'Learning about AI in Slovenian Schools: Slovenia at Crossroads'

In the Pumice project, we develop didactic activities that can be used to teach about artificial intelligence (AI) in schools. On September 26, the Council for Development at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA) organized a consultation on this very topic, sparking a public debate on how to start including education about AI in schools as early as primary and secondary school. To introduce the topic, Prof. Dr. Blaž Zupan – who initiated and hosted the event, highlighted that AI has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives. He noted that in the future, AI will impact virtually every profession and area of expertise, potentially fundamentally changing the world as we now know it, adding: “At the same time, most people know little or nothing about how this technology with its ever-increasing influence on the functioning of both society and individuals, actually works. Yet this scenario in which as society, we are subjected to a technology we do not understand, is not inevitable. The basic concepts behind AI are actually relatively simple, so it would make sense to include teaching the use of AI and presenting its principal concepts already in primary and secondary schools, and upgrade this knowledge in higher education.

The participants in the discussion were welcomed by the President of the SASA Council for Development Prof. Dr. Igor Emri, and the Minister for Digital Transformation Dr. Emilija Stojmenova Duh, who opened the discussion with introductury remarks. Actively participating in the discussion were UL FRI professors Dr. Ivan Bratko, Dr. Andrej Brodnik and Dr. Janez Demšar; pedagogical advisor at the National Education Institute Slovenia for the field of computer science and informatics – Radovan Krajnc, M.Sc.; the Institue’s director Dr. Vinko Logaj; Prof. Dr. Marko Munih from UL FE; Slovenia’s best teacher in 2022, from the Secondary Technical and Vocational School Trbovlje – Uroš Ocepek; Head of the Digital Education Service at the Ministry of Education – Dr. Igor Pesek; co-founder of the company Zemanta and board member of the Outbrain corporation – Andraž Tori; teacher at the Secondary Economic School and Gymnasium Maribor – Maja Vičič Krabonja; teacher and counsellor at the Murska Sobota Gymnasium – Romana Zver; and the editor of Sobotna priloga (the Saturday Supplement of the Slovenian daily newspaper Delo) – Dr. Ali Žerdin.

Looking back, the outcome of the debate does not inspire optimism. While Slovenia has always been among the strongest countries in the field of theoretical development of AI, and Slovenian software for teaching AI is used all over the world, the Slovene school system – even in its current reform, cannot seem to find a way to include computer science in the public school curricula at a systemic level. This is in stark contrast to several other countries in Europe. It appears that currently, Slovenia finds itself at a crossroads: is it going to stand by watching while country after country overtakes it? (Countries such as Luxembourg, Ireland, or Germany come to mind, who actually use Slovenian pedagogical knowledge and Slovenian-developed supporting technologies to teach AI.) Or is it going to be the one setting example for others? Will Slovenia finally find the political will to provide its students with an education that is on par with other European countries?

(Photo by: Marko Zaplatil/Igor Lapajne, ZRC SAZU)