The State of GCE in Slovakia: An Interview with Jakub Žaludko

On June 18th, Bridge 47 organized the third meeting of the South Eastern Europe Knowledge Exchange Partnership with Comenius University in Bratislava. The participating students worked through masterclasses on intercultural dialogue and drafted a national GCE strategy under the direction of Dr. Weibl. We were able to interview Jakub Žaludko, Bridge 47’s National Officer in Slovakia and Comenius University alumni about the state of GCE in Slovakia.

Interview conducted by Christian Bardales and edited by Wayne Tobin.

 C: Can you tell me more about your education and background? How did you get involved in the Bridge 47 project?

 J: I studied European Studies and International Relations at Comenius University in Bratislava at the same faculty where we were able to establish a Knowledge Exchange Partnership (KEP). I went to Uppsala University for one year for Erasmus studies for development cooperation and international development studies, finishing that in my masters. Then I studied two years in social and cultural anthropology in Vienna, again at the faculty of social sciences. My involvement in Bridge 47 began when I received an internship at Ambrela when I was finishing my university studies and I was kept on as a project manager. There was a European Year for Development campaign that I was hired to manage, where I learned a lot. I stayed also for a project for the Slovak presidency where I got involved in the drafting of the Bridge 47 project application in 2016. At 25, this was another major learning experience. Ever since we received initial project funding I’ve been here. I feel a bit old in Bridge 47 years!

 C: What is the perspective of GCE in Slovakia? How is GCE currently implemented in the Slovak system and what would you change in its implementation?

 J: There are different actors and different angles of how it can be perceived. Our Ministry of

Foreign Affairs is probably the biggest investor in GCE, after the European Commission and the Development Education and Awareness Raising Program (DEAR). They invest €100,000  a year into it, and perceive GCE as an umbrella term for all types of value-based education. So, that is quite in line with what we want to see. However, the MFA only supports development education and awareness raising, since this way they are able to report it as ODA, which is reasonable but also a pity in a way. The Ministry of Education’s perspective is a bit unknown to me as of now. We have a new government in Slovakia and are partnering with the Ministry of Education as we speak. I think, there is a potential to have strong cooperation with them in the upcoming years and aim for developing a new GCE strategy. I think in the near future we'll be figuring out what makes sense for them in the long term, and what compromises we arrive at.

On another note, there are more philosophical perspectives I perceive in relation to GCE. I used to understand GCE with terminology consisting of radical love, social movements, active citizenship, and post-development and post-structuralist philosophy when I came out of university. I’m much more pragmatic about GCE as a Bridge 47 National Officer. When your goals are advocacy and policy change, youchave to enter a different world which is much narrower, and you have to compromise a lot. So, when I see GCE, I'm trying to always trying to reconcile my more dogmatic and ideologically loaded past! Right now, I'm much more open to compromises for the sake of moving things forward.

So just to paint the picture, such thinking is visible for instance in the partnerships work that we have been doing in Ambrela for Bridge 47. The private sector and especially tech startups and IT industry has GCE in its DNA as the themes of combating climate change, reflecting on migration and other current global challenges. I think Slovakia is basically on the periphery. I think we're suffering the most in terms of investment and with the percentage of GDP that we invest into our education and research. We have a problem with that. Developing new areas for research and new areas for teaching in the universities is limited. So, I think right now, the perspective is that GCE is on the periphery and don't see that becoming mainstream at universities. But there has been some progress.

 C: So how could it be better implemented?

 J: I think we're on our way. I think the question now is just how many people are ready to implement GCE in Slovakia and how much money we could invest in implementing it. I guess that question would need to be answered first, and then the second would follow the absorption capacity of the potential sector. It's not that easy in my eyes., There are other priorities for the government and we're not really too great about showing the results of what we do.

 C: Is it the government or our development sector as a whole that is not very good at showing results?

 J: It's the education sector as a whole. Education's effects happen over time and after a while, so you cannot instantly measure how education has impacted a person. It's difficult to ask the government to implement something in those conditions.

 C: It's hard to convince people about qualitative results. You can't really quantify education’s socialization effects.

 J: Yeah, but we don’t even have so much qualitative proof to support GCE is working.

 C: I’ve spoken with other interviewees who have talked about how a lot of decision makers are economists and they want quantitative, not qualitative data in their decision making.

 J: I believe them. You are checked by the public through elections and you need to show results. So, if you do something that does not show results you could be penalized. But for me, there are so many policies that could be done that can show results. I think it's our goal to figure that out the most important things right now for GCE are to prove the concepts. We're faster at changing our concepts, then figuring out how to measure them and prove that they actually work, which is amazing. So for instance, GCE was not a thing when I arrived in the sector six years ago!

 C: What are the linkages between the knowledge exchange partnerships and GCE in Slovakia?

 J: Comenius University which has been participating in the knowledge exchange partnership are now hiring and looking for a doctoral student who would be a GCE doctoral student. The doctoral candidate will have to do the dissertation about GCE. I think the knowledge exchange partnership helped refocus the research of the faculty and of the university a bit more towards GCE into a more interesting and more promising concept rather than development cooperation. So, I think we might have inspired some future work and some future research reorientation of the faculty. Comenius University and the Professors and Researchers who work there are good contacts. They are people who can help us amplify our messages sustainably. So, it's also been a very good frame of how to develop a partnership with them and how to show that we do have interest in working with them. We have been using this for advocacy and have been able to make some advocacy connections that we wouldn't be able to get otherwise. So that is also great. Hopefully, EADI will get some content out of this for the MOOC as well. I know that this hasn't been the most academic partnership, but it reflects on the state of GCE and its non-implementation in the country and maybe in the region. It attracted recognition and maybe some more researchers into the topic throughout the region. We’ve also liked the coordination of the partnership here with a focus on working more with students and faculty here.

 C: Are there any other Bridge 47 outcomes that you would like to share?

 J: We have got a potential program with the Minister of Education. The result should outline a clear strategy for further GCE advocacy work. We have been developing the Bridge 47 game in a pilot partnership with a company. This is very interesting for us because games and this type of media are something that I see can be a frame where GCE and its impact is measurable. Software has lots of tools to measure the impact of users and usage of its product. GCE mixed with technology might give us some data. So, I like this connection. This is in addition to the 40 projects we sub-granted. I like that output as we have actually been implementing GCE instead of talking about it through these small projects.

 C: How has bridge 47 improved GCE in Slovakia and the region?

 J: Bridge 47 was great capacity building as it gave us the capacity to do advocacy on a consistent basis. Ministries and the European Commission don’t usually pay for advocacy work, inhibiting CSO which lack the financial capacity to do so. As you now know, GCE is in the stage of not being implemented, so we have to lobby for it to be implemented. So right now, we are in the stage where we need to focus on lobbying. Besides that, it did a lot of other things as well through the knowledge exchange partnerships, the game development, sub granting, or EU advocacy, global advocacy, and annual events. The Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University took the initiative to the extent that they could. The topic has survived there, even without the funding that the Bridge 47 provided, creating some small-scale sustainability at the Faculty. But at its core, the advocacy capacities and the ability to actually do what is relevant has improved.



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