In the steps of Digital Expedition: Prijepolje
Schools for the future
September 18, 2023
The academic year is about to begin and the centre of Prijepolje is brimming with children. Some are attending classes in robotics, others on internet security. The hallway of the Cultural Centre is also busy as it is hosting the exhibition of robots built by award winning students from all over Serbia. All these events are part and parcel of the Digital Expedition paying a visit to this town situated on the river Lim. At the same time it marked a successful launch of broadband internet connection in more than 3,800 schools around Serbia. 730,000 pupils and more than 100,000 of their teachers will be enjoying a faster internet connection as of this academic year. Examples from Prijepolje testify to the importance of improving learning environment and the approach to children’s education.
The story begins with the teachers who teach their students the skills they will require in the future.
“One should not overcomplicate things. Teaching ought to be simple. Our students are interested in new, modern things and innovations. That’s the way it has always been. Novelties such as artificial intelligence, robotics, computer literacy - things we in our time could not even have imagined are now part of everyday life and should also be present in schools”, says Natalija Budinski, mathematics teacher and principal of the primary and secondary school Petro Kuzmjak in the town of Ruski Krstur. “I am the kind of teacher I wish my children had. That is what I am trying to achieve and how I approach my work. No more, no less”, says Svetlana Radlovački, teacher of electrical engineering at the Nikola Tesla School Centre in Vršac.
In addition to their enormous enthusiasm, both teachers have been involved in a student project, part of a larger presentation of Serbia at a competition held in Paris and where Serbia was elected as host country of Specialised Expo 2027. “The idea was to show our students that they can use the knowledge they get in and outside school to create a very exciting game”, says Svetlana.
They opted for a classic: Pong. Isak Novta, a seventh-grade student at Petro Kuzmjak primary school at Ruski Krstur, together with grammar school student Tamara Radlovački programmed a modern version of this game. “I don’t know much about hardware, but I wrote the software in Python, put in a water polo ball and added white background with red and blue paddles. I introduced a coordination system in the background of the game which constantly determines the position of the paddle”. Working on the game was a voyage of discovery for Isak: “I did not know everything when I started so I had to look things up on YouTube, ask my father about a few other details and there were also several things I remembered from Petlja”. Tamara is a third-year student at the natural sciences department of the Borislav Petrov Braca grammar school in Vršac. Her task was to make Pong physically playable: “I’ve been learning about programming for nearly two years. Having an opportunity to get so much experience at my age has been very important. Not everyone was given an opportunity to present their game in Paris which made me all the more proud”, says Tamara with a big smile on her face.
Young people from the Regional Talent Centre in Čačak were also part of the Digital Expedition. They presented robots of their own making and explained how they worked and their purpose. “I simply love it. I love looking at the components and putting them together. And then adding electronics to my models”, says Srećko Jović, seventh year student at the Oslobodioci Beograda primary school. Goran Božović, first year student at the Traffic Technical School in Belgrade talked about the journey from an idea to a prototype of a robotic arm: “You take it one step at a time. First you put it together, then work on the programming and in the end you test it”. Goran sees a future for himself in robotics: “It is a challenge and it is what I want. I love robotics”. His friend Petar Čelik, first year student at the Rade Končar School of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade is also planning to work in programming, mechatronics and IT industry: “You need to constantly relearn things and add something new each time”. For him, there is no dilemma when it comes to competitions and knowledge: “You will never get to the competition stage if you don’t have the knowledge.”
Professor Milkica Kostić is a mentor at the Regional Talent Centre in Čačak working with these talented children who neither lack knowledge nor awards: “I love my work, I love working with children. We’re brimming with energy. When you’re involved in promoting science and working with talented children, you are always aiming for yet another Nikola Tesla and making sure the children acquire the knowledge they can then present and sell to the world. There are so many smart children in Serbia”. Milkica Kostić and the children have already built two humanoid robots, Helga and Lo, who talk, move their heads, react to touch and are capable of interactive communication. They both work thanks to artificial intelligence for children. “Every machine will be as smart as we want it to be”, says professor Kostić whose creative robotics classes are attended by children from all over Serbia.
Besides the talented children who are no strangers to robotics, the Digital Expedition also paid special attention to those who have come in contact with it for the first time. How robots work, how you build in sensors or add cogs was explained by mentors from the ElekTrobot school using Lego bricks. One of them is Radivoje Brajković who said: “The most important thing is developing a logical approach to problem solving. Programming helps them because they need to work out the necessary logic in order to solve their problem”. Anja Knežević with a degree in mathematics insists on teaching children things that many people perceive as complicated through play: “The majority of younger children express an interest in robotics but later go on to work in other areas and not all of them will have a degree in robotics. However, what they have learnt through putting together Lego robots can be of enormous help in developing both the logic and the creativity necessary for work in other areas”.
Digital Expedition was launched at the initiative of the Prime Minister and is implemented with the support of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs and the Office for IT and eGovernment, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the New Literacy Programme jointly implemented by USAID and Propulsion.