We collaborate with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, investing a lot of money in our mutual research, said the Minister of education of Andorra Eric Jover


The Minister of education of Andorra (Pyrenees), Eric Jover, told all-andorra.com about the key advantages of education in Andorra:

Interview : Irina Rybalchenko

According to UNESCO Director, Irina Bokova, the unique experience of the education system in Andorra – three education systems in one small country – could be used by the UNESCO Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) program. How does it work?

According to the GEFI program, we are recognized as education champions. UNESCO uses our experience in order to improve existing worldwide standards of education.

Yes, we have three educational systems in Andorra – Andorran, French and Spanish. All three of them are public and free of charge for Andorran citizens and residents. This is a unique model. This kind of system does not exist in any other country in the world. The French and Spanish systems depend in part on the Ministries of Education of France and Spain. The Andorran government has a very good relationship with both these ministries.

But we also invest in the French and Spanish schools. At the moment we have an equilibrium: each of the systems is represented by about 1/3 of Andorra’s students. We didn’t work to achieve that. It just happened naturally. And we would like it to go on that way.

International cooperation is always very important to us. From our side, we work closely with UNESCO as well as with the Council of Europe, where we held the presidency in 2012.

The main priorities of our educational program are public democracy and human rights protection. We teach these skills in school programs.

I am sure that education is a good tool for changing the world, taking into account the threat of terrorism and racial discrimination. Now we are testing how it works on our students. If this experience is positive, we would like to share our knowledge with other countries.

You have mentioned funding Spanish and French schools. What is the total budget of Andorra’s Ministry of Education?

In speaking about the funding of Andorra’s Spanish and French schools, I meant that we pay for teaching disciplines related to Andorra, including Catalan language – our official language – Andorran history, as well as geography and the environment. It is important for us to provide this kind of knowledge, because all our students are Andorran citizens or residents.

Also we finance all the costs related to the maintenance of school buildings, such as repairs, insulation of buildings etc. It is important to say, that we have a program “3E” (eficiència, energètica, escola) which means energy efficiency in schools. It is a mutual project with the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Territories. We pay a lot of attention to improving energy efficiency in school buildings. The Andorran government is trying to change the whole mentality of society from the point of view of energy efficiency and environmental protection. And we use public school buildings as a physical example.

Moreover, the program involves the next generation, making our students a very important part of modern society. So as you can see, we try to “use” our schools not only for traditional teaching. When we need to change windows, we explain to the students the reason, the consequences as well as giving them some practical knowledge about modern materials. It is like a game for kids, but with a pedagogical bias.

For 2017, the Ministry of Education has 62m euros in the framework of budgeted for the “3E” project plus an additional 1m euros from the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Territories. This budget is bigger that we have in 2016. However the budget for school transport is going to be less next year. But not because we are holding back money. This year we spent about 5 m euros for school transportation needs. This year we plan to save 10% due to the optimization in this sector.

How does the integration of Andorra’s university into the European university system work?

At present, we are part of the Bologna Process, which is a collective of public authorities, universities, teachers, and students, together with stakeholder associations, employers, quality assurance agencies, international organisations, and institutions, including the European Commission. So, Andorra is a member of The European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Educational attainment in our university is absolutely equivalent to levels in universities of other European countries.

Having a similar system allows us to have a similar academic recognition of our degrees. If an Andorran student receives a bachelor’s degree, he or she can continue their education to Master’s level in any university of 48 European countries. This is a big issue for mobility, and the international movement of our students.

As for our higher education system, it has three university cycles: three years for a bachelor’s degree, two years – for a master’s degree and three years – for a PhD. France and the majority of the other European countries have the same system. In Spain it is different: four years – for a bachelor’s degree, then one year – for a master’s degree and three years – for a PhD. But the level of knowledge at the end of each cycle is similar.

The problem is that Andorra is not a member of the EU. That’s why we cannot participate in some overseas programs such as “Erasmus+”, the best known European Union program for education, training, youth and sport across all sectors of lifelong learning, including school education, further and higher education, adult education and the youth sector.

Among other interesting projects we have – “Horizon 2020”. This is the biggest EU Research and Innovation program ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract.

We work closely with the EU and try to make this kind of cooperation, which is very important for the development of higher education in Andorra.

When do you expect to sign this agreement?

Negotiations are underway. It depends on how quickly Andorra, San Marino and Monaco can find a good compromise solution with the EU. It is expected to be in 2018, but I am not completely sure. We have to have a referendum first to find out if our citizens agree with this document or not.

What are the major joint educational programs between Andorra and the EU as well as other countries of the world?

Andorra University has some programs with other European universities, including many disciplines with the Open University of Catalonia as well as master’s degrees in tourism and cultural tourism with Perpignan, Toulouse, Paris and Balearic Islands universities. Then, we are going to develop a program with Colorado State University related to mountain tourism.

From a practical point of view, Andorran students can easily move to France and Spain for such purposes.

What does the further development of higher education in Andorra look like? Which new disciplines will be focused on?

We do want to improve our university, which is already very good, but young (it was established in 1997). We have to continue its expansion. I guess, it is not necessary to have a big list of disciplines. We need to focus on those useful here in Andorra. Among them I can mention international tourism, education and computer science – we consider ourselves as a smart country.

It is also important for our country’s international development to study English.

Does the Andorran government plan to add to the number of hours of English classes in primary schools?

We do want to improve the general level of English in Andorra, but not by this method. There is a different methodology. Since childhood, here in Andorra we learn to speak several languages. To achieve good results you need to build up a linguistic structure in your brain. This solid and consolidated structure can be useful for learning additional languages. Our vision is to introduce English not as a foreign language, but like a “vehicular language”.

Are you going to invite native speakers?

We already have a program with Oxford and the Fulbright program with the US government enabling university students to come to Andorra and assist Andorran students in English learning.

Some disciplines in university are in English, which proves our intentions to learn English in Andorra. Some disciplines will be available in English from the first year of education, some – from the second. It depends on the students’ level. But in the future we plan to offer to start in English from the first year.

Do you plan to attract professors of other disciplines from abroad?

We have already had some. Within the planned agreement with the EU we will develop it via the “Erasmus+” program, which assumes a mobility for professors as well.

Do you plan to develop fundamental sciences at the University of Andorra? Are there any plans to create scientific clusters?

It’s quite a difficult question. We have to be very careful. Today, as an example, nanotechnology is a hot topic at a worldwide level. It would be interesting to do research in this area in Andorra. But we need to create a very big infrastructure with modern laboratories, which supposes huge investments. All big science countries work in this area. With our “critical mass”, as a small country, Andorra will never be able to succeed in this science area. Therefore, we should focus on research areas more related to our expertise such as environment and tourism

Meanwhile, we collaborate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), investing a lot of money in research. To be successful it is important to create bridges between the Andorran university and other universities in the world.

What new technologies of international education has Andorra recently implemented/integrated into its own educational system?

We very much like to use new technologies in Andorran schools. For example, each 12-16-year-old student in the Andorran educational system has his own iPad. Before that age one iPad is issued to a group of 4-5 students. It is not because we are trying to save money – it is because we think that twelve years old is the optimal age to work independently with such technological tools.

In the framework of our collaboration with MIT, we have a pilot project in one of the schools of Andorra la Vella for 10-12-year-old students. One of the aims of this project is a study of the interaction between human behavior and energy consumption. The school classrooms are equipped with 80 sensors for monitoring and recording the changes in such parameters as temperature, CO2, movement, light intensity and others. So kids can control and optimize the atmosphere in classrooms by themselves.

By the end of this school year, by June, we will decide whether this project has been successful. If it has, I will offer to use these kinds of sensors in all Andorran schools.

What are the main governmental programs to support talented students?

Every year we choose the 5 best students: one from each educational system plus one “vocational education” student and one “general education” student under 16-year-old. We send them to the universities of their choice, paying for the first university cycle, travel, registration, board and lodging.

Are there any new disciplines you are going to implement in primary schools?

We don’t have any new plans for primary school students. As for kids 14-16-year-old, we are going to add robotics (robot science).

But it is important to say, we are teaching our students using some different methods. For instance we will teach mathematics not as a science but more as a tool to accomplish a logical task.

Imagine a practical workshop with the aim of building a hotel in Andorra. Students will be asked to count how much material will be needed, how many rooms, what are the optimal number of seats for the hotel’s restaurant. how many cups fit in a cupboard in this restaurant etc. Then they will be asked to choose the hotel’s star rating and a location, which is related to marketing. So this is a combination of knowledge. This is the best way to get kids involved in mathematics.

A further example is linguistics. Very often transversal projects are carried out to improve also the kid language skills. In this way to have to consult bibliography in several languages, make an oral presentation in one language and write a report in another one.

Linguistic competency is our aim. But we don’t teach them languages. We use languages to teach them other disciplines. So for example in highschool, mathematics will be told in Spanish, chemistry in French and history in Catalan.

What is the minimum and an average teacher’s salary in Andorran schools?

It depends on many factors: how long a teacher has been working at the school, what is his grade, his qualifications, fixed salary and extras. The minimum is about 1600 euros a month.

What are the key government regulations in education: number of pupils per teacher, number of hours of training in the core disciplines. Do they meet European standards?

There are no European standards in this area. Andorran schools follow, respectively, Spanish, French and Andorran standards. As for the Andorran system for primary and secondary schools, the limit is 25 students per class and 30 in highschool.

Is there any private business interest in investing in educational projects in Andorra? Are there any concrete examples?

One example is a private school in l’Aldosa-La Massana, the Col•legi del Pirineu. It is based on the French educational system, put it is a private company.

I have had several meetings with potential investors who are interested in private education in Andorra. Andorra has a very good image – our educational level is very good. Andorra is also a safe country with a good climate, tax advantages, and a high standard of living… All these arguments are good both for potential investors and parents.

What are the plans for the coming year?

We will increase the number of universities in the country. I expect good news next year related to new investments in this sector.

Where? Is San Julia de Loria going to become a campus?

This is the next stage, to choose the right place/location. Sant Julia is already a university town, so it could be good to have another university there.

See also Primary Educational system of Andorra

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