copy the linklink copied!2. Strengthening the skills of youth

To ensure that countries are able to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, all people need access to opportunities to develop and maintain strong proficiency in a broad set of skills. This process is lifelong, but the foundations are laid during childhood and youth. Providing young people with the necessary skills not only benefits their own prospects and self-esteem, but also builds strong foundations for economic growth, social cohesion and well-being. This chapter explains the importance of strengthening the skills of youth for the Slovak Republic and provides an overview of current practices and performance. Three opportunities to strengthen the skills of youth in the Slovak Republic are discussed, specifically: increasing enrolment in pre-primary education, especially among vulnerable groups; supporting schools and teachers in their work with vulnerable students; and building a strong teaching workforce.

    

copy the linklink copied!Introduction: The importance of strengthening the skills of young people in the Slovak Republic

Equipping youth with strong skills upon leaving schools is key to ensuring that Slovakia has the skills it needs to achieve its economic and social ambitions. Developing strong skills of young people not only paves the way to success in higher education and the labour market, but also helps foster a culture of lifelong learning that will help build an adaptable and resilient society. Providing youth with a strong set of skills equally helps to foster strong self-esteem and provides them with an aptitude to contribute towards the building of a sustainable society for future generations. Building an adequately skilled generation able to eventually easily join and strengthen the labour force has wider positive effects on the social cohesion and general well-being of the country.

In Slovakia, the skills of 15 year-olds (as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA) in science and reading lag behind their peers in other OECD countries, while their performance in mathematics is roughly at the level of the OECD average (OECD, 2019[1]). However, the scores are also declining over time, with the average three-year trend negative for science, reading and mathematics since the earliest available PISA measurement (OECD, 2019[1]). However, performance in school is uneven across different groups of youth. For instance, Slovak Roma speaking students scored on average 320 points in the 2015 PISA testing (average score in mathematics and reading), compared to roughly 476 for Slovak students and an OECD average of 491 (OECD, 2017[2]). To put this figure into context, previous PISA analysis has shown that learning gains during one year of schooling are equivalent to approximately 30 score points (OECD, 2016[3]).

Although spending on education does influence student performance, beyond a certain threshold other factors become more relevant, and the Slovak Republic is currently spending at this threshold (OECD, 2016[3]). Crucial factors that affect student performance beyond spending include teacher practices, training and working conditions, and curriculum development.

This chapter is structured as follows: The following section provides an overview of the Slovak education system. The next section describes how it is organised, identifies the key actors and their responsibilities, and assesses the main trends in student performance. The last section conducts a detailed assessment of the identified opportunities and provides tailor-made policy recommendations in these areas.

copy the linklink copied!Overview and performance of the education system in the Slovak Republic

Overview of the Slovak education system

The Slovak school system is organised into three sequential levels: pre-primary education (ISCED 02), basic education (ISCED 1 and 2) and upper secondary education (ISCED 3). Attendance in pre-primary education institutions is not compulsory, and there is currently no legal entitlement or obligation (OECD, 2019[4]). However, this is set to change from 2021 with the introduction of a new legislation mandating compulsory pre-primary education for all 5-year-olds (see Opportunity 1). Basic education consists of two stages: primary education (ISCED 1) and lower secondary education (ISCED 2). There are three types of upper secondary education: general upper secondary education with a school leaving examination, vocational upper secondary education with a school leaving examination, and vocational upper secondary education with an apprenticeship certificate (Santiago et al., 2016[5]). School attendance is mandatory for students aged 6 to 16 years.

The governance of the education system is formally fairly decentralised, with competencies shared largely between three levels of administration: central government, regions and municipalities (Santiago et al., 2016[5]). Together with the state, private entities and the church act as founders of schools and school facilities. State schools, however, are only founded by municipalities, self-governing regions or regional state authorities (Santiago et al., 2016[5]). The Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sports of the Slovak Republic (MŠVVŠ) acts as the main regulator and is responsible for the development of national education programmes, which are operationalised through programmes developed by schools.

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Table 2.1. Main actors in the education system and their responsibilities (ISCED 1 to 3)

Level of management

Actor

Main responsibilities

Central

The Government of the Slovak Republic

Allocation of funds in the budget chapter of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Sport, and in the budget chapter of the Ministry of the Interior. Setting principles, terms and organisation of education through government bills.

Central

The Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Sport

Issuance of generally binding legal regulations, management of the funding process of secondary schools, management of the funding of basic schools and special schools in co-operation with the Ministry of the Interior. Assisted in its work by a range of budgetary and contributory organisations, including: 1) the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (Centrum vedecko-technických informácií, CVTI); 2) the National Institute for Certified Educational Measurements; 3) the National Institute of Vocational Education (ŠIOV); 4) the National Institute of Education (ŠPÚ); 5) the State School Inspectorate (ŠŠI); and 6) the Methodology and Pedagogy Centre (MPC). The Research Institute for Child Psychology and Pathopsychology also co-operates with MŠVVŠ and its agencies.

Middle

School founders (e.g. municipalities, self-governing regions, regional state authorities)

Issuance of organisational instructions for school leaders, co-operation with school leaders in staffing, negotiation with school self-governing authorities and school leaders about the school development plan, distribution of funds from the MŠVVŠ to individual schools and reallocation of certain amount among schools.

Middle

School departments of regional state authorities

Obligation to perform the duties of school founders, especially in special education; co-operation with other founders and school self-governing authorities; provision of guidelines on funding issues and organisation of schooling; approving the status of municipalities as school authorities; provision of methodological guidance to all types of founders regarding normative financing, budgeting and reporting.

Middle

School authorities (municipalities, which are founders of schools with at least 1 000 students)

Performance of state administration activities when the education and care of children is endangered, and when students’ compulsory school attendance is neglected; carrying out school administration in matters which had been decided by school leaders on the first instance at basic schools.

School

School leaders

Oversight of compliance with state education programmes, development and implementation of school education programmes and curricula, responsibility for school budget and effective use of financial resources, possibility to establish advisory bodies (e.g. pedagogical board) to assist them.

School

School board and student school board

Performance of an advisory role in school management; promotion of interests of students, parents, employees and the public in education.

Source: Education Policy Institute, (2015[6]), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for the Slovak Republic. http://www.oecd.org/education/school-resources-review/.

Table 2.1 summarises the distribution of responsibilities of the main actors within the Slovak school system across three levels of management: central, middle and school.

Public pre-primary education is funded by municipalities. Private pre-primary schools charge fees and receive a contribution from municipalities (Education Policy Institute, 2015[6]). However, pre-primary schools tend to have fairly large funding differences per child. Public pre-primary education is free of charge for all children one year before the start of compulsory school attendance, and always free of charge for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Public and private primary and secondary education is funded directly from the state budget, mainly by the Ministry of Interior and MŠVVŠ.

Teacher qualification requirements are defined in the Act on Pedagogical Employees and Specialist Employees. Primary and secondary teachers are required to obtain a teaching qualification from a university, or a qualification in a different field of study and supplementary pedagogical studies. In contrast, Slovakia is the only OECD country where the minimum qualification level for pre-primary teachers corresponds to upper secondary level education (Santiago et al., 2016[5]).

MŠVVŠ runs several agencies and institutes to support its activities, with those mentioned below not forming an exhaustive list. The Methodology and Pedagogy Centre (MPC) is an institute for in-service teacher education and training that works under the auspices of MŠVVŠ (see also Opportunity 3). Primarily responsible for the professional and career development of teachers, the MPC also offers a number of continuing educational programmes, provides for exam attestations, and publishes teaching materials and research activities related to the professional development of teachers. In line with regional education needs, the MPC also organises expert seminars, conferences and workshops, and is involved in expert guidance and consulting. The Centre implements EU-funded projects at national and international levels (MPC, 2019[7]) (Scientix, 2019[8]).

The State Institute for Vocational Education (ŠIOV) is responsible for a broad range of activities connected to vocational education (methodological, pedagogical guidance and co-ordination tasks) (European Basic Skills Network, 2019[9]). Its activities are primarily concerned with pupils, pedagogical employees and the needs of the labour market and employers. ŠIOV mainly works on the pedagogical and organisational provision of training and education in secondary vocational schools, apprenticeships, practical training centres and teaching workplaces. It also follows current trends and best practices within the field of secondary vocational education and training (VET), especially at the European level. Established within ŠIOV, the Slovak National Observatory collects and analyses information on vocational training in Slovakia (Skills Panorama, 2019[10]).

Also directly managed by MŠVVŠ, the National Institute of Education is responsible for conducting applied pedagogical research, as well as the provision of monitoring, evaluation and advisory support related to general education in Slovakia. It also prepares, develops and implements the national curriculum and provides guidelines, assistance and counselling to schools and school facilities (National Institute for Education, 2019[11]). The National Institute for Certified Educational Measurements (NÚCEM), conducts national student assessments in years 5 and 9, as well as a school leaving assessment (Maturita), and co-ordinates international student assessments. The State School Inspection (ŠŠI) is independent in its work, but its head is appointed by the Minister of Education. ŠŠI observes and supervises the overall level of quality of education in Slovakia. Its supervision activities also cover school management and the learning and teaching processes, together with the material and technical conditions in educational facilities in the Slovak Republic. Financed from the budget of MŠVVŠ, ŠŠI operates eight regional executive branches across Slovakia (State School Inspection, 2019[12]).

The performance of the Slovak Republic

The skills of 15-year-old Slovaks, as measured by PISA, lag behind those of their peers in other OECD countries in reading and science literacy. The proficiency scores in reading fall behind the OECD average by 29 points and in science literacy by 25 points. The skills of Slovak students in mathematics do not significantly differ from the OECD average (lagging behind the OECD average by 3 points) (OECD, 2019[1]). Compared to the 2015 PISA measurement, Slovak students have achieved a statistically significant improvement in mathematics. While an increase since 2015 can be equally be observed with respect to reading and science, it has not been not statistically significant (OECD, 2019[1]).

Over time, the performance of Slovak students in science, and to a lesser extent in reading and mathematics, has shown a steadily declining trend. While the their scores have deteriorated on all three dimensions since the earliest available measurement in PISA the long term drop in science mean performance among Slovak 15-year-olds is one of the most pronounced among OECD countries (OECD, 2016[3]). Figure 2.1 shows that until 2009, Slovakia and the OECD average in general followed the same trend. However, between 2009 and 2012 there was a sharp decline in the scores of Slovak students, and the performance gap between Slovakia and the OECD average widened significantly.

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Figure 2.1. Slovak performance in PISA is decreasing, and the gap with the OECD average is widening
Figure 2.1. Slovak performance in PISA is decreasing, and the gap with the OECD average is widening

Note: The average three-year trend between the earliest available measurement in PISA and PISA 2018 is negative and statistically significant for all subjects.

Source: OECD (2019[1]), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075127

In 2018, Slovakia’s share of top-performing students (those scoring above level 5 in PISA) in reading was 4.6%, falling behind the OECD average of 8.8%. Conversely, the share of low-performing students (students scoring below level 2 in PISA) in reading was 31.4%, which is larger than the OECD average of around 23% (OECD, 2019[1]). Moreover, the decline in PISA scores since 2009 coincides with a substantial increase in the share of low-achieving students (and a decrease in the share of high performers in the science exam). While in 2009, 19.3% of Slovak students were low achievers in science, in 2018 this increased to almost 30% (see Figure 2.2). The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) scores of Slovak students also point to a deteriorating trend. Between 2011 and 2015, mathematics scores of students in the fourth grade worsened from 507 to 498, thus moving closer to an international benchmark of 475 and indicating that students can only apply basic mathematical knowledge in simple situations. The science scores of Slovak fourth graders worsened from 532 to 520 in the same period, remaining below the benchmark score of 550 (IEA, 2019[13]).The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) score of Slovakia was 535, showing no improvement since 2011 and remaining below the international benchmark of 550 (IEA, 2019[14]).

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Figure 2.2. The share of low achievers in the Slovak Republic is on the rise
Share of students performing below level 2 and above level 5 in science in PISA
Figure 2.2. The share of low achievers in the Slovak Republic is on the rise

Note: The change between PISA 2006 and PISA 2018 in the share of students performing below level 2 (low achievers) and above level 5 (high achievers) in science is statistically significant.

Source: OECD (2019[1]), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075146

There are significant equity concerns in the Slovak school system and socio-economic background is an important driver of student performance. Disadvantaged students score lower in all three subject areas tested by PISA. For instance, with respect to reading scores, the difference between Slovak 15-year-olds in the top and bottom quarter of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) equals 106 points, compared with an OECD average of roughly 89 points (OECD, 2019[15])The difference between the 2015 PISA scores of Slovak Roma and non-Roma speaking students in mathematics and reading equals almost 160 points. According to the OECD (2019[4]), this may reflect a gap equivalent of almost five years of schooling between Slovak Roma and the general student population in Slovakia.

There are also concerns about the increasing rate of grade repetition. According to PISA data, disadvantaged students are roughly five times more likely to repeat a grade than their more advantaged peers (see Opportunity 2). This figure is the second highest among OECD countries (OECD, 2016[3]).

The share of students placed in the special education track is also on the rise (see Opportunity 2). Since 2011, Slovakia has had the highest share of children enrolled in special education within the European Union (EU), and this status is especially prevalent among children from marginalised Roma communities (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[16]). In 2016, 18% of Slovak Roma 6-15 year-olds attended special schools catering to the needs of children with learning, development, behavioural or physical issues (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[16]).

Students in Slovakia spend less time learning in school and more time learning outside of school than the OECD average: 24.5 hours per week at school compared to an OECD average of 26.9 hours, and 18.5 hours learning outside of school compared to an OECD average of 17.1 hours (OECD, 2016[17]). For every hour of learning time, the score point gain in both science and reading is also comparatively low. For example, whereas an hour of schooling is associated with a gain of 11.2 score points in both science and reading in the OECD on average, it is associated with a gain of only 10.7 and 10.5 points, respectively, among Slovak students (OECD, 2016[17]).

Public expenditure on education is about 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) (EUR 3.4 billion, approximately 10% of total public expenditure). This is roughly 1% of GDP less than the average educational expenditure within the EU. However, the difference has been shrinking in recent years. More than half of public expenditure on education is channelled to regional education (pre-primary, primary and secondary level). Public resources spent on education make up roughly 85% of the total resources devoted to education, while the other 15% comes from private resources. Overall, this ratio is similar to the average OECD ratio (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]). If compared across the levels of education, the ratio of public and private resources spent on primary and secondary education is almost identical in Slovakia and in the OECD on average, while the share of private resources channelled towards tertiary education is relatively lower in Slovakia than in the OECD (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]).

copy the linklink copied!Opportunities to strengthen the skills of youth in the Slovak Republic

Based on the desk research of the OECD team, consultation with MŠVVŠ and stakeholder interviews, the following opportunities to strengthen the skills of youth in Slovakia have been identified:

  1. 1. Increasing enrolment in pre-primary education, especially among vulnerable groups.

  2. 2. Supporting schools and teachers in their work with vulnerable students.

  3. 3. Building a strong teaching workforce.

Opportunity 1: Increasing enrolment in pre-primary education, especially among vulnerable groups

High-quality pre-primary education is crucial for developing children’s skills (Chetty et al., 2011[19]; Gertler et al., 2014[20]; Berlinski, Galiani and Gertler, 2009[21]). During the first years of life, children require high-quality care, attention and stimulation. Poor learning environments at this stage can have a negative effect on the development of the cognitive and non-cognitive skills important for success during adulthood.

Children from advantaged socio-economic backgrounds often have the opportunity to develop such skills in their home environments. Therefore, disadvantaged children usually receive the greatest benefit from attending high-quality early childhood education, and interventions targeted at them will have the highest returns (OECD, 2018[22]; Currie, 2001[23]). Bennett, Kaga and Moss (2010[24]) show that early education programmes with strong community-based components may be especially beneficial for the most marginalised groups, such Roma children, and are key for increasing social inclusion. In this context, educational interventions during the early years are also more cost effective than interventions in later stages of life (Heckman and Carneiro, 2003[25]). Later compensatory measures do not take advantage of the full brain sensitivity peaks and therefore tend to have lower returns, and at a higher cost.

Data from PISA 2015 show a strong, positive relationship between the number of years that 15-year-old students spent in early childhood education and their scores on the PISA science assessment, even when comparing students from similar backgrounds (OECD, 2016[17]). In Slovakia, the score-point difference in science performance between 15-year-old students who attended early childhood education (ISCED 0) for two years or more and those who attended pre-primary educational facilities for less than two years is roughly 25.7 points, after accounting for students' and schools' socio-economic profile. Similarly, data from PISA show that Slovak students who spent three or more years in early childhood education are four times less likely to be low performers in the PISA assessment.

Slovakia should take advantage of the benefits of high-quality pre-primary education and continue its efforts to increase enrolment, especially among vulnerable groups, by:

  • Improving the availability of pre-primary schools in disadvantaged regions.

  • Lowering the perceptional and financial barriers that prevent disadvantaged groups from enrolling in pre-primary education.

Improving the availability of pre-primary schools in disadvantaged regions

Pre-primary education (ISCED 02) takes place in kindergartens (materské školy), which typically enrol children from age 3 to 6, although may enrol 2 year-olds if there is sufficient school capacity. Pre-primary education is provided by municipalities, churches or religious communities, or other private providers. The main providers of pre-primary education are municipalities, which are responsible for the financing and operation of kindergartens across the country. There are also kindergartens for children with special educational needs founded mainly by state district authorities (special public kindergartens), private providers, and churches or religious societies registered by the state (Eurydice, 2019[26]).

According to the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, in 2018 there were 2 748 kindergartens run by municipalities, which accounted for 92.6% of total enrolment (more than 150 000 children). The remaining children were enrolled in kindergartens run by churches (5 055 children representing 3.1% of total) and other private providers, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (6 947 children representing 4.3% of total) (see Table 2.2). There are also private providers not officially registered that do not appear in national statistics. For this reason, it is difficult to estimate the number of these kindergartens and how many children are enrolled within them.

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Table 2.2. Kindergartens and enrolment in pre-primary education by type of provider (2018)

 

Kindergartens pre-schools

Share of total kindergartens

Enrolment

Share of total enrolment

Public

2 748

91.60%

150 340

92.60%

Church

89

3.00%

5 055

3.10%

Private

164

5.50%

6 947

4.30%

Total

3 001

100%

162 342

100%

Source: CVTI (2019[27]) Statistical Report - Pre-primary Schools, https://cvtisr.sk/cvti-sr-vedecka-kniznica/informacie-o-skolstve/statistiky/statisticka-rocenka-publikacia/statisticka-rocenka-materske-skoly.html?page_id=9602.

Public kindergartens are free of charge for all children one year before the start of compulsory school attendance (typically age five). Municipalities can charge fees to any child not in his or her last year before compulsory education, for example to those aged three or four. However, for socially disadvantaged children, publicly provided pre-primary education is free irrespective of age. In contrast, church and private kindergartens are allowed to charge fees with no ceiling to students of any age.

Pre-primary education is not yet mandatory in Slovakia; however, an amendment made to the Slovak Education Act (no. 245/2008 Coll. on education and training) passed in June 2019 established that pre-primary education will become mandatory for 5-year-olds from 1 September 2021. This new law is a step in the right direction and will facilitate an increase in Slovakia’s pre-primary enrolment rate closer to the levels of most OECD countries.

In general, enrolment in pre-primary education in Slovakia is comparatively low. While the share of 3-5 year-olds enrolled in pre-primary education increased by 11% between 2005 and 2017 on average across OECD countries, in Slovakia it remained essentially unchanged, increasing by just 1% from 74% to 75% (OECD, 2019[28]). This is below the EU-2020 target of 95% for children aged 4 and above (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[16]).

Enrolment in pre-primary education is also highly heterogeneous: regional differences are substantial and the enrolment rate is as low as 40% or 50% in certain districts. Low participation of socio-economically disadvantaged groups in pre-primary education remains an issue, especially for Roma children: only about 34% of Roma girls and boys attend pre-primary education facilities (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[16]). Despite the ongoing expansion of Slovak pre-school capacity supported by the EU, many municipalities still lack capacity in kindergartens, especially those with a higher concentration of Roma children in Eastern Slovakia (OECD, 2019[4]).

Figure 2.3 shows how the enrolment rate differs by districts and regions and that there is a negative correlation between the pre-primary enrolment rate and the district-level unemployment rate. This means that districts with higher unemployment rates –a strong predictor of vulnerability and poverty– exhibit significantly lower pre-primary enrolment rates. This is consistent with the fact that municipalities without a kindergarten tend to be in districts with higher concentrations of vulnerable populations, most notably Roma (OECD, 2019[4]).

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Figure 2.3. Enrolment rate is lower in districts facing higher unemployment rates
Districts by regions, 2018
Figure 2.3. Enrolment rate is lower in districts facing higher unemployment rates

Note: The enrolment rate is calculated as the ratio between the total enrolment of children aged 3 to 5 and the total number of children in that age range in each district. The enrolment rate is calculated for each of the 79 districts in Slovakia. Enrolment rates can take values greater than 100 in certain districts due to children enrolled in schools in different districts.

Source: OECD calculations based on data from the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic (2019[29]), Datacube, http://datacube.statistics.sk/ and CVTI (2019[30]), Štatistická ročenka (Annual Statistical Report), https://www.cvtisr.sk/cvti-sr-vedecka-kniznica/informacie-o-skolstve/statistiky/statisticka-rocenka-publikacia.html?page_id=9580.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075165

Mandatory pre-primary education for children aged 5 has the potential to curb the trend shown in Figure 2.3. However, the implementation of this new policy is not without its challenges, such as capacity. Roughly one-third of kindergartens face capacity constraints, which are reflected in the fact that many applications received each year have to be rejected (12 502 rejected applications in the 2018/19 school year). Without an increase in capacity, many kindergartens will not be able to admit all the future demand from 5-year-old children, as agreed by most of the experts and stakeholders who participated in workshops, interviews and focus groups. The Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS) has also publicly shared its concerns about the lack of capacity (ZMOS, 2019[31]). Another challenge is to ensure that the new capacity is of high quality. The importance of ensuring quality while expanding capacity is underscored in Box 2.1, where the Colombian experience shows that an expansion of pre-primary education did not produce the expected learning gains among students when physical investments were not accompanied with quality improvements in other dimensions.

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Box 2.1. Relevant international example: Expansion of pre-primary education in Colombia - Evidence from a randomised controlled trial

In Colombia, enrolment rates in pre-primary education increased from 13% in 1990 to 84% in 2015, while in 2011 the government committed to triple expenditure in early childhood education.

A recent study by (Andrew et al., 2019[32]) analyses the “Hogares Infantiles” (children’s homes) programme, which provides pre-primary education to children from disadvantaged backgrounds aged five and younger. Using an experimental design, the authors show that investment in what is often called “structural quality” (e.g. physical infrastructure, staff resources, pedagogical material) alone does not produce the expected learning gains in students. The authors found that when greater resources are given to schools, teachers tend to substitute their efforts and involvement with children and delegate some responsibilities to less experienced and less qualified teaching assistants. The study shows that these children saw no improvements in their cognitive and social-emotional development on average, and that for some children the effect was even negative.

In contrast, when structural quality was paired with pedagogical training for teachers, children’s cognition, language and school readiness increased by around 0.15 of a Standard Deviation (SD). Larger gains (0.3 SD) were observed among the most disadvantaged children, off-setting the negative effect on teacher behaviour.

Source: Andrew, A. et al. (2019[32]), Preschool Quality and Child Development, www.nber.org/papers/w26191.

The main challenge with making pre-primary education mandatory for children aged 5 is that at current capacity levels, the expansion could crowd out some children aged 3 and 4. Therefore, if there is no increase in capacity, the expansion for 5 year-olds might come at the expense of younger groups, at least in the short term.

OECD estimates show that if all 5 year-olds are enrolled in pre-primary education, in addition to the 3 and 4 year-olds already in the system, Slovakia would need to expand its current capacity by around 13 200 seats (see Table 2.3).

This estimate, however, does not take into account better use of existing capacities, spaces under construction or to be constructed using EU funding or the possibility of inter-municipality/town migration. According to MŠVVŠ, the capacity shortage would be reduced to between 1 828 and 3 172 seats taking these factors into account (Varsik, 2019[33]). It is worth noting that capacity shortages are not equally distributed across regions, being larger in Košický and Prešovský regions.

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Table 2.3. Mandatory pre-primary education will put pressure on current capacity

Students

Current enrolment (all ages)

162 342

Current enrolment age 5 and above

69 429

Enrolment age 5 and above under new policy

82 676

Capacity shortage without capacity expansion

13 247

Capacity shortage with capacity expansion and efficient use of current capacity*

[1 828, 3 172]

Note: Calculations assume that the number of students aged 3 and 4 enrolled in kindergarten remains unchanged. The extra demand comes from 5 year-olds who should, under the new policy, start attending pre-primary education. The row “enrolment age 5 and above under new policy” includes 6 year-olds who are still not in primary school. It is assumed that the share of 6-year-olds in each cohort before primary school remains unchanged (47%). The estimation assumes that in each district, the teacher-child ratio and the average school size remains unchanged after the policy. All calculations are performed at the district level and aggregated by regions and nationally. Number in rows with an asterisk (*) are estimates of MŠVVŠ.

Source: OECD calculations based on data from CVTI (2019[30]), Štatistická ročenka (Annual Statistical Report), https://www.cvtisr.sk/cvti-sr-vedecka-kniznica/informacie-o-skolstve/statistiky/statisticka-rocenka-publikacia.html?page_id=9580 and Ministry of Finance et al. (2019[34]), Revision of Expenditures on Groups at Risk of Poverty or Social Exclusion: Interim Report, www.minedu.sk/data/att/14208.pdf;Varsik (2019[33]), I am Holding you a Spot, www.minedu.sk/data/att/15248.pdf.

Recommendations for improving availability of pre-primary schools in disadvantaged regions

  • Gradually introduce a legal entitlement for 3 and 4 year-olds to attend pre-primary education. The current law can be strengthened by providing families with the legal entitlement to send their 3 and 4 year-old children to kindergartens. MŠVVŠ should ensure that mandatory pre-primary education for children aged 5 and above does not undermine enrolment rates at lower ages for two reasons: 1) the impact of a high-quality education can be larger at earlier stages of life; and 2) the employment rate of women aged 25-34 is roughly 20% lower than of men the same age (Eurostat, 2019[35]). A decrease in enrolment at lower ages could thus further reduce the employment rate of woman with young children, something that Slovakia needs to avoid.

  • Increase the number of public kindergartens to accommodate the new demand, while also giving private providers the opportunity to complement supply. Slovakia will need to increase pre-primary school capacity. This can be achieved by increasing the capacity of current kindergartens or by building new facilities. At present, most new facilities are built with EU funds through special operational programmes. However, Slovakia should broaden its sources of funding to ensure stability in the long term. During the transition period, public supply could be complemented by low-investment private provision. For example, the government could temporarily license home-based kindergartens for younger children to meet the new demand.

Lowering the perceptional and financial barriers that prevent disadvantaged groups from enrolling in pre-primary education

Building sufficient pre-primary school capacity is a necessary pre-condition for increasing enrolment among vulnerable groups in Slovakia; however, other factors are important.

Higher pre-primary school enrolment among children from vulnerable backgrounds can be hindered by barriers at the social and cultural level, often reflected in the convictions held by parents regarding pre-primary enrolment. For instance, according to the World Bank (2012[36]), 37% of Roma parents in Slovakia are of the opinion that there is no need for pre-school education, with home care being identified as sufficient. Moreover, 23% judge that their child is too young to start attending pre-school facilities. UNDP (2012[37]) has identified the unwillingness of Roma parents to send their children to kindergarten as the primary parent-level barrier to enrolment, followed by considering their children not old enough to attend, as echoed by the OECD (2019[4]). However, as Vančíková et al. (2017[38]) note, the convictions of Roma parents are often propelled by justified distrust towards the majority population given their previous experiences of prejudice or stereotyping at both individual and collective levels. Roma parents have been found to encounter discriminatory and dissuasive reactions regarding enrolling their children in kindergartens or supporting their attendance, with petitions against opening Roma-majority kindergartens reported as an example (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]; OECD, 2019[4]).

Roma parents do not always possess the necessary information or skills required to enrol their children in pre-primary education, and may be unaware of the formal requirements of the enrolment process (OECD, 2019[4]). For instance, the initial steps of (correctly) completing a pre-printed form to be downloaded from a website of the relevant authority, or submitting a hand-written application, can pose significant problems if the parents’ (digital) literacy skills are insufficiently developed (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]). This also applies to submitting a medical statement from a paediatrician, which is required to confirm the medical state of the child. Evidence also indicates that Roma parents are not always aware of the administrative deadline for the process, usually falling sometime in March or April, which often leads them to miss it, especially in the absence of professionals, field social workers or community workers to provide reminders (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]). Closer co-operation efforts at the parent level could help improve this issue (Box 2.2).

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Box 2.2. Relevant national example: The Omama project in the Slovak Republic

The Omama project is run by a Slovak NGO Cesta von (Way out), which, in co-operation with field social workers and experts working with socially disadvantaged communities, selects one mother in each Roma community, a so-called “Omama”. This person is usually considered responsible and reliable, has a strong work ethic and is generally respected in the community. In co-operation with experts on early care, Omamas are trained in early age child development methods and in creating satisfactory conditions for the child’s growth and development. Omamas who successfully complete the training are subsequently hired by the NGO.

In the next stage, Omamas, in co-operation and aided by the mentoring, supervision and practical preparation of experts, help develop the competencies of children aged 0-3. They provide counselling and guidance for parents in the field of early care living in their community, as well as to pregnant women. They visit the households of families with the youngest children on a weekly basis and help run joint parent clubs. During these individual and groups sessions, and in the presence of Roma mothers, Omamas play carefully chosen games and activities with children to stimulate their development, while providing opportunities for the improvement of parenting skills. Although the Omama project targets primarily children who do not yet attend a kindergarten, there is potential for this best practice to be successfully replicated for children aged 3-5, especially during the crucial period when parents need to make well-informed decisions regarding the enrolment of their child in pre-primary education for the first time. The work of Omamas could thus be expanded to include raising awareness about the importance of pre-primary education, as well as the administrative requirements necessary to fulfil for enrolment. In this way it would complement the work of field and community social workers.

Source: Cesta von (2019[39]), Omama Project, https://cestavon.sk/projekt-omama/index.

Several national projects implemented by the Slovak government have sought to reduce the factors negatively impacting upon the enrolment of Roma children in pre-primary education facilities, while stimulating inclusive and informed environments. For instance, a co-ordinator role has been established within the ongoing National Project of Inclusion in Kindergartens (NP PRIM). However, systematic measures are yet to be introduced (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]). Most often, interventions at the local level targeting family and community support are funded through the European Social Fund for social/community work or inclusive education projects. These have been translated into a number of concrete national projects over the years, such as the Inclusive Model of Early Childhood Education (MRC2) (2013-2015) or the Project of Inclusive Education (PRINED) (2014-2015) (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]), co-ordinated and periodically evaluated by the MPC (MPC, 2015[40]; MPC, 2015[41]). However, the impact of such national projects is limited; for instance, NP PRINED covered 50 kindergartens and 130 primary schools, meaning that support was not available as broadly as needed. Moreover, given the time constraints, especially with EU-funded projects, they are not a sustainable and continually available solution for the future.

Financial barriers remain a real obstacle to placing a child in a kindergarten, and impact all vulnerable families, not just those from a Roma background. Given that municipalities are the founders of pre-schools, there are no limits set for tuition fees (see section above), which can vary significantly depending on the municipality, from EUR 7 up to EUR 300 a month (OECD, 2019[4]). Fees for transport, extracurricular or other activities also have to be factored in, which leads to a situation where out-of-pocket childcare costs relative to income for children aged 2-3 are among the highest in the OECD (OECD, 2019[4]). The Slovak government has put in place tools that have the potential to increase and facilitate enrolment. These target primarily children who live in households receiving material needs assistance and to children living in households whose income is below the subsistence minimum. The support tools, and their different combinations applied according to the specific material situation of the family, include the cancellation of pre-primary school tuition fees, and meal and school supply subsidies for children in kindergartens about to transition to primary school (Ministry of Finance et al., 2019[34]). However, as highlighted by the Ministry of Finance et al. (2019[34]), the criteria used to award this support are too narrow and therefore do not cover all socially disadvantaged children. For instance, in 2017 only 37% of kindergarten children at risk of poverty or social exclusion received a meal subsidy. The sufficiency of these tools in terms of their absolute value can also be questioned (Vančíková et al., 2017[38]). Therefore financial barriers, combined with rather complex administrative requirements of applying for allowances, remain a real obstacle preventing placement of children in kindergartens, not least among the Roma community.

Recommendations for lowering the perceptional and financial barriers that prevent disadvantaged groups from enrolling in pre-primary education

  • Strengthen the capacities and reach of on-the-ground work with vulnerable families. Priority should be placed on raising awareness, especially among Roma parents, of the importance and positive long-term effects of pre-primary education, while forming a closer relationship with parents in order to reassure and help address the potential feelings of distrust towards the majority education system. Such work also needs to help improve parenting skills and ensure that, especially regarding administrative requirements for enrolment in pre-primary education, parents remain aware and supported. The service could be provided by designated contact persons who are trained and equipped with necessary language skills, while supported by “bridge” expert workers (Box 2.2). In this respect, the introduction of a co-ordinator role for work with parents, introduced under NP PRIM, is a step in the right direction. The importance of introducing systematic solutions, whereby these services are provided more broadly and continually, should be placed at the top of the agenda.

  • Adjust the criteria for receiving financial assistance in order to better cover the population of socially disadvantaged children. Given that financial barriers remain an obstacle for pre-primary enrolment, more attention should be given to defining the eligibility conditions of children and their families in terms of the financial tools currently put in place by the government. Within the budget constraints, increasing the amount provided through these tools in absolute terms would be a significant positive step.

Opportunity 2: Supporting schools and teachers in their work with vulnerable students

PISA 2018 scores indicate that the general skills of 15-year-olds in the Slovak Republic lag behind those of their peers in other OECD countries in reading and science, with a recent statistically significant improvement in mathematics (see section above). However, the average score obscures considerable variation in school performance across different groups of Slovak youth.

Socio-economic status (including parental education and occupation, wealth, and educational resources) has a large impact on the school performance of Slovak students: 17.5% of the variance in student reading performance in Slovakia is accounted for by differences in socio-economic status, which is above the OECD average of 12% (OECD, 2019[15]). Furthermore, fewer disadvantaged students from Slovakia succeed in PISA testing than in other OECD countries, on average, making fewer Slovak disadvantaged students “academically resilient”. While 11% of disadvantaged students are academically resilient in the OECD on average, the figure stands at 9% in Slovakia (OECD, 2019[15]). In 2015, only 15.7% of students from the bottom quarter of the PISA ESCS index in Slovakia performed at or above level 3 (out of 6 levels of proficiency) in reading, mathematics and science (OECD, 2018[42]), which is below the OECD average of 25.2%. There has also been a negative trend between 2006 and 2015 (OECD, 2018[42]). The outcomes of Slovak Roma students in particular are significantly worse than those of the non-Roma population, with the difference in performance in terms of PISA scores between 15-year-old Roma and non-Roma pupils approximately 160 points (OECD, 2019[4]).

Focusing on vulnerable students and supporting schools and teachers to better cater to their needs has significant potential to improve the student performance of these groups, thus boosting the overall skills level of youth in Slovakia. Although it is important to address the needs of vulnerable children and pupils in the broadest sense of the definition (e.g. special needs students), this report will primarily equate vulnerable students with those from a socio-economically disadvantaged background. Given that the definition of a socio-economically disadvantaged background used in the Slovak education system might not cover all children or pupils at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the report will rely instead on the PISA ESCS index (OECD, 2016[3]), which is derived from several variables related to students’ family background: parents’ education, parents’ occupations, a number of home possessions that can be taken as proxies for material wealth, and the number of books and other educational resources available in the home. Students will thus be classified here as socio-economically disadvantaged if their values on the ESCS index are among the bottom 25% within their country or economy (OECD, 2016[3]).

This opportunity and the corresponding policy recommendations will focus on the following topics:

  • Providing targeted support to vulnerable students.

  • Identifying schools and students at risk.

Providing targeted support to vulnerable students

Slovak teachers often lack the specific skills, capacity or motivation to provide targeted support to vulnerable students (OECD, 2019[43]), which poses a significant challenge. While it is well documented that the impact of high-quality teachers on student performance is generally significant (OECD, 2005[44]), these effects are particularly magnified for vulnerable students from disadvantaged backgrounds (The Sutton Trust, 2011[45]).

Although there are various tracks that administer education in Slovakia, depending on whether the pupil comes from a materially disadvantaged background or is physically or mentally disabled, students from disadvantaged backgrounds have to pursue their studies in regular classrooms. In fact, placing a socially disadvantaged child into special education would count as discrimination based on social background. Socially disadvantaged students in regular classrooms can study certain or all subjects within the framework of individual educational programmes (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[46]).

Individual educational programmes form an integral part of the documentation of a student individually integrated in a regular class. They are developed by the head teacher in co-operation with a special pedagogue, teaching assistant or other expert worker, and aim to plan a pupil’s educational path that caters to their specific needs (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[46]). However, more than 30% of Slovak primary school teachers and 28% of secondary school teachers report compiling these programmes on their own (To Da Rozum, 2019[47]). Although the Slovak law allows for developing individual educational programmes for both disabled and socio-economically disadvantaged students in theory, it is much less common for the latter category (Farenzenová, Kubánová and Salner, 2013[48]). In practice, developing these programmes is a highly demanding bureaucratic process, with the form itself of considerable length and containing unnecessary repetition (Farenzenová, Kubánová and Salner, 2013[48]). Furthermore, current legislation does not permit developing an individual educational programme if students are not fluent in the Slovak language, despite potentially benefiting from the programme’s individual approach (Farenzenová, Kubánová and Salner, 2013[48]). The language barrier is especially important for Roma students, who represent over half of all socially disadvantaged students in Slovakia (Ministry of Finance et al., 2019[34]). There are also discrepancies between the theoretical development and practical implementation of individual educational programmes. Slovak teachers must self-study relevant psychological literature in order to be able to choose the best teaching method for the student with particular educational needs, which is a time-consuming exercise.

Large numbers of pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are enrolled in special education institutions, which, as underscored above, constitutes discriminatory practice. This is further exacerbated by the absence of effective control mechanisms. Overall, the number of pupils in special education in Slovakia is nearly four times higher than the EU average. At the same time, more than half of these students (55%) come from families provided with material needs assistance or from marginalised Roma communities. Stakeholder interviews revealed a widespread practice whereby such students are often channelled into special schools based on prefabricated psychological appraisals purely for capacity reasons, with most pupils placed in the special education system due to having been diagnosed with a mild mental/intellectual disability. For instance, up to 16.1% of pupils from the marginalised Roma communities with this diagnosis attend special schools or classes in Slovakia, which is five times more than the overall population (3.2%) (Ministry of Finance et al., 2019[34]). However, it should be re-emphasised that purposefully transferring Roma children into special education institutions amounts to discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, which is prohibited by the EU Racial Equality Directive (European Commission, 2019[49]).

Even if enrolled in a regular school, vulnerable students are not always adequately supported due to the relative unpreparedness of their teachers. According to evidence gathered through workshops and stakeholder interviews, this trend partially reflects the lack of theoretical focus on vulnerable students in the university curricula of future teachers, which is further compounded by the absence of practical teaching experience regarding vulnerable and other pupils (see Opportunity 3). Teacher interviews as part of this project revealed that Slovak teachers working with vulnerable students often struggle with designing classes that cater to their needs, with devoting adequate attention to them in undertaking or finalising their tasks, or with keeping control of the class. In order to complement the necessary long-term solutions introduced in Opportunity 3, other immediate response mechanisms could be considered (Box 2.3).

Data gathered in international surveys further highlight the need to support teachers in interacting with vulnerable students. Slovak teachers who do not have any students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes in their classes spend on average almost 84% of their time on actual teaching and learning, compared with 68% for teachers with more than one-third of such students in their classes (Figure 2.4). Similarly, more than 37% of Slovak teachers in classes with more than 60% of students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes say that they have to wait a relatively long time for students to quieten down when lessons begin, compared with 13% for those teaching in classes with no socio-economically disadvantaged students.

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Box 2.3. Relevant international example: Building teacher capacity for diverse educational environments in Alberta (Canada)

For its educators, the government of Alberta prioritises awareness, understanding and the need to support students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This issue is highlighted in the preamble to the Ministerial Order on Student Learning and aligned to professional development tools for teachers. Alberta Education offers a series of resources to in-service teachers so that they can learn about the Indigenous communities of Canada (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) and understand the contemporary issues affecting students from these communities. It further supports teachers by providing a curriculum development tool, Guiding Voices, for the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives throughout the school curriculum. Teachers are guided to incorporate the history and contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples in programmes of study, assessments, and teaching and learning resources. For example, the toolkit includes examples of narratives and images of First Nation, Métis, Inuit and other Indigenous groups that could be included when teaching certain subjects in the classroom. It also provides guidelines on how teachers, through their classroom practices, can prevent social exclusion among students. This support mechanism stands out as it focuses on building a strong foundation of knowledge and awareness among teachers, followed by concrete teaching strategies and resources for reference, to encourage informed implementation of the recommended practices.

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en; Alberta Education (2015[50]), Guiding Voices, http://learnalberta.ca/content/fnmigv/index.html.

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Figure 2.4. Slovak teachers devote less time to teaching in classes with vulnerable students
Time spent teaching by share of vulnerable students in class, % of class time
Figure 2.4. Slovak teachers devote less time to teaching in classes with vulnerable students

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075184

Teachers are often faced with a language barrier, especially in the case of Roma pupils. Given that only one-third of the Roma community consider the Slovak language to be their mother tongue, it is to be expected that a certain share of Roma pupils will join primary school without any prior knowledge of Slovak, especially if they had not attended pre-primary education institutions beforehand. The task of teachers is thus made even more difficult given that there is no language support system in place to teach Slovak as a second language (Ministry of Finance et al., 2019[34]).

Slovak teachers struggling to provide adequate support to vulnerable students do not reap the full advantages potentially stemming from closer co-operation with students’ families or social services. However, Čerešníková (2006[51]) highlights that teacher-parent communication can allow teachers to effectively gather more information about the pupil while building trust with the students’ family (See Box 2.4). Such co-operation becomes even more important with respect to vulnerable students and their families (Turzák and Turzáková, 2013[52]).

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Box 2.4. Relevant international example: Fostering communication between schools, families and additional services in France

France has a number of initiatives in place to facilitate co-operation and communication between schools, families and additional stakeholders.

The Programme for Educational Success (Programmes de réussite éducative) aims to complement the efforts of the school and focuses on children most at risk in urban areas. Based on the identification of pupils with learning difficulties aged 2 to 16, the programme provides tailored support, with the agreement of parents, developed according to the specific needs of the individual. Often entailing a cross-sectoral approach involving teachers, social workers and psychologists, pupils are followed by a primary contact person who is also in liaison with the families. National funds are available for schools engaging in this programme.

Following the law of 8 July 2013, French schools are required to set up a parents’ meeting centre (Lieu Accueil Parents). At a Lyon primary school, Les Géraniums, this room is used by parents as a meeting point to discuss and share experiences and support, as well as to engage with external specialists such as teaching assistants, social workers or medical staff. The centre can also serve as a place to organise talks on school issues and engage with teaching staff. Municipal funding was provided to the school to facilitate the provision of this centre.

The nationwide scheme, Open School to Parents (Ouvrir l’École aux parents pour la réussite des enfants), is aimed at parents with a migrant background that have recently settled in France and are not well integrated into society. Supported via a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Home Affairs, the purpose is to involve migrant parents in the schooling of their children. Participation is voluntary, free of charge and involves a language course for parents, as well as training and familiarisation with the French schooling system and the values of the French Republic. Training is mainly delivered by teachers, including language teachers, and other professionals, with courses delivered on school premises after hours to encourage participation.

Source: European Commission (2015[53]), Working Group Schools Policy: Early School Leaving. Country Focus Workshop: France, https://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/education/experts-groups/2014-2015/school/france-parental-involvement_en.pdf.

According to testimonies from teachers working in vulnerable schools, parent-teacher co-operation is significantly underdeveloped in Slovakia, which poses a particular problem in the case of Roma students. In this respect, the integration of Roma-speaking teaching assistants to help with the learning of vulnerable pupils could surmount the language barrier between teachers and Roma parents whose knowledge of the Slovak language is often inadequate, as well as build parent-teacher trust and lessen misunderstandings.

The state provides a contribution to schools in support of each pupil from a socially disadvantaged background, which was set at EUR 150 per year in 2018 (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[54]). The contribution is meant to cover the costs of a teaching assistant or a special pedagogue, the provision of didactical and learning tools, or the prevention of a spread of contagious diseases. However, the contribution per child is not enough to cover all foreseen expenses (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[55]).

Recommendations for providing targeted support to vulnerable students

  • Provide school teachers working with vulnerable students easily implementable international best practice examples of teaching these students. Best practice teaching advice should be targeted specifically at teachers working with vulnerable students. A responsible team, comprised, for instance, by staff from the MPC, should regularly convene representative teachers from schools with high proportions of disadvantaged students for international best-practice, topic-specific learning incubators (see Box 2.3), organised in Slovak language. These learning experiences should be supported by electronically disseminating and following up with information on simple best practice steps, while requesting teachers’ feedback on the effectiveness of implemented practices. Following the completion of the first cycle of best practice learning, time for intra-school discussions (one to two hours a week) of the teachers’ experiences with implementing the new techniques should be institutionalised within their professional obligations, and enabled by decreasing their administrative workload. Gradually, support should be given to facilitate the progression from intra-school discussions to an inter-school forum, where a network of Slovak schools with high proportions of disadvantaged students could support each other in effective peer learning. Provided that such measures are seen as having the potential to help with the teaching of vulnerable students in the short term, the focus on teaching pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and in linguistically mixed environments should also be more extensively reflected in teachers’ professional development as a more long-term solution (see Opportunity 3).

  • Strengthen co-operation and communication between schools, vulnerable students’ families and social services. Roma teaching assistants should be given priority if further support for expanding the number of teaching assistants is to be included in the government’s long-term strategy. One-to-one interactions, informal communication and personalised engagement should be emphasised in their work, while the roles of local volunteers and NGOs should also be explored (Sime, Fassetta and McClung, 2014[56]). Social workers, and their role in the process of effectively communicating with the families of vulnerable students, should be supported through regular information sharing and meetings with teachers and teaching assistants to ensure effective collaboration (see Box 2.4). In the long-term, support for further educating Roma parents primarily with the view of increasing their basic literacy rates, would further enhance the ease of communication between teachers, parents and social services (Turzák and Turzáková, 2013[52]).

  • Simplify the administrative complexity of setting up individual educational programmes. Although providing a universal model of an individual educational programme is not advisable given that it is meant to cater to each pupil’s specific needs, reducing administrative complexity should be encouraged. This could create more time for teachers to develop the programmes and might therefore encourage the practice to become more widespread, even with regards to pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. In this way, the more intensive integration of socially disadvantaged pupils into regular classes will be aided, which might help dissuade the still widespread practice of assigning vulnerable students to special schools. To prevent common errors, teachers could be made aware of errors committed when designing individual programmes, such as paying inadequate attention to the conclusions of a pupil’s diagnosis by pedagogical-psychological guidance experts (Krčahová and Šestáková, 2012[57]). At the same time, the development of methodological materials that advise teachers on the relevant teaching methods appropriate for students with different individual educational needs could be considered.

Identifying schools and students at risk

Early school leaving has been associated with significant fiscal, social and private consequences. These include higher dependence on government transfers, reduced tax revenues, fewer productivity externalities, increased risk of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion (Brunello and Paola, 2014[58]). In 2012, more than 40% of early school leavers in the EU were out of work, even though roughly 70% expressed an interest in working (European Commission, 2013[59]). Existing studies have also shown that low educational attainment levels can reduce lifetime earnings. Although complicated to estimate, research suggests that depending on circumstances, an additional year of schooling can raise the lifetime earnings of an individual by between 4% and 10% (Brunello and Paola, 2014[58]). Within academic literature, early school leaving has long been perceived as a sudden phenomenon. Recently, however, an extensive body of evidence has indicated that many pupils who drop out of education have been exhibiting “distress signs” for months, even years (European Commission and ICF GHK, 2013[60]). Research has shown that the earlier a pupil sends the first distress signal, the greater the risk of early school leaving later on (European Commission and ICF GHK, 2013[60]).

Distress signs, also known as “early warning signals”, can be displayed inside or outside of school. Through these signs, students indicate that they might be struggling with school workload and motivation, or that they are faced with personal challenges requiring support. A growing consensus has emerged amongst policy makers around the importance of early warning systems (EWS), developed to aid teachers and other pedagogical and expert staff decipher and act upon various distress factors exhibited by pupils (European Commission and ICF GHK, 2013[60]). Based on diagnostic tools, EWS are able to statistically identify at-risk students by predicting the likelihood of a pupil dropping out of school, and thus allow for appropriate intervention in advance in order to prevent the individual’s early school leaving (Chung and Lee, 2019[61]; Knowles, 2015[62]). EWS have been shown to produce satisfactory results when accompanied by a clear system of follow-up and intervention. This is especially important in Slovakia, where teachers might often have an idea of who the at-risk students are, but might not have the resources or time to react and prevent dropping out. Equally, their attitudes to, and perceptions of, low-performing and disadvantaged students (State School Inspection, 2019[63]) (To Da Rozum, 2019[47]) indicate that their motivation or readiness to intervene should not be taken for granted. However, with a streamlined and simplified system of identifying students at risk, embedded within a broader accountability system and able to signal the level risk and intervention needed (Box 2.5), the efforts of teachers could be stimulated and better channelled to where they are needed the most.

In Slovakia, the share of early school leavers, defined as 18-24 year-olds with only or less than lower secondary education and no longer in education or training (European Commission, 2011[64]), varies among different groups of the population. Although the current share of 8.6% leaving school early across the population is below the EU-2020 target of less than 10% (Eurostat, 2019[65]), the OECD (2019[4]) notes that the ratio is as high as 61% for Roma men and 54% for Roma women (see Figure 2.5), indicating their much larger drop-out rates from secondary education. The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2017[66]) also notes that learners with special needs are among those groups at particular risk of early school leaving. At the same time, the likelihood of grade repetition for disadvantaged students in Slovakia is the highest among OECD countries, and almost three times as high as the OECD average of 4% (OECD, 2019[4]). This trend thus also increases the likelihood of early school leaving, given that in Slovakia, repeated grades are counted towards the ten year compulsory school attendance. In theory, students can therefore leave educational institutions before obtaining lower secondary education.

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Box 2.5. Relevant international example: The Massachusetts Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS)

EWIS is an early warning system that identifies students at risk of missing key academic milestones.

A student’s EWIS risk level predicts the likelihood of them meeting (or not) a relevant academic milestone for his/her particular age group. The student risk is organised by four grade level groupings in the American context: early elementary, late elementary, middle grades and high school. The academic milestones, which need to be developmentally appropriate, have been identified for each age group based on available state data. Based on EWIS experience, the milestones should be set up so that they are important to the success of students, and meaningful and actionable for teachers who work with the students in each grade grouping.

EWIS identifies three risk levels, which are computed annually at the end of each summer: low, moderate and high. The computed risk level provides immediately available information to teachers or relevant expert workers about the likelihood that an individual student will or will not achieve the set academic milestone. For example, a student assigned a low risk level is classified as likely to meet the academic milestone.

The risk levels identified by EWIS are determined on the basis of data from the previous academic year. A risk level is thus assigned to every Massachusetts public school student for whom there are state-level data from the prior year, showing the importance of accurate, timely and consistent data input by schools. The risk levels are determined on an individual student basis, and not based on a student’s relative likelihood of reaching an academic milestone when compared with other students. Consequently, there are no set amounts of students at each risk level.

Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2019[67]), Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS), www.doe.mass.edu/ccte/ccr/ewis/; OECD (forthcoming[68]), Strengthening the Governance of Skills Systems.

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Figure 2.5. Early school leaving rate is significantly higher among the Roma population
Early school leavers, % of population aged 15-24
Figure 2.5. Early school leaving rate is significantly higher among the Roma population

Source: OECD (2019[4]), OECD Economic Surveys: Slovak Republic 2019, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-svk-2019-en; Eurostat (2019[65])Early leavers from education and training, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Early_leavers_from_education_and_training.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075203

In Slovakia, schools discuss the students at risk of dropping out every quarter when teachers are convened at school “pedagogical councils”. It is also mandatory that parents are contacted several times prior to a significant change in subject specific or behaviour grade, rebuke from the class teacher or from the principal, or in case of a large number of unattended lessons. However, there is yet to be developed a centrally operated early warning system able to simplify and streamline the identification of Slovak students beginning to show early warning signals, before they drop-out, while also indicating the urgency and appropriate level of intervention. There are, nonetheless, systems in place on which authorities could further build with the view to develop a functional EWS system, or potentially a much broader multi-faceted education information system in the long run, such as in the case of Estonia (Box 2.6).

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Box 2.6. Relevant international example: Estonia’s Education Information System (EHIS)

The Estonian Education Information System is a state register of educational information that consolidates, in real time and periodically, information about all educational institutions, students, teachers and academic staff, graduation documents, textbooks, and curricula in Estonia. In this context, EHIS is one of the most important instruments of knowledge-based educational policy, and one of the few databases of its kind in the world.

EHIS co-operates with more than 20 information systems, while approximately 45 services are related to the register. The register is also used and completed by 2 000 institutions related to education. Such co-operation is made possible via X-Road solutions, which allows for the provision of services without the applicant having to acquire a certificate from the educational institution to confirm their data. Access to the database is ID-card based. Data are entered into EHIS mainly by educational institutions, as well as being obtained from publishing companies and other registers.

The data entered into EHIS allow an instant overview of current developments in the Estonian education system and can identify and monitor important trends. For instance, the data entered into EHIS by schools indicate that one of the biggest challenges facing the country is ensuring sufficient workload for teachers in situations where the number of students is falling, or that Estonia’s established aim –a larger share of students in vocational secondary education– is a clearly regional issue. Thanks to EHIS, it can be observed that the proportion of basic school graduates continuing their studies at the upper secondary level is two to three times larger in bigger cities than in some rural regions.

Source: OECD (forthcoming[68]), Strengthening the Governance of Skills Systems.

In Slovakia, the Resort Information System (RIS) is a centrally governed information system that gathers information data on individual pupils from individual schools. Through their own school information systems, schools input the relevant data into RIS, which facilitates the administration of the central register (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[69]). Data collected include information on the number of pupils and teachers, together with the start and finish date of studies and the year/grade of study. However, no data on pupils’ grades are collected, partly due to the fact that grading is not standardised across Slovak schools, and only limited attendance data are gathered. Schools have an obligation to input data into the system regardless of whose competence the school falls under (regions, municipalities, churches or religious communities, or other private providers), and regardless of their legal status. In the 2018/2019 academic year, kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and special schools had an obligation to provide relevant data on a monthly basis, while primary art and language schools were excluded (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[70]). MŠVVŠ publishes methodological guidance on how to correctly upload and update data (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[71]). However, stakeholder consultations revealed that schools only rarely provide all the necessary and required information, and that there are issues with the quality of data collected.

In the long term, the goal of RIS in Slovakia is to gradually fully replace the current, more static system of statistical reporting through which data is being collected into the central resort system run by the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (CVTI). The introduction of RIS is meant to ensure a more flexible consolidation of obtained data, as well as summarise and make data more accessible to user organisations. The end goal is therefore to reduce the current administrative burden of teachers and school managers, while speeding up the process of data gathering and updating (Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, 2019[72]). To a limited extent, the CVTI system of data collection has already been integrated into RIS, given that certain types of CVTI data are already being processed through RIS (CVTI, 2019[73]).

Recommendations for identifying schools and students at risk

  • Transform RIS into a fully-fledged EWS by redesigning it to collect data on pupil attendance and grades (see Box 2.5). To facilitate this, CVTI’s partially independent system should be fully integrated into RIS. Gradually, the system should be expanded to also collect data on other academic and behavioural risk indicators of students, such as grade repetition or pupil behaviour. Given that grading is not standardised across Slovakia, schools could be asked to input data on grades according to a standardised grading matrix developed by MŠVVŠ. Within the initial stages of transforming RIS into an EWS, legal issues related to personal data collection should be given additional attention and thoroughly analysed. Furthermore, given the existing issues of incomplete data input into RIS, diligent and systematic data provision should be encouraged. It is important that in the final stages, RIS will not only become a powerful, evidence-based predictive tool, but also easily accessible to teachers and schools through user-friendly aggregated outputs. In the data review and analysis stage, particular attention should be paid to students who send an early warning signal in primary school and the first year of secondary school.

  • Embed the EWS within a wider, flexible and personalised system of response to prevent early school leaving. Implementing an EWS system would not only provide teachers with tangible evidence to support the fact that a student’s performance merits intervention, but would also allow them to refocus their time on devising adequate reaction strategies. EWS should be embedded into a broader accountability system with incentives and resources to intervene. With such a set-up in place, support should be provided to teachers to facilitate their involvement in specialised support teams that also involve a social worker or other expert pedagogical staff. Support teams need to not only direct heightened efforts towards the at-risk pupil, but also initiate a closer collaboration process with the student’s parents than exists at present. Parents need to first be alerted of the distress signs and related risks that their child is exhibiting. At a later stage, the possibility of benefit withdrawal in case of continually low attendance should be clearly communicated. Within the framework of specialised support teams, providing personalised counselling services to parents and pupils should be a priority. The EWS could serve as a complementary tool that indicates the urgency level and appropriate stage of intervention in each case. Given that EWS work best in conjugation with the educators’ professional judgement, early school leaving, and the associated risk factors, should form part of initial teacher training (see Opportunity 3).

Opportunity 3: Building a strong teaching workforce

Teachers are one of the most important components of the school-based learning process. Effective teachers create fertile learning environments, inspire and motivate students, and bring out the best in their pupils. Access to high-quality teachers is even more relevant for students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special learning needs. A good teacher can play a key role in compensating for unfavourable socio-economic environments by providing learning opportunities for those who otherwise would have been left behind.

Building a strong teaching workforce is critical for improving the skills of youth. Research shows that teacher performance has a significant impact on student learning outcomes and academic achievement (Schacter and Thum, 2004[74]; Hanushek, Piopiunik and Wiederhold, 2018[75]), and that those effects can be persistent (Konstantopoulos and Chung, 2011[76]). A study in the United States of America (USA) showed that children who have access to high-quality teachers have a higher probability of attending university and go to higher quality universities than those who do not. Moreover, the study identified the significant impact of teachers on labour market outcomes, as measured by annual earnings (Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff, 2014[77]).

Unfortunately, a number of factors hinder Slovakia’s capacity to attract and retain high-quality teachers in the education system. Despite a relatively high level of self-reported satisfaction with their jobs (85% according to the Teaching and Learning International Survey, TALIS), teachers report that their profession suffers from low social recognition. Only 4% of teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession by society, the lowest among TALIS participating countries (TALIS average 30.9%). Slovakia has not progressed from last place among OECD countries on this dimension since 2013 (OECD, 2019[43]). Some 2% of teachers believe that the advantages of being a teacher do not outweigh the disadvantages (TALIS average 22.6%), and one in seven regret having decided to become a teacher (one out of ten in TALIS participating countries).

A recent study shows that, on average, students pursuing university teaching degrees do as well in secondary school standardised tests as students pursuing other university degrees, despite a common perception otherwise (Varsik, 2019[78]). However, and as mentioned by workshop participants, teaching degrees are still often seen as a relatively easy way to earn a university degree, and a number of students pursue teaching degrees solely to obtain a bachelor’s degree that will allow them to apply for a master’s degree or to a job requiring a university qualification.

As agreed by most teachers interviewed, as well as workshop participants, the most relevant factor in terms of the relatively low attractiveness of the teaching profession are salaries. Teacher salaries in Slovakia have been increasing in recent years, but remain very low by international comparison. OECD (2019[28]) shows that Slovak lower secondary teachers earn 65% of the wage of a tertiary educated worker, including all bonuses, compared with 88% among OECD countries on average, and just above American and Czech teachers. Slovak teachers at the beginning of their career lag behind the salaries of tertiary educated workers the most: lower secondary teachers aged 25-34 in Slovakia earn 61% of the wage of a tertiary educated worker, compared with an OECD average of 97%. The age cohort of lower secondary Slovak teachers closest to the OECD average in terms of salary are those aged 56-64, who earn 66% of the wage of a tertiary educated worker, compared with an OECD average of 79% (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]).

Teachers have seen their salaries increase significantly in recent years: by 6% in 2017 and 10% in 2019. A further increase of 10% is planned in 2020. Further raises were implemented in September 2019 for teachers at the beginning of their career. However, higher salaries will provide neither an automatic nor a comprehensive solution to the low levels of attractiveness of the teaching profession, and there are other aspects that need to be improved in parallel. This opportunity elaborates on and provides policy recommendations for three aspects of the teaching profession:

  • Enhancing the practical aspects of curricula in initial teacher training.

  • Improving the professional development of teachers.

  • Supporting teacher career advancement.

Enhancing the practical aspects of curricula in initial teacher training

Initial teacher education for primary and secondary school teachers in Slovakia takes place in universities (Shewbridge et al., 2014[79]). After finishing secondary school, students may enrol in any of the faculties offering pedagogical degrees, which typically offer two-level study programmes to become a teacher. The first level is completed after passing a state examination, at which point a bachelor’s degree is granted. This degree allows graduates from pre-primary and elementary pedagogical programmes to work as teachers in kindergartens, tutors in school clubs or as instructors of vocational training. After completing the first level, students can enrol in a master’s degree, which provides the qualification required to teach at the primary and secondary level in usually two specialised subjects. The total length of this two-level study is five years. Alternatively, students may pursue their studies in a non-pedagogical faculty and complete supplementary pedagogical studies concurrently or after having completed a master’s degree in another field of study.

Initial teacher education in Slovakia has a strong focus on theory and much less emphasis on the practical aspects of everyday teaching. During the five-year programme, students receive academic training in pedagogy and psychology, and in subject areas such as mathematics, biology and languages. Roughly 80% of young teachers surveyed in TALIS 2019 felt well or very well prepared in terms of general pedagogy and subject content knowledge, figures that are comparable to the OECD average.

The curriculum also has a practical component that allows students to gain practical experience before becoming teachers. Students are trained in didactics and participate in practical activities such as observations, demonstrations, mentoring and teaching practice. However, the average practical component of teaching programmes in Slovakia makes up only a 5-8% share within the total duration of their studies, compared to 20-40% internationally (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]). At the same time, there is no compulsory minimum share of practical experience in the curriculum for future teachers defined by MŠVVŠ. Similarly, evidence gathered through workshops, interviews and data analysis shows that recent graduates from pedagogical faculties and other teaching programmes lack preparedness in some key aspects of teaching, and have had little exposure to real classroom settings and limited field experience. Slovakia faces the challenge of increasing the quantity and strengthening the quality of the practical component of curricula in initial teacher education in order to better integrate subject knowledge with practice. The benefits of enhancing the practical aspects of curricula in initial teacher education are well documented in the literature. These include increasing teachers’ confidence in their knowledge and readiness to teach and providing more authentic learning experiences (Darling-Hammond, 2010[80]; Edwards, Tsu and Stimpson, 2009[81]). It can also smooth the transition from university to the classroom and reduce the stress and burden that many new teachers feel when they start teaching (Worthy, 2005[82]). As a result, enhanced practical experience during initial teacher education has the potential to decrease teacher turnover and increase retention rates in initial years.

Because of focus on theory rather than practice, new teachers in Slovakia lack the preparedness to teach and often face a difficult adaptation period, which is characterised by a learning-by-doing process and by strong reliance on peers to respond to daily challenges in the classroom. This lack of preparation becomes even more noticeable among those teaching in more complex environments, such as in schools in economically disadvantaged regions or schools with a high share of Roma students, who often do not master the Slovak language and live in vulnerable environments (see Opportunity 2). Results from TALIS 2019 showed that young Slovak teachers report lower levels of preparedness in key areas than teachers in other OECD countries. As shown in Figure 2.6, three out of four teachers aged 30 or less (76%) report that they are either not prepared at all or only somewhat prepared to teach in a multicultural or multilingual setting. This figure is 14% higher than the OECD average (62%). Recent university graduates also lack the readiness to interact with students with learning disorders or disabilities and to control student behaviour. TALIS results indicate that a large share of teachers aged 30 or less does not feel prepared to teach in a mixed ability setting (61%) or to control student behaviour and manage the classroom (53%). These figures are significantly higher than the OECD average (42% and 32%, respectively).

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Figure 2.6. Young Slovak teachers lack preparedness in key areas of teaching
 Figure 2.6. Young Slovak teachers lack preparedness in key areas of teaching

Note: Only teachers aged less than 30 years are included in the sample. OECD average is the arithmetic average based on ISCED 2 teacher data across 28 OECD countries in TALIS. The report refers to the average teacher “across the OECD” as an equivalent shorthand for the average teacher “across the 28 OECD countries and participating in TALIS”. Belgium is referred to as the Flemish Community of Belgium.

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075222

Acquiring practical experience during university studies is difficult, and most pedagogical faculties and teaching programmes face significant challenges in providing students with this type of experience. Most relevant field experience can only be learned in schools by shadowing an experienced teacher, observing other teachers, creating lesson plans, or co-teaching certain lessons in order to experience first-hand what it actually is to teach. In the international context, acquiring practical experience is facilitated through the establishment of different kinds of partnerships between schools and teaching faculties (see Box 2.7).

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Box 2.7. Relevant international example: The University of Minnesota Laboratory School

The Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School, opened in 1925, is one of the oldest laboratory schools in the United States. It is part of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. The school serves as a living laboratory, where the institute’s research is put into practice. It is also a training site for the institute’s early childhood education students.

One major function of the school is training teachers of young children. Teacher candidates are undergraduate or graduate students who are studying early childhood education. For a full semester, candidates work with a lead teacher to develop their teaching competencies.

As part of their experience, teacher candidates plan, implement and evaluate individual, small group and large group activities. They are also expected to assume the responsibilities of the lead teacher for a number of weeks.

There are approximately 30 teacher candidates who work in the school each year. Each classroom is staffed by one lead teacher and two to three teacher candidates. The lead teacher remains with the children through the entire school year, and the teacher candidates rotate every 15 weeks. The adult-child ratio is generally 1:6. All lead teachers have master’s degrees, are highly knowledgeable of child development and are experienced in working with young children in classroom settings.

Source: University of Minnesota (2019[83]), Teacher training – Lab School, https://lab-school.umn.edu/about-us/teacher-training/.

In Slovakia, school-led training that needs to be supervised by a tutor is a time consuming activity that requires the tutor spending quality time with the trainee. Given that most of the time the trainee cannot substitute their mentor, tutoring a student requires extra work that needs to be somehow compensated. Unfortunately, the economic compensation that pedagogical faculties must provide to tutors in schools is minimal, which drives away potentially high-quality tutors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that professors in pedagogical faculties rely on their networks – mostly friends and alumni working in schools – to find tutors for their students. As a consequence, both the quality and quantity of training that students receive during their studies is low, and the amount of practical knowledge they acquire before becoming teachers is limited. The perceived lack of preparedness of recent graduates is compounded by the fact that traditional teaching methods prevail over more “progressive” approaches in pedagogical faculties (Lojova, 2016[84]). According to a number of interviewed teachers and workshop participants, pedagogy students are trained in traditional teacher-centred methods, with emphasis put on progressive teaching practices that place students at the centre of the learning process; promote a more holistic skills development process; and, as a consequence, emphasise hands-on activities, student-led discovery learning and group activities. For instance, more than 88% of first and second level students of teaching at Slovak universities, and almost 60% of professors, report that basic “lecturing” (výklad) constitutes the most widely used teaching method (To Da Rozum, 2019[85]). Fewer than 32% of student teachers report applying theoretical knowledge to practical examples as a prevalent teaching method, and fewer than 26% report using problem solving (To Da Rozum, 2019[85]). Pedagogical faculties have also been slow to incorporate modern teaching methods. For instance, fewer than 38% of professors of teaching at Slovak universities report most often using interactive teaching methods, and around 17% most often using e-learning (To Da Rozum, 2019[85]). This can been seen as further contributing to the struggle of university teacher training to keep up with modern day teaching requirements, build a professional teaching identity and reflect the basic components of teacher professionalism (Ministry of Education. Science, Research and Sport, 2012[86]). In Slovakia, a high share of students therefore do not feel prepared to face many of the current teaching challenges that await them in the classroom (Figure 2.6).

Recommendations for enhancing the practical aspects of curricula in initial teacher training

  • Legislate a minimum share of practical training for student teachers at universities. Pedagogical faculties and other faculties offering initial teacher education should be required to include a minimum number of credits or hours of field experience in their curricula. This would aid prospective teachers to connect theory and practice with the ultimate goal of improving the level of preparedness with respect to critical teaching competences. The high level of autonomy of Slovak universities could hinder the implementation of this recommendation; however, Slovakia could explore the possibility of linking the current funding scheme of universities to compliance with this regulation. Alternatively, it could be enforced by requesting faculties to comply in the context of their accreditation.

  • Facilitate the establishment of partnerships between pedagogical faculties and schools. Faculties offering initial teacher education programmes should establish formal partnerships with schools across the country to ensure that pre-service teachers have access to sufficient and high-quality field experience. Partnerships could take different forms, ranging from simple agreements to more complex co-managing schemes such as “laboratory schools”, where schools are operated in association with a university or a pedagogical faculty to train pre-service teachers (Box 2.7). Slovakia should explore the possibility of piloting one or more laboratory schools across the country and evaluate their effectiveness. Partnerships should ensure that students interact with more experienced teachers through observation and collaboration, while being exposed to teaching related activities from early stages. In addition, partnerships should enhance the role of tutors and guarantee that trainees receive systematic and quality feedback. Tutors should be rigorously selected and properly compensated for their work. There are alternative mechanisms to traditional monetary compensation; for example, school principals could free up tutors’ time to mentor students by decreasing their administrative or teaching workload. In addition, MŠVVŠ could recognise the tutorship of pre-service teachers as a valuable part of a teachers’ future portfolio (see section below).

Improving the professional development of teachers

Schools, classrooms, and the role that people expect them to play in societies are always changing and evolving. In Slovakia, as well as in a number of other OECD countries, teachers are facing increasingly multicultural classrooms, and new information and communication technologies are constantly shaping and moving the frontiers of pedagogical practice. Furthermore, increased globalisation and technological change are modifying the set of skills that students will be required to possess in labour markets and society. In this context, initial teacher education (see section above) will never fully prepare teachers to effectively face the numerous and diverse challenges they will encounter throughout their careers. As a consequence, the Professional Development (PD) of teachers does and will continue to play a decisive role in countries’ education systems.

In Slovakia, PD is provided by a large number of institutions including universities, private organisations, and the Methodology and Pedagogy Centre (MPC) of MŠVVŠ. These institutions serve approximately 80 000 education professionals across the country. The MPC is the largest provider with about 150 employees. It provides free in-service PD to teachers and school staff primarily through courses and workshops in its nine regional offices. MPC professional development is commonly delivered by in-house trainers (75 continuing education teachers as of 2019), who are typically former school teachers. However, some courses are outsourced and delivered by external trainers such as university professors and experienced school teachers.

Until August 2019, the PD system was structured around credits, which were replaced by “hours of professional development” in the new law – Act no. 138/2019 on pedagogical employees and professional employees and on the change and supplement to some acts. Under the credit system, participation in accredited PD programmes gave teachers credits that could be used to apply for salary allowances. They were also one of the main vehicles for career progression (see section below). Teacher PD credit bonuses allowed Slovak teachers to receive a 6% salary bonus for every 30 credits, with a ceiling of 12% for 60 credits for a period of seven years. Almost 64% of all Slovak teachers were receiving credit bonuses in 2016, of which one-third qualified for the lower and two-thirds for the higher credit bonus (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]). The new law, which will be fully implemented by 2026 (in place since September 2019 for new teachers), does not change the fundamental mechanisms and incentives for teachers to undertake professional training, but introduces changes in the allowance scale.

The teacher and principal in-service PD rate is high. According to TALIS 2018, 92% of lower secondary teachers and 99% of principals attended at least one PD activity in the year prior to the survey (OECD average 94% and 99%, respectively). Slovak teachers report feeling satisfied with the PD they have received: about 80% report that PD had a positive impact on their teaching practice, a share that is similar to the average of OECD countries and economies participating in TALIS (82%) (OECD, 2019[87]). However, a number of challenges remain.

First, the alignment and quality of teacher PD can be further improved. A survey conducted by the Slovak Chamber of Teachers in 2014 revealed that over half of surveyed teachers do not feel attracted by the offering of PD programmes (Slovak Chamber of Teachers, 2014[88]). Data from TALIS 2018 show similar results, with four out of ten teachers agreeing or strongly agreeing that the lack of relevant PD programmes offered constitutes a barrier to participation (OECD, 2019[43]). The reported lack of alignment between the supply and demand of PD was widely agreed to be a challenge among interviewed teachers and participants in workshops and focus groups held by the OECD.

A better alignment of PD with teachers' needs can be achieved through better feedback from participants and by engaging teachers and school principals in its design. The MPC has started administering satisfaction surveys for teachers who undertake PD, the main results of which are analysed and published in MPC activity reports every six months. The MPC should ensure that this information is used to improve programme quality.

TALIS 2018 allows for the identification of areas in which these imbalances are larger. For example, according to teachers who participated in PD activities during the 12 months prior the survey, 63.3% of teachers reported not having received any PD on teaching students with special needs, and 70.7% reported not having received any PD on approaches to individualised learning. However, 68.3% and 54.9% of teachers reported a high or moderate need for PD in these topics, respectively. shows the gaps (in percentage points) between the percentage of teachers reporting a moderate or high need of PD in different areas and the percentage of teachers reporting having received this PD. Courses in these areas are usually offered by the MPC and other training providers. However, they are usually not chosen by teachers and school principals as part of their professional development plan.

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Figure 2.7. Professional development of teachers should be more aligned with teacher needs
Percentage of teachers reporting need of training in each topic vs. percentage reporting that the topic was included in the professional development they participated in during the last 12 months
Figure 2.7. Professional development of teachers should be more aligned with teacher needs

Note: The difference is calculated by subtracting the percentage of teachers reporting need of training from the percentage of teachers reporting that the topic was included in the professional development activities they participated in during the last 12 months.

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075241

As shown in Figure 2.7, large gaps are found in topics such as student behaviour and classroom management, teacher-parent/guardian co-operation, and teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting. These findings are in line with Ministry of Finance et al. (forthcoming[89]) underlining that programmes aimed at improving teachers’ skills regarding teaching in linguistically mixed environments and educating pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds could be more extensively added to the offer (see Box 2.8), as there are only a few courses or programmes focused on this issue at present in Slovakia. This poses a significant obstacle with respect to catering to the needs of vulnerable students in teaching, as well as in relation to identifying students at risk of dropping-out, as discussed in Opportunity 2.

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Box 2.8. Relevant international example: Professional development for teachers working in diverse environments in Sweden

In Sweden, the capacity of teachers to teach in diverse environments is developed as a continuum from pre-service training to in-service professional development opportunities. Teachers have opportunities to practice and learn about strategies to manage diversity once they start teaching. The National Agency in Sweden offers courses in the area of newly arrived and multilingual children with the objective of supporting teachers in vocational guidance for newly arrived students, subject-specific instruction and acquisition of Swedish as a second language. These content areas are important features in the professional development of Swedish teachers to teach in multicultural and multilingual environments.

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, Cerna et al. (2019[90]) Strength through diversity’s Spotlight Report for Sweden, https://doi.org/10.1787/059ce467-en.

For topics such as knowledge of the curriculum, student assessment practices and ICT skills for teaching, the gaps between demand and provision are small. The most recurrent topics in teacher PD activities are knowledge and understanding of subject fields, and pedagogical competencies in teaching subject fields. PD programmes in these areas, however, are comparatively less needed, and their supply exceeds the percentage of teachers reporting high or moderate need for them.

The second challenge relates to the variety of PD, which tends to be biased towards courses and seminars in Slovakia. Figure 2.8 shows that more than 60% of teachers in Slovakia reported having attended courses and seminars during the 12 months prior to the TALIS survey. In contrast, Slovak teachers are 50% less likely to participate in online courses and seminars compared to other teachers in the OECD.

Teachers across the OECD report that one of the most impactful types of PD is that which provides opportunities to practice or apply new ideas and knowledge in their classrooms. In Slovakia, the participation rate in activities with this potential is among the lowest across the OECD. For instance, participation in observation visits to other schools (7.3%), in education conferences where teachers and/or researchers present their research or discuss educational issues (26.3%), and in networks of teachers (23.2%) is significantly lower than in other OECD countries (OECD averages of 24.7%, 39.2% and 47.6%, respectively).

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Figure 2.8. Slovak teachers need a greater diversity of professional development opportunities
Professional development activities that teachers have participated in during the last 12 months
Figure 2.8. Slovak teachers need a greater diversity of professional development opportunities

Source: OECD (2019[43]), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/1d0bc92a-en.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934075260

The market structure of PD explains most of its shortcomings in Slovakia. The link between PD and teacher salaries through the earning of credits –now hours of professional development– is particularly problematic (Santiago et al., 2016[5]). A survey by the Slovak Chamber of Teachers (Slovak Chamber of Teachers, 2014[88]) revealed that teachers’ main motivation for pursuing PD was the salary allowance, rather than the aim to increase the quality of their professional activity. This has been backed up by later research, where 71.3% of Slovak teachers identified the need to acquire credits as the primary motivation behind their participation in educational programmes (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]). Similarly, To Da Rozum (2019[47]) shows that more than 41% of Slovak secondary school teachers report acquiring a salary, and almost 26% the need of credits for their attestation, as the main driver of their decision to participate in PD (accredited or non-accredited) over the past 12 months (more than 41% and 28% for primary school teachers, respectively). This incentive structure triggers a credit-seeking behaviour that subordinates quality and relevance as the main drivers of PD choice to features such as quantity, affordability and simplicity. The lack of competition in the PD system exacerbates this situation. MPC courses are offered free of charge, whereas private providers, in most cases, charge fees. This puts private providers in a disadvantaged competition position regarding the MPC, and hampers their potential to become key players in the professional development system. Unfortunately, the newly passed law on PD -Act no. 138/2019– does not address this issue. However, it does introduce valuable changes in terms of teacher career advancement (see section on Supporting teacher career advancement).

Recommendations for improving the professional development of teachers

  • Strengthen the quality and relevance of professional development. Slovakia needs a stronger quality assurance mechanism to regulate the quality of professional development. The MPC, with support from the State School Inspectorate and with appropriate funding and resources from MŠVVŠ, should regularly assess teachers' PD needs through a comprehensive consultation process with teachers and school principals with the aim of determining the most urgent and recurring development areas. The consultation should consider quantitative methods, such as surveys, and qualitative methods, such as interviews, focus groups and workshops. As a result of this process, the MPC should create a "critical list" of PD areas and build a plan to deliver high-quality PD in these areas (Box 2.8). The accreditation of private providers should consider the alignment of programmes with the MPC’s list. The government, in turn, should provide financial support – e.g. through vouchers – to teachers and schools for relevant privately supplied PD (e.g. by universities). The quality of all PD should be systemically monitored, for example through surveys of teachers, principals and students.

  • Expand the diversity of teacher professional development. Most continuous learning is achieved through participation initiatives often designed to be “one-size-fits-all” training courses. However, PD is more than training, and it should be more balanced and thus include new approaches. The MPC should take the lead and diversify its supply of PD. School principals, in turn, should encourage teachers to enrol in PD courses that are more adapted to their actual pedagogical needs. For example, the MPC could pilot in-site PD such as one-on-one or remote coaching, class observations and workshops.

Supporting teacher career advancement

The teacher career in Slovakia has a well-defined structure, with four career grades (Santiago et al., 2016[5]; Rehúš, 2017[91]) that have to be obtained sequentially. After entry into the profession, teachers are categorised as “beginner teachers”. They must complete an adaptation programme of a maximum of two years and are assigned a mentor teacher at school who provides them with guidance within a framework established by MŠVVŠ. After the successful completion of a school-level evaluation, teachers may be promoted to “independent teachers”. At this level, they perform teaching activities independently and are allowed to perform specialised duties such as education advisor or co-ordinator. They are not able to mentor beginner teachers. Workshop and focus groups participants signalled that the mentoring programme can be of varying quality. Most interviewed teachers highlighted that it is a mere formality and that most teacher mentors do not devote enough attention and efforts to their mentees. Against this background, the induction and Structured Mentoring Programme in Singapore (Box 2.9) could serve as a useful international best practice example.

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Box 2.9. Relevant international example: Targeted professional development for beginner teachers in Singapore

Upon completion of preservice teacher education, beginning teachers in Singapore undergo induction at both the national and school levels. At the national level, they attend a three-day induction programme, called the Beginning Teachers’ Orientation Programme, conducted by the Singapore Ministry of Education. This programme emphasises the importance of the role of teachers in nurturing the whole child and enables beginning teachers to consolidate their learning at the teacher institute. By presenting the roles and expectations of teachers, this programme also inducts new teachers into Singapore’s teaching fraternity in the areas of professional beliefs, values and behaviours.

During the first two years of teaching, further guidance is provided to beginner teachers via the Structured Mentoring Programme. This programme enables teachers to learn practical knowledge and skills from assigned mentors, who are experienced or senior teachers at the school. The school has the autonomy to customise the programme according to the learning needs of the new teachers. Besides practical skills, the programme helps to deepen the understanding of new teachers about the values and ethos of the teaching profession.

Source: OECD (2014[92]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264196261-en.

The third and fourth grades of the teaching career in Slovakia correspond to teachers with first and second certification, respectively. Teachers wanting to acquire the second certification need to already hold the first. Slovak teachers with the first certification can become, for example, mentor teachers or trainers of professional development courses. Teachers with the second certification can become, for example, members of national expert committees or sponsors of a professional development programme.

Until 2019, when the government passed Act no. 138/2019 introducing changes to the certification process, teachers either had to pass a certification examination or hold a doctorate degree in a field of study related to their pedagogical activities in order to obtain the first and second certification (Santiago et al., 2016[5]). Teacher career advancement was closely linked to the accumulation of professional development credits – now hours of professional development – and teachers could pass the first and second certifications after accumulating professional development credits (60 credits, or 30 credits and 60 hours of pre-attestation training) and defending a thesis. These requirements for obtaining first and second certifications were not connected with teaching practice and were strongly academically oriented, failing to sufficiently judge the level of teachers’ professional competencies. Certifications were granted for life, and once teachers had passed the first or second certification, there was no need for revalidation. This reduced the incentive to engage in lifelong learning activities aimed at improving professional competences (Santiago et al., 2016[5]).

The certification process focused on the acquisition of qualifications, such as professional development credits or doctoral degree and failed to sufficiently judge the level of teachers’ professional competencies. Insufficient quality of institutions providing attestations is another important issue. Universities with the right to provide attestations often exhibit varying levels of quality, and the MPC lacks any quality assurance and evaluation mechanisms regarding its activities (Ministry of Finance et al., 2017[18]). Finally, the certification was granted for life. Once teachers passed the first or second certification, there was no need to re-validate it, which certainly reduces the incentives to engage in lifelong learning activities aiming at improving their professional competences (Santiago et al., 2016[5]).

Acknowledging these challenges, the government passed Act no. 138/2019, which introduced changes to the certification process, and therefore to the career advancement of teachers. The main changes relate to the introduction of teacher attestation portfolios that will replace the current career advancement mechanism. Teacher portfolios are generally understood as a collection of information about key aspects of teachers’ teaching (OECD, 2009[93]), and have been implemented in a variety of other countries (see Box 2.10). They should document professional achievements in teaching and could include a range of information such as lesson plans, student assignments, written descriptions and videotapes of instruction, formal evaluations by supervisors or colleagues, and letters of recommendation (Wolf, 1996[94]).

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Box 2.10. Relevant international example: Portfolios and the teacher performance evaluation system in Chile

The teacher performance evaluation system (DocenteMÁS) in Chile consists of a formal system of external teacher evaluation in the public school sector, and is aimed at improving teachers’ practice and promoting their continuing professional development to improve student learning. It is run by the Centre for Pedagogical Training, Experimentation and Research (CPEIP) within the Ministry of Education (equivalent to the MPC in Slovakia). The CPEIP co-ordinates the whole teacher performance evaluation system, including the definition of objectives, validation of instruments and dissemination of results.

The assessment of teacher performance consists of four instruments: 1) self-evaluation; 2) peer evaluator interview; 3) third-party reference report; and 4) teacher performance portfolio. Teachers are evaluated against previously established standards, and each assessment is rated and weighted. The portfolio is the assessment instrument with the most weight, ranging from 60% in the regular evaluation cycle to 80% when previous performance was considered poor. Teachers are assessed every four years, unless their previous evaluation identified poor performance (in which case they are evaluated more often). Since 2017, teacher portfolios have also been used to define progression in teachers' professional careers.

The portfolio is designed for teachers to provide evidence of their best pedagogical practices. It is prepared for a given educational level and area of teaching expertise. A dedicated website has been established to provide teachers with guidance on how to complete their portfolios and information about the teaching standards associated with each component of the portfolio.

The portfolio must be completed online and consists of three separate modules. First is a set of pedagogical materials, where the teacher is required to plan and implement an eight-hour teaching unit (providing related materials in writing), design an end of term assessment for the teaching unit, and respond to a set of questions about teaching practices (including a reflection on achievements). The second module is a 40-minute video recording of a class and the completion of a questionnaire about the class. This seeks to assess a range of aspects of the teacher’s work, such as capacity to develop a lesson with a good start, development and closure; the quality of interaction promoted among the students (questions asked, activities proposed and feedback); capacity to keep a proper working environment; and quality of explanations and didactic strategies. In the third module, teachers must describe a collaborative work experience in which they have had the opportunity to dialogue and reflect with other colleagues or members of the educational community.

Source: Santiago et al. (2013[95]), OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Teacher Evaluation in Chile 2013, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264172616-en; CPEIP (2019[96]), DocenteMAS, www.docentemas.cl/.

According to the new law in Slovakia, teachers willing to obtain the first and second certification will have to prepare a portfolio. The portfolio consists of evidence of the acquisition of professional competences in accordance with the professional standards of the corresponding career category the teacher is applying to (e.g. first certification teacher, second certification teachers). The applicant then needs to pass an oral “certification examination” and defend their portfolio in front of an attestation commission composed of three members, with the chair appointed by MŠVVŠ.

The new law has the potential to improve the teacher career progression system. The use of portfolios to evaluate teacher performance and to determine career promotions can be an effective mechanism to move away from the academically oriented focus of the current system. However, the new law does not specify the contents required to be included in the foreseen portfolios. As mentioned above, the new law will be gradually implemented and fully operational by 2026 (for new teachers it has been in place since September 2019). This gives the government time to revise teacher standards for each grade and establish guidelines for the development and evaluation of teacher portfolios.

Recommendations for supporting teacher career advancement

  • Establish clear guidelines for the creation of portfolios. Slovakia can benefit from existing international experience in using portfolios to evaluate teachers. It is important to ensure that portfolios are not just a list of professional activities, but an opportunity for teachers to self-reflect on their teaching practices and approaches to improve student learning. For this reason, portfolios should contain a reflective teaching statement explaining the teacher’s education philosophy, and allow both the teacher and examiners to compare goals with the reality of practice (Kaplan, 1998[97]).

  • Support teachers in the transition towards the portfolio system. The implementation of portfolios should be accompanied by strong support to teachers. MŠVVŠ, for example through the MPC, should provide guidance to teachers on how to build a high-quality and thorough portfolio, as is done in Chile (Box 2.10).

  • Unify teaching standards across the system. As previously recommended by the OECD, “the current co-existence of the MPC’s national standards, the ministry’s appraisal forms and the inspectorate’s criteria for classroom observation would benefit from being consolidated into a single set of standards so that there is a clear understanding of what is considered accomplished teaching” (Santiago et al., 2016[5]; Shewbridge et al., 2014[79]). The introduction of teacher portfolios makes this recommendation even more urgent. When preparing portfolios, teachers need a good understanding of the requirements necessary to advance to the next career stage, which should be measured with a high degree of objectivity and transparency.

  • Make mentoring activities a key component of career advancement. The mentoring programme for beginner teachers needs to be improved. The Structured Mentoring Programme in Singapore (Box 2.9) provides a good example in this regard. Students in initial teacher education programmes do not have enough opportunities to practice their teaching skills before university graduation. Therefore, portfolio attestation commissions should pay special attention to participation in mentoring activities with respect to prospective and beginner teachers. It should also be clear to teachers that effective mentoring –supported by evidence– is an integral component of career advancement.

Overview of recommendations

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Opportunity 1: Increasing enrolment in pre-primary education, especially among vulnerable groups

Improving the availability of pre-primary schools in disadvantaged regions

  • Gradually introduce a legal entitlement for 3 and 4 year-olds to attend pre-primary education.

  • Increase the number of public kindergartens to accommodate the new demand, while also giving private providers the opportunity to complement the supply.

Lowering the perceptional and financial barriers that prevent disadvantaged groups from enrolling in pre-primary education

  • Strengthen the capacities and reach of on-the-ground work with vulnerable families.

  • Adjust the criteria for receiving financial assistance in order to better cover the population of socially disadvantaged children.

Opportunity 2: Supporting schools and teachers in their work with vulnerable students

Providing targeted support to vulnerable students

  • Provide school teachers working with vulnerable students easily implementable international best practice examples of teaching these students.

  • Strengthen co-operation and communication between schools, vulnerable students’ families and social services.

  • Simplify the administrative complexity of setting-up individual educational programmes.

Identifying schools and students at risk

  • Transform the Resort Informational System (RIS) into a fully-fledged early warning system (EWS) by redesigning it to collect data on pupil attendance and grades.

  • Embed the EWS within a wider, flexible and personalised system of response to prevent early school leaving.

Opportunity 3: Building a strong teaching workforce

Enhancing the practical aspects of curricula in initial teacher training

  • Legislate a minimum share of practical training for student teachers at universities.

  • Facilitate the establishment of partnerships between pedagogical faculties and schools.

Improving the professional development of teachers

  • Strengthen the quality and relevance of professional development.

  • Expand the diversity of teacher professional development.

Supporting teacher career advancement

  • Establish clear guidelines for the creation of portfolios.

  • Support teachers in the transition towards the portfolio system.

  • Unify teaching standards across the system.

  • Make mentoring activities a key component of career advancement.

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