Education and innovation: twin engines for a digital Montenegro

Education underpins human development. But despite strong gains in access to education, the quality of education remains unequal to the task of providing fulfilling opportunities that meet the needs of the youth.

The promise of digitalization in education is immense: digital transformation can help build a new world of opportunity for the people of Montenegro, by significantly increasing their competitiveness in the region and beyond. Digital techniques can support teachers, tutors, and administrators to improve quality learning. And artificial intelligence can provide personalized learning opportunities tailored to individual student needs. But an accelerated pace of research and innovation is needed to deliver on this promise.

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The kernels of creativity, problem-solving and computational thinking can be laid before the age of 16. These should not be underestimated as a powerful force for human development in Montenegro.  

But current choices and opportunities require a push in a new direction to meet emerging human development needs and the demands of a digital workforce. Today, vocational education in Montenegro plays a critical role in meeting the needs of the labour market and lifelong learning, with 31.3 per cent of students studying in a gymnasium. Among these, 15.4 per cent choose studies for vocational education in the fields of trade, hotels and restaurants, and tourism, while 13.3 per cent study economics, law, and administration. Those studying other fields make up 40 per cent. Tourism stands out as a core economic area and public administration as one of the most popular sectors among employees in Montenegro.

Figure 8 Fields of study at gymnasium and vocational schools

But these are precisely the sectors most at risk of automation due to the emergence of automated hotels, increasing use of robots in mowing, cleaning, food processing, and so on. Reprioritizing new sectors vocational education prepares students for is critical.

Making primary and secondary school curriculum more responsive to the needs of a digital economy can help Montenegro develop digital skills in the earliest stages of schooling,
later upgraded through secondary education and the specific qualifications could be gained during tertiary education. And given the room for Montenegro’s youth to improve mathematics, science and reading performance, digital tools can support the learning system more broadly.

Redesign of the curricula of higher education to align with the real and prospective needs of Montenegro’s emerging digital economy stands out as an urgent need.

Supply and demand gap

In 2019, demand outstripped supply in in many Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-relevant studies: with only 123 teachers of natural sciences and mathematics available for 566 openings.

Figure 9 : Gap between supply and demand across occupational groups in 2019
Source: Based on (EAM, 2020)

Cultivating new digital era skills

Computational thinking is a kind of analytical thinking essential for digital transformation. Equipping young people with these skills spans across all levels of the education system – primary, secondary, vocational, and tertiary. They start with teaching schoolchildren how to program in code and robotics clubs, regardless of their future professional choices.