The 2nd Peer Learning Visit (PLV) of the EFEE-ETUCE project ‘Schools as learning institutions – European Social Partners in Education promoting effective quality and innovation management models in the education sector in a post Covid-19 era’ (AKA ‘LearningSchools’) took place in Budva, Montenegro last month, on November 28-29. Representatives of both social partners and their members gathered to discuss topics including how social dialogue can promote better innovation management models in the #education sector in the post Covid-19 era; how to involve different stakeholders in the process; and best practices recently implemented in Montenegro and other European countries.

Jens Vermeersch, representing EFEE’s Executive Committee, welcomed the participants and gave opening remarks before giving the floor to Susan Flocken, European Director at ETUCE who focussed on the need to link the concept of innovation with those of inclusion and sustainability, the former being a priority. Dragan Bojović (State Secretary at the Ministry of Education of Montenegro) then took the floor, outlined how the education system in Montenegro effectively responded to the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, crediting the resilience of students and parents who successfully adapted to the new reality. Radomir Božović, President of the Trade Union of Education of Montenegro, stressed the need for students to be at the centre of the education sector’s attention, adding that this requires motivated teachers supported by adequate resources. 

Following a quick recap of the project’s structure and objectives by Marie-Céline Falisse (EFEE Project Manager) and Leonardo Ebner (ETUCE Policy Coordinator), Project Researcher György Mészáros who outlined his research’s methods and aims (i.e. to map innovation and quality management models, strategies and practices), which will conclude at the end of the project with the drafting of a policy recommendations based on such research. 

Participants then turned to a focus group discussion (divided into smaller subgroups) to brainstorm and appreciate different perspectives on issues such as how to best define quality and innovation in school management; how can schools become professional learning communities; and examples of innovation and quality management. During a subsequent roundtable discussion on the role of social dialogue in promoting innovation management models following the pandemic in Montenegro, Jovan Drašković (Trade Union of Education of Montenegro) emphasised the need to invest in better quality education (including better infrastructure and professional trainings for teachers) and to better involve teachers in the ongoing and upcoming changes. Alexandra Kuč (Ministry of Education of Montenegro) agreed on the need to provide more and better infrastructure, adding that a second priority should be the digitalisation process, especially in terms of providing every school with internet connection – emphasising in both cases the importance of communication among different stakeholders as efforts are made to improve school systems. 

During a second roundtable discussion on the importance of stakeholders’ involvement in promoting a culture of innovation in education, representatives of Montenegro’s Bureau of Education (promoting research and innovation in the field of education) and students from the local community discussed the increasing importance of digitalisation in the country’s school system while also adding that ‘nobody can substitute a teacher’ – the former thus being a complement rather than a substitute. The discussion then moved to issues such as the importance of gaining knowledge and skills rather than focussing on one’s GP and the competences required by leaders such as school principals in order for them to work effectively. 

In the afternoon, Researcher and Education Expert Hannah Grainger Clemson emphasised the need to make ‘humanness’ a central part of the equation in the effort to innovate education systems – pointing out that energy and motivation must always be preserved and incentivised and arguing in favour of supporting different professional identities in learning schools (‘inspirational leader’,‘curious creative’, ‘hard-working servant’, etc.). 

In a subsequent round of presentations, Isabelle Janssens (GO! onderwijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap) emphasised the importance of distributive leadership, collective intelligence and of putting development of learners at the centre of education systems, while Selvedin Satorović (​​​​Independent Trade Union of Primary Schools Education of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina) highlighted the various challenges faced by the education system in Bosnia (also as a consequence of the pandemic) – including outdated curricula and teaching methods, the complexity of the overall structure of the education system, and scarce resources in school classrooms. Alexandra Kuč then emphasised the swift reaction of the Montenegrin Ministry and of parents to Covid-19, resulting in the creation of YouTube and TV channels to learn at home, as well as Google classrooms. Finally, Radomir Božović pointed out the challenges faced by teachers, including low remuneration, lack of attention from students, verbal and physical abuse from students, and lack of training in digital tools. The day concluded with an open discussion among all participants on the issues discussed as part of the presentations. 

On the second day, participants had the opportunity to visit Druga Osnovna Škola, a primary school in Budva, and to hold roundtable discussions with local teachers, students and School Principal Nataša Radonić – before closing the event by recapping the main insights from the past two days and how they fit into the overall project.