Education minister nominee plans white paper, changes to national primary school exam

Ljubljana – Igor Papič, the candidate for minister of education, science and sport, was cleared by the relevant parliamentary committee on Saturday after announcing a white paper on education and changes to the national exams at primary schools, whose results he believes should be one of the criteria for admission to the secondary school of choice.

Papič, a former rector of the University of Ljubljana, repeated the new coalition’s pledge to raise science and research funding to 1.5% of GDP over the next four years.

He emphasized the importance of international student exchanges and the need to make transfer of academic knowledge into everyday life more effective: “Innovation will make the process much more efficient.”

He announced a white paper as a strategic document on the education system, including higher education, where experts would set out guidance for the coming decade.

“Past experience shows that we are good at working out excellent strategies but we’ve been less successful putting them into practice,” he said. One of the reasons is that such documents go beyond a single government’s term.

He believes the results of the national exams at primary schools (NPZ) should in part be considered as secondary school entry requirements similarly as the secondary school leaving qualification, matura, counts for admission to university.

One of the priorities would be to prepare for a potential new wave of coronavirus in the autumn and assess the impact remote schooling has had on students’ mental health and fitness. Come a new Covid-19 wave, he believes schools should be the last to close.

Quizzed by MPs about brain drain, he said the concern was not the numbers but that the best ones were leaving. He promised boosting projects to attract Slovenian researches back home.

He finds solutions to the issue of shortage occupations include more practical work and good mentors, and does not think increasing enrolment places and “one-sided measures” are the right answer to problems. “Systemic measures take time,” he said.

Asked by the opposition whether he believes public schools should have private competition, he said “no-one opposes concessions, but the rules must be clear for everyone”.

Competition should be enhanced by having more quality universities based on top internationally-comparable science and research work. In science and research, he believes Slovenian public universities have fierce competition abroad but not at home.

He announced free textbooks and free school meals to ensure children’s equality in schools, and said the workload on teaching staff should be reduced through recruitment of additional staff and by cutting down on the scope of paperwork.

The first task for his team would be meeting with the school trade unions over the suspended strike. Papič believes part of their demands can be tackled right away such the issue of the lowest paid staff.

Once the changes to the government act can be cleared, the current education ministry is to be split into two departments. Papič is to become minister for higher education, science and innovation.

Amalija Žakelj, who was to become minster responsible for pre-school, primary and secondary education, withdrew her bid, allegedly because she would not want to serve as state secretary to Papič in the meantime.

Instead of her, Papič announced that one of the state secretaries will be Darjo Felda and the other Matjaž Kranjc. Some media have reported that Felda would later become the other minister.

Papič was endorsed by nine members of the Committee on Education, Science, Sport and Youth and five voted against his becoming minister. All five ministerial nominees heard yesterday expectedly got the nod of the relevant committees.