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• Serbia

Petnica Science Centre - Innovative Support to gifted Students and Ethusiastic Teachers
Petnica Science Center in practice

Petnica Center is located 7 km from the city of Valjevo in W. Serbia, about 70 km SW from Belgrade. Valjevo is well connected by buses and trains with Belgrade as well as with many destinations in Serbia and Montenegro. Valjevo is connected with good roads with Croatia (100 km), Bosnia and Herzegovina (80 km), Macedonia (400 km), Hungary (250 km), Bulgaria (300 km), and Romania (250 km). Petnica Science Center has relatively good facilities, both boarding and educational, to accommodate students enrolled in the programs all year round. The Center has seven buildings for an extension of 4,000 square meters, which serve various purposes.

The dormitory has 100 beds for students in 4 and 6-bed rooms and several apartments for teachers and guest lecturers. The restaurant serves all living in students.

There are classrooms, laboratories for biology, geology, physics, chemistry, electronics, astronomy, optics, and archaeology, a modern computer classroom, and a central library with scientific literature (40,000 books and journals). There are hundreds of movies and rich image archive with about half a million slides, most of which are on digital media, which allow quick and reliable viewing. The library is the center of many educational and other activities, considering the fact that PSC pays attention to directing young people to use various information sources. Students and the staff have free access to a number of computers linked with the Internet and powerful Intranet services.

The fact that most of the equipment is used both for professional scientific work on some of the projects which PSC is pursuing simultaneously with its educational programs, enables the students to study real scientific processes and even to be involved in them, facing all practical problems and difficulties. Through carefully designed projects students are in the rare position to “experience science”. Therefore, PSC can be described as a “scientific environment” i.e. a special ambient where young people are surrounded by scientific literature and instruments, live research activities, and advised by professional scientists. Moreover, this environment promotes a valuable interaction among young people of similar talents, interests and problems. This illustrates one unique and valuable aspect of education in Petnica - learning through research.

Targeting groups are teenagers (mostly secondary-school students, age 14-18) up to 70%, university students up to 10% and schoolteachers up to 20%. The majority of programs cover entire country plus the most of neighbouring countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and others. The basic idea of Petnica programs is to enable motivated students to learn through research.

Selection of participants
Selection of participants is once a year, PSC publish information about the following year’s programs including application guide and forms and distribute it to about 600 schools. After a deadline, special selection team spend 2-4 days in order to choose inviting participants for students’ programs. Teachers interesting in in-service training courses are informed through specialized media, teachers’ associations, and through regional department of the Ministry of Education.

Types of programs and training methods
The annual educational cycle in Petnica consists of four seminars lasting 3-13 days where students assist to selected lectures. Concerning the specific programs, there is a distinction of the number of participants: there are 120-150 Multyday training programs from mid January through mid December (3-7 day training courses and workshops; 4-10 day student’s courses with theoretical and practical activities; 10-20 day summer science camps; 4-10 day field camps; out of Petnica, in specific fields such as Geology, Archaeology, Observation astronomy, Biology, Environment studies). There are about 2,000 students, plus 600 participants for teacher training courses and a number of 2-3 day conferences and presentation meetings, each year.

Students are able to come several times in total up to 32 days a year and than can apply in following year to participate at more programs. Students have opportunity to make individual research projects in various fields and topics in order to learn and practice research methodology on real problems. Petnica Center actively participates in international students’ exchange, enabling brilliant students from provincial schools to take part in prominent nternational science camps, gatherings, or conferences and has unique Teachers’ Resource Center opened for individual teachers or teachers groups with selected material covering many aspects of school practice. Petnica’s alumni (ex-participants) have furthermore increased the role in development of PSC’s programs.

Participating costs
Half of students training courses (Winter courses and Summer courses/camps) have certain students participation on voluntarily basis up to 25% of real cost of the program. Other students’ programs are absolutely free of charge (participants have to pay transportation to and from city of Valjevo). Some of teacher training programs include participation (about 50-80 US$ per three-day course that include complete boarding costs and work). Some teacher training programs are sponsored or supported by other programs or organizations and, consequently, free of charge for participants.

Something different from existing school practice
FLEXIBLE EDUCATION designed to fulfil individual needs, talents and capabilities;

INNOVATIVE EDUCATION that transfers actual scientific discoveries, theories & problems into a comprehensive curriculum and better teaching processes;

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EDUCATION that makes no distinction among genders, different social, ethnic or religion groups;

EDUCATION FOR THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY that increases students’ mutual understanding, tolerance, friendship, and respect for diversity; education that avoids conflicts among groups or individuals; education against political extremism, intolerance, xenophobia, racism, and violence;

STUDENTS PARTICIPATION in the creation and realization of the curriculum as a whole;

EDUCATION FOR THE FUTURE that prepares students to recognize the power, opportunity, and risks of modern science and technologies, and to think more about future;

BIDIRECTIONAL EDUCATION where teachers increase their knowledge and experience in continual interaction with curious and motivated students, and where each student has a chance to teach other students in the field he/she has more knowledge.

When students come in Petnica for the second, third or fourth year in the row, they are getting ever more demanding and complex research problems. Parallel to research practice they become involved into instruction and teaching process of less experienced and younger colleagues.

Petnica Science Center has 15 programs divided into 3 departments. All programs have independent seminars and courses, but departments often organize mutual workshops for all their programs. Some methodological topics occasionally require multidisciplinary approach and mutual seminars for participants of all 15 programs.

Except for secondary-school students, Petnica developed courses for schoolteachers also. Petnica Science Center is the leading organization for secondary-school teachers’ training in Serbia today. There are two main advantages of Petnica as a place for teachers’ programs: unique teachers’ resource center and an opportunity that teachers experience training at the same place and the same time as their students do. During the courses teachers get intensive training in both theoretical and practical know-how. Work in small groups enables participants to adjust dynamics and activities to their own pace and preferences. In the contrast to classical teachers’ training programs,
always organized as one-way transfer of information and suggestions, Petnica builds its training programs on the exchange of teacher’s ideas and extensive use of their quiet enthusiasm.

Petnica does not issue diplomas or certificates for students, participants of its programs. We estimate that
motivation of young people is quite different when we exclude all unnecessary rankings of students and formal
recognitions. Without school marks they learn because of the learning itself and enjoy it. The very process of discovery is the most attractive and the most exciting part of learning through research. However, we require students to detail planning, writing reports or endless correcting of the final text also. The only way to raise the level of self-confidence is to finish the job completely.

Financing of an independent center for out-of-school science education is an issue completely relying on the country and the abilities of the local community. Therefore it shouldn’t be generalized. In the more developed countries similar programs are either commercial (paid by participants or their schools) or supported by private foundations and big companies and corporations. Unfortunately, in poor or developing countries neither students could pay the full price of the program, nor there are big companies or private foundations interested in activities of this kind.

Since the beginning Petnica Science Center has relayed a great deal on public (state) funds and international grants, although in the last few years there is significant increase of income from local foundations, from schools, and from small commercial activities. Our institutional annual budget is about 0.6 million US$. It is expected that in a two or three of years Petnica’s budget will stabilize its internal structure reaching the optimal balance where one third will come from public funds, one third from independently funded projects and grants, and one third from commercial activities and Petnica Alumni Foundation. A typical annual budget structure of the Petnica Center is given on the chart bellow.