September 21, 2023

Belgrade, 14 September 2023 - As many as 30 primary schools across Serbia received nearly 2,000 electronic devices in order to adapt teaching to digital education, and a large number of students, including the most vulnerable, were provided learning and psychosocial support. These are just some of the results of the three-year Bridging the Digital Divide in Serbia for the Most Vulnerable Children project, which was implemented by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia and UNICEF, with the financial support of the European Union, as a response to the need for distance learning triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of emergency.

From November 2020, when the project was launched, until the end of the project in September 2023, 30 primary schools across Serbia received a total of 1,890 tablets and 60 laptops, and pedagogical assistants received another 250. Yettel ensured internet was available on all devices, through the provision of internet cards and modems. Learning support was provided to 5,500 students in 30 schools and more than 900 teachers attended trainings to improve their pedagogical and digital competences.

Anamarija Vicek, State Secretary in the Ministry of Education, emphasized the importance of the project's results for the further development of support for digital education.

“With the support of the project, not only did we equip 30 schools that were part of the project with digital equipment, but a significant number of students who needed the most support in learning received this help. We are grateful to UNICEF for the support it provides us through this and other projects,” said Anamarija Vicek, State Secretary in the Ministry of Education.

As part of the project, psychosocial support was also provided. Following training sessions, professional associates included more than 17,000 students in numerous preventive, promotional and intervention activities, both at the school and local levels in 10 municipalities. In addition, the National Network of Psychologists and Pedagogues, as an integral part of the project, organized webinars to support schools and local networks of professional associates.

The EU funded the project through a €2 million grant and was implemented in 30 local self-governments across Serbia.

“Children and vulnerable persons are two categories of population that will always have the EU’s highest attention and support. I am very happy that through this project we succeeded in supporting underprivileged students and their schools in facing the learning challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, thus reducing the gap between privileged and marginalized students. Digital education is not just a technological advancement, it is a powerful tool for social inclusion and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. The EU will continue to support actions leading to a more inclusive and equitable society, including through a forthcoming dedicated campaign on bridging the digital divide for another vulnerable group – our seniors,” said Plamena Halacheva, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia.

During the presentation of project results, Yosi Echeverry Burckhardt, UNICEF Serbia Deputy Representative, stated that better student success, greater motivation to learn, a sense of well-being at school and self-confidence in relation to school expectations are just some of the project’s achievements.

“Bridging the Digital Divide in Serbia for the Most Vulnerable Children project was initially born as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were children without access to digital devices or the internet, making it exceedingly difficult for them to engage in remote learning. In response, the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the EU, UNICEF, schools, and numerous partners, united to support the most vulnerable children. Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, the solutions we've collectively crafted not only address immediate challenges but also serve as foundations for future education system reforms,” said Yosi Echeverry Burckhardt.

Significant progress has also been made in terms of supporting the further development of digital education – a new server system has been procured and installed in the Office for Information Technologies and eGovernment, while more than 2,000 teachers have successfully completed training to administer Moodle, a distance learning management software. In addition, the My School platform has been migrated to new servers, and through the development of more than 40 new online courses, it has a new purpose of providing quality resources for teachers and students.

As part of the project, the Ministry of Education created a national aggregator of open educational resources where 6,600 descriptions of TV lessons recorded during the pandemic were entered. In this way, the availability of classes has been significantly eased, and key strategic directions in the field of digital education development in Serbia have also been developed.