News Archive 2021

ICT Cortex and the “Vaso Aligrudić” school are investing in the future of Montenegro

11. 06. 2020

The ICT Cortex cluster has offered the best model so far that connects education and the economy in Montenegro. Within the project “Reconomy” supported by the Government of Sweden, which Help implements in cooperation with Helvetas (Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation), ICT Cortex has launched an internship for 28 students of III grade of the Secondary Electrical Engineering School “Vaso Aligrudić” thanks to which these young future IT experts have the opportunity to get acquainted with the most modern technological programs and practice on the most modern IT tools.

Valentina Beg Deljanin, chief officer for the Education Sector at ICT Cortex, explained to us:

“Students in practice here work in laravel to prepare a prototype of an online library and database, they are actually doing a ‘backend ’part for that application in laravel. And laravel is something that is in high demand in the market, it is the ‘php framework’ and it has added value to everything. We divided this task into seven interactions according to agile methodology and put them on the software ‘jira’ – it is software used in agile methodology for task planning and scrum medotology”, says Beg Deljanin, adding:

“They got seven sprints and that interaction – these are the stages of the task and what they have to do in seven weeks is divided into stages. All teams follow that, and depending on the individuals, students and mentors, who are more or less all great, they will eventually present what they do and show how much have been worked, knew and learned. What they already knew they reinforced, and what they did not know they learned and it is very interesting to watch. It’s a parallel process, I followed them all from the beginning and then I watch different teams rush on different things, slow down on some others. It can potentially happen that all applications, if they all do it perfectly, are completely equal “, states our host.

The task should be completed within seven weeks from April 29 to June 12. On Sunday, June 13, there will be a presentation of the completed solutions. According to Beg Deljanin, they prepared prizes for the students because they divided the task by versions and by difficulty.

“We go from higher to lower – version one is the easiest, version five is the most complex part, and we expect everyone to finish by version three, which is pretty good in such a short time, and for the best team we predicted to get an Arduino pack for robotics. Also, everyone who manages to complete version three will receive another learning package – which is a package of courses, which they can then continue to learn and when they successfully complete, it is the first phase”.

The ICT Cortex cluster has plans to run a second phase for the mobile app next year, as this is a web app.

“Upon completion of the next internship, as well as upon completion of high school and learning packages, they will be given the opportunity to receive a scholarship from the Cortex Foundation to enroll in one of the Montenegrin universities in the field of IT,” Ms. Bed Deljanin has promised.

According to Beg Deljanin, the selection of candidates was done in cooperation with the professors of the High School “Vaso Aligrudić”, because it is now part of their formal teaching and mandatory curriculum.

“Practical classes were introduced as a compulsory part of school classes, and then we, in cooperation with the professors, gave the students a small introductory course as an additional one – outside their regular obligations, which prepared them for what they will do now. We relied on professors for the selection, because we want to show that this synergy of education and economy can produce quality staff and that this is the missing link in the market. Because a deficit of trained labor has been noticed for a long time”.

Valentina Bed Deljanin says that as far as young people are concerned, there is no lack of interest in this sector to get involved in such and similar projects. These students showed motivation and before coming to the companies, they already learned a lot on their own, apart from the school program and literature, which shows a much greater interest than just a brief basic knowledge.

“This pilot project is being done with the Secondary Electrical Engineering School ‘Vaso Aligrudić’, but we hope that we will be able to expand this to other vocational schools – the plan is, for example, Nikšić, Bijelo Polje, Budva, etc.”

With the head of the education department at ICT Cortex, we visited three of their seven company companies: Alicorn, doMEn and Coins, where we also talked to the students in practice, their professors and mentors on this project.

Vasilije Božarić was happy to practically show us how their work looks like. He is convinced that the fifth version will be reached in the creation of the application for the web online library, although expectations are that everyone will reach the third, which is also considered a very good success.

“The problem is that in a school, no matter how new the program is and no matter how good the teachers are, an operating plan that is a year, two or a little older must be followed, and here, in this way, we can follow newest technologies. When we follow the latest one, then we can get to the all new ones that coming out every day. ”

“Compared to other schools and faculties, we are quite advanced, I can even say one of the most advanced, but the biggest problem is that the school cannot assign some complex programming languages for first and second grade students. So they give us a good foundation, but also knowlege that we can build up later. However, the most important thing is to get a basis from which we can learn other programming languages and other technologies. ”

Vasilije’s ambitions for the future are, as he says, is probably to be a programmer, even though he is also interested in engineering. He received a scholarship for the 4th grade in the USA and he hopes to get a scholarship for the faculty there as well, and then, he is convinced, he will also work with software engineering. Vasilije wants to stay and live in America.

A student of the four-members group in Alicorn is also Balša Maraš, who would also like to receive a scholarship for abroad and would also, he does not hide, if the opportunity presented itself, stay there.

Unlike Vasilije, Balša did not know from the beging what exactly he wanted to enroll. He says that his ambition was to be a car mechanic, like his father, because his dad was his idol as a boy, so he entered in the IT world more by accident. At first, he actually enrolled in electronics, but when he realized what this direction offers him and what paths it opens for him, he decided to switch on the program development of web and mobile applications.

“In the future, I see myself sitting at a computer and typing codes. Honestly, I would also like to start something myself. We’ll see!”

Their professor from the “Vaso Aligrudić” High School, Marina Braletić, the coordinator for education  and one of the authors of the curriculum that enabled them to do this practice, says that from the start, when they started writing a new curriculum, they had the idea to involve the economy as much as possible in education process.

“This is an extremely good opportunity to move from the deadlock that we have, when it comes to synergies between education and the economy, and not only in this sector. Because I really think that in recent years, as our ad said, ‘professional is the key’ (stručno-ključno) and that the vocation is a little more prevail than in previous years. I would say that in the period of a little more than ten years, the Gymnasium always prevailed as a favored choice for high school education” says professor Braletić.

“As for as students are concerned, I must point out, since this is the first generation that is being educated according to this program, they were ready to welcome this practice and cooperation with the IT economy.” When they enrolled in this educational program (three years ago, they are now in the third grade), the students were not just attending regular classes. A large number of workshops were also organized in our school and there was a great interest (two classes that are involved in the implementation of practical classes), so they were quite ready for this serious task. ”

Professor Braletić is particularly pleased with the seriousness with which ICT Cortex has explored the advantages and disadvantages of the school curriculum.

“What is very commendable and I take this opportunity to say, is precisely the organization by ICT Cotex. They entered the educational program in detail and carefully – because neither we nor they wanted this to be a form. We didn’t want this to be done pro-form but essentially. They are the first generation and now that they are on the third year, and I can say that we were satisfied because a large number of excellent students enrolled at that time and that there was great interest in this direction. For the first time, two scholl class were enrolled, and now we are already enrolling three scholl class for the section”.

“In the educational program itself, there is a certain number of practical classes, a minimum of 36 per year, but we cared and we designed, actually, ICT Cortex designed the practice as a concrete work, which is a special challenge for students. Vasilije is the best example of that, because he is persistent, from the very beginning, and sure that they will realize all five versions, although our expectations are, and we are quite satisfied with them to reach third version, because it is a fantastic result “.

Professor Marina Braletić believes that this successful project can be applied to the entire territory of Montenegro.

“I sincerely hope that we will be a good example and that this practice will be applied in other schools in Montenegro where the new educational program is being implemented. Fpr now we don’t talk about for a big number. Most companies are in Podgorica, but I am quite sure that, in cooperation with ICT Cortex, it can be organized anywhere in Montenegro, or any other city.

The greatest interest for elementary school students when they enrolling in high schools is for this intercept- the development of web and mobile applications in their school, and that, says Braletić, is really good and not a surprise.

“It is quite clear that this is a sector that is advancing and developing at a tremendous rate, and information about the large number of needed staff in the sector is constantly available to them. It is a special pleasure that excellent students are applying to us and I believe that this will continue. ”

When it comes to other areas, the school tries to organize as many workshops as possible for other students who are interested in programming, where, as they say, “wonderful projects” are developed. Although it does not exist in the educational program – robotics is one of the segments where their students are very successful.

“They made drones, they made robots, they go to various competitions, they almost always win some of the awards. So that both electrical technicians and electronics technicians have the opportunity, through workshops, to be educated in the field of programming “, the professor proudly points out.

Petar Jovanović, one of the mentors who works directly with the group on developing the online library web application is very satisfied because the group is “progressing very well”. Everything is done and achieved according to the plan and program, as it was planned from the very beginning. As he says, they have never had major problems, which they could not solve on the spot or with some small help.

“Overall, this team is doing well, they have shown effort, they have shown a desire to learn things and I think that the results themselves showing that. I believe that we will be able to complete the entire project that was designed at the presentation, and it seems to me that this group will have great success, not only now, but also in the future if they continue to work like this,” says Jovanović.

In the company-school Coins, we were joined by Danka Markuš, assistant director of the Secondary Electrical Engineering School “Vaso Aligrudić” and, as she preferred to call itself -their professor, which she is especially proud of.

“Students who attend an internship provided by ICT Cortex are the first generation to be provided with such a program and are educated according to the new curriculum. These programs are based on outcomes and key competencies. It was this new educational program that enabled them to have an obligatory internship with their employer. From my experience, as a school administration and as a teacher, I can tell you that this is the first serious and organized practice at the level of Montenegr. Here we have a systematic plan and we know before we send students to employers, what they will do from the day one – until the seventh week – as well as what will be the result. We are doing our best, both at the level of high schools and the entire economy, to provide them with functional and practical knowledge. They are currently working with the tools used by the company’s employees, and they are in the third grade of high school. ”

As Markuš says, the students themselves may not even be aware at this moment of how important this is for them – “they look at it from the point that it is interesting to them and follows their lifestyle”.

And actually, big stake is their future.

“These are the generations that separate one click from accurate information. How important this is for them, I will only tell you that every student who follows the recommendations and tasks from ICT Cortex will be able to get free education, not to mention employment, because it goes hand in hand. Then it is clear how important it is for high school students, to measure their knowledge and know more clearly how helpful is for them. I am very glad that our students can meet the most promising business community, see who the developers are and have a clear idea of their future. ”

In seven groups distributed in practice in the cluster, ie. ICT Cortex companies, has four members each, of which, as professor Markuš told us, six are girls -high school students.

Tatjana Bečić is one of them and says that she became interested in this, because it offered something new that the classical school did not offer before.

She believes that her future lies in this profession.

Jovan Popović graduated from primary school as a ‘light bearer’ (Luča- award for the best students) – so with the best grades, today he clearly knows that he wants to be a programmer. He says that as soon as he became a little interested, he “fell in love” with this job.

His group and classmate Petar Jovanović (same name as a mentor) says:

“The practice helps us to have an insight into the world of programmers and how professionals do it. And all the projects we’ve worked on before this – whether it’s a competition or an internship, it was mostly not professional, not like this. Here we have specific tasks and we use specific software and we learn to use professional tools as well”.

And this group says that although the mentor and professors expect them to achieve version three, their intention is to achieve version five by the deadline.

Their mentor Stevan Čakčić, a lecturer at UDG University, also hopes that this, as he says, very successful model – which extremely motivates children and opens the opportunity for them to acquire serious knowledge, will continue to be applied regularly and extended to other schools in Montenegro.

“Here, these children have the opportunity to learn the most modern and up-to-date technologies, so they learn something that will benefit them, unlike before where everything was only in the area of theory. Everything they will learn here through this project will be able to practically applied tomorrow. This project itself is serious and complex, and they have shown great interest and desire to do it to the end. This is a rather challenging and the good quality project, and they have the necessary prior knowledge that was more theoretical, and now it is the opportunity to develop it practically. ”

Assistant director of the High School “Vaso Aligrudić”, Danka Markuš says that finally it is an opportunity that, instead of students going abroad to gain good knowledge and education, now can achieve and get the same quality here.

“We are now trying to overcome this previous discrepancy between the education system and the needs of the economy with this method, and we are trying to provide children with practical knowledge through this kind of practice.” We also hope that this generation will not stop at what the school has provided them, but that the state and the system through further education, when they enroll in studies, will enable them to be one step close towards their safe future.

Valentina Beg Deljanin adds that this is a condition of all conditions for creating a better economic climate.

“This is one of the prerequisites for creating a positive economic climate, and that is a strong education. This is just one of the segments on which ICT Cotrex intends to operate. One of our goals is to prevent ‘brain drain’, which is exactly what you asked for, and it can’t be achieved from just one direction, but from several. ”

ICT Cortex is working, among other things, on digital transformation, to help the country to launch the reforms that are needed, to motivate policy makers to do better incentives in the entrepreneurial climate, and to create a generally better ecosystem for the economy.

“As one and perhaps the only growing industry in the world at the moment – IT is certainly something that has a perspective, and it should certainly be of strategic interest to the state, which has already been recognized. And we are here from the private sector as someone who is willing to cooperate and we are already cooperating with institutions in education, and even the state in creating these new programs. It is already clear that IT is a horizontal branch of the economy that supports everyone else, but our goal is to crystallize both, horizontally and to strengthen vertically – which means to create conditions for young people who go to school here, who are from here, to stay here and continue to build up an IT community. It is something that is both the present and the future. I think that with the support of education and the support of the state, as well as the general willingness from the part of the economy, there is room for improvement “, claims Valentina Beg Deljanin.

RECONOMY is a regional inclusive and green economic development program of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), implemented by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation in partnership with Help—Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and the Western Balkans.

Biljana Jovićević

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