places in Serbia – its demographic situation is not exactly favourable. However, if the potential of a place is gauged according to its ability to create conditions for young people to stay there and develop, this small town has nothing to be ashamed of.
Classes in the Priboj-based Mechanical and Electrical Engineering High School, a school that produced 72 generations of graduates, are still attended by 399 students in 15 departments and three areas of expertise. "We are well aware of the fact that most of our students have access to digital technologies," headmaster of the school Zvonko Prijović said. "Although it is often said that young people mostly acquire digital skills outside of school, I believe the knowledge, skills and attitudes involving digital literacy can and should be acquired within the formal education system."
Information Technology Electrical Engineering Technician is the educational profile attracting the highest interest of primary school graduates year after year. "Digital literacy is most needed where technology is needed to solve problems in a context that is reasonable and relevant for the students, especially in profiles such as CNC Technician (automated industrial manufacturing machines operated by a computer-assigned programme) and IT Electrical Engineering Technician", Prijović said and added that "the school understands the importance of digital literacy and frequently offers technology-assisted learning through educational applications, tutorials, 3D modelling, and 3D printing."
The Mechanical and Electrical Engineering High School building was completely reconstructed and modernised three years ago. "Today we have a modern, well-equipped school, classrooms with CNC machines, 3D printers, electronics and electrical engineering laboratories and 8 computing classrooms", Zvonko Prijović pointed out.
However, the driving force of an educational institution are the people working with the children, and this headmaster is not discouraged by young professionals leaving Priboj. He tries to make the classes in the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering High School in tune with the times, hence the already well-equipped school expects the arrival of another CNC machine and the Fanuc educational robotic cell that will enable future generations of robotics experts to learn and gain experience in programming and controlling robots.
Vuk Luković, once a student at this school, shares the headmaster’s enthusiasm: The Mechanical Engineering School was my first stop after primary school; it changed my perception of the world through, among other factors, steady exposure to high-quality fellows and teachers, and did a lot in terms of shaping me as a person. Vuk is among the rare citizens of Priboj who came back to their hometown after getting their university degree. "Young people are the driving force behind everything. I do understand they need university education that can be obtained in Belgrade or Novi Sad and other major cities, but there must be a model to motivate young people to come back to their hometowns and apply the knowledge acquired in universities in their local environments," - this 32-year-old Head of the Mayor’s Office opined. Vuk sees his own and younger generations as drivers of development.
The Regional Innovation Startup Centre also provides support for them to stay and perhaps even return. A continuous Public Call for new startup projects is open year-round in the 560-square-meter building opened three years ago for young innovators and entrepreneurs. "Currently we have nine startup companies using our premises. In addition, some of the offices are used by foreign language schools and a robotics and information science school. We also cooperate with the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering High School which holds some of its practical classes on our premises. Approximately 50 people are trained here annually in digital marketing and communications skills through an array of programmes." - Startup Centre coordinator Danilo Prijović explained.
It was precisely the Startup Centre that was picked as the venue for all Digital Expedition activities, so its existing offer could be reinforced with new content. Two days dedicated to digital skills, electronic services, and digital security and literacy basics intended for all generations provoked the most attention among those who fall into the highest-risk group taking their first steps in the digital world- the children.
Workshops on safe use of the internet involved two groups and nearly two complete classrooms of sixth graders in a single day. "Now I learned more although I knew some of it before. I was paying attention and now I learned more things", 12-year-old Jovan, a pupil at the Vuk Karadžić primary school, said with pride. He was also one of the champions of the Digital Quiz, intended to test the knowledge and speed of correct answers. "I heard many new things, although I knew some of them before. I believe these things should be talked about much more. At school, as well. It’s useful for us because we can learn online, we can take in plenty of information. We can also have some fun", his friend and vice-champion Vuk added.
In a town where nearly one in four residents are citizens who retired long ago, the Digital Expedition helped the Retiree Association to put together a digital corner with two computers, a printer, and a scanner. That will suffice for the beginning and their first digital steps, assisted by the youth this town is counting on.
The Digital Expedition - an initiative by Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, implemented with the support of the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, and the Office for IT and eGovernment, in partnership with UNDP and the New Literacy Program implemented by "Propulsion" and USAID - will visit eight more towns and cities in the coming days.