SAT, 03 JAN 1998 22:35:36 GMT
AIM Ljubljana, 23 December, 1997
The dilemma in Slovenia - what school is like and who it belongs to, has not been resolved yet, although each of the parties with opposed stands concerning school reform persists in its demands. Therefore, one can freely say that this is just another in a row of conflicts which burden the current government coalition of Drnovsek's Liberal Democrats and Slovenian National Party of Podobnik brothers. The National Party is still drifting between a modern populist party advocated by the elder brother Janez, who is the chairman of the state parliament, and the rightist Christian alternative advocated by the other brother Marjan, president of the party and vice prime minister (the post which, according to the Constitution, does not exist), but it is Drnovsek's price with which he paid the "great government coalition" for the safe and stable majority in the parliament.
The conflict of government parties about school reform began on 9 November, when the two-year mandate expired of the national curriculum council founded to discuss the school education and up-bringing curriculae and adjust them to the European and world experience. Since in the course of the two years' work, it had completed three quarters of the work, and since it needed another few months for the rest, minister of education Slavko Gaber, along with director of the education system institute Ivan Lorencic, director of the centre for professional education Vladimir Tkalec, and director of the centre for adult education Vida Mohorcic Spolar, signed a decision which prolongs the mandate of the national curriculum council and its commissions and subcommissions which gather more than 500 secondary-school and university professors, until 9 November, 1998, at the latest.
That is when the complications began. Vice prime minister and president of the Slovenian Nationals, Marjan Podobnik, called the minister's decision "exceeding authorization" and violation of the coalition agreement, because the problem concerned demanded political coordination of stands of two greatest government parties. And this brings us to the real cause of the conflict which is shaking the government coalition.
Back at the time when the Nationals belonged to the so-called block of "parties of Slovenian spring" and when negotiations began with Drnovsek concerning creation of a "large coalition", Podobnik conditioned his agreement to join the government with the demand, among other, that ministry of education be given to his party. Already at the time, he claimed in his public statements that the school was still too "red" - to summarise his stands as much as possible, and that it was necessary to increase the contents with religious messages and system of values in the teaching process. The only obstacle to this is the Constitution of Slovenia which has strictly separated the Church from the state, although many concessions have been made to the Catholic Church (not the other religions) - including of church educational institutions into public schooling system, for one. Prolonging of the mandate of the national curriculum council turned out to be a good opportunity for straining relations in the coalition and by changing the names in the council, for bring professionals into it who would advocate introduction of religious contents in public schools.
"The problem is that the Church is excluded from creating the educational concept of the school, which is not the case anywhere else. As if someone is usurping the monopoly over school in the name of the state, in which a large majority of the citizens are believers". This statement of Dr Franc Rode in the beginning of his archbishop's mandate is the key element for understanding the conflict concerning the membership of the national curriculum council, body which would ratify new curriculae for nine-year elementary school and high school in front of a professional council for general education. The struggle for prevalence of Nationals in this body is largely conditioned by appetites of the Roman Catholic Church which is not ready to give up the vision of a "school system permeated by religious values and dimensions". But just as loud and aggressive demands failed for introducing catechism into the network of public schools, and also subjects of religion and ethics, at least for the time being, attempts of Podobnik brothers failed to introduce religion into school in a roundabout way, through a subject called citizenship and homeland upbringing. The Nationals suddenly woke up and remembered (and church dignitaries reminded them of) their pre-election promises about the schooling system which they believe they can now fulfill by personnel changes in the national curriculum council, if they could not have had the ministry of education.
However, by prolonging of the mandate of the council, the mandate of its former members was also prolonged. The Nationals would have to say who they think should be thrown out of it, and this is a problem, because the current members are prominent experts, university and secondary school professors whose work has been assessed as successful by those to whom their work directly refers to - 23 thousand professors and teachers, after the first threemester, in the beginning of December at their meetings in schools analysed everything that was done, concerning each subject and their representation in certain types of schools and - approved of practically everything done, with the note that that the students were less burdened, that "swatting" was avoided, and that curriculae developed capabilities of the students for individual work, and so on and so forth.
Now, they chose a different manner of proceeding. Five members of the national council resigned, because "the work of the council is biased and not broad-minded enough in the choice of experts so a creative dialogue was not enabled". These five convened a press conference. Journalists asked why the invitation to it was printed on paper with the logo of the Slovenian bishops' conference, and one of the five members, Dr Janez Juhant, dean of the divinity college, as well-informed Mladina writes, was ordered to resign and convince other members of the council to do it too directly by Archbishop Rode, which also explains the paper on which the invitation sent to the journalists was printed.
The national curriculum council is silently continuing its work, making an analysis of specific complaints which have arrived from the "field". Rebels are protesting, Podobnik is threatening that due to the breach of the coalition agreement, his party would leave the government. For the time being, Drnovsek is silemt, because he knows only too well how the younger Podobnik likes power and is probably letting him, like he did with Jansa before, to break his own neck or become a responsible and reasonable member of the government. The struggle for children's souls and bodies has calmed down for the moment. Nobody has asked the children what kind of school they want, nor their parents, nor those who directly participate in the public education process. Perhaps Dr Ivan Svetlik, president of the national curriculum council, is right: "When professional decisions have not been adopted, not even politicians can pass them".
Svetlik has not been relieved of duty yet, Podobnik has gone to a reception by the Pope in Rome, Christmas is - the Archbishop issued a statement - a holiday of peace, reconciliation, good intentions and joy. But, Christmas lasts for a very short time.