Emanuela Božić – Doboj: In the „Labyrinth“ we do things that have disappeared from childhood, and our pupils claim that they find learning much easier

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Hana:

In Doboj I visited the „Labyrinth“ Agency for Intellectual Development and Counselling. There I met Ms. Emanuela Božić. She holds B.A. in special education and speech therapy and she is NTC Coordinator for the Tuzla and Doboj Region. She has worked as NTC teacher and lecturer for three years and it is currently her primary focus.

I did not even know what NTC stood for, so she filled me in. That is an acronym for the Nikola Tesla Centre. It used to be SIG within the Mensa, and in former Yugoslavia the Mensa had been established by Ranko Rajović. SIG had been created for gifted children, and with time it transcended the Mensa framework and began to function as an independent learning system.

NTC is applied in 17 European countries. In Slovenia it has been in use for several years, they started with preschool education, and now they incorporated it in schools, and also the NTC learning system has also been introduced as an post-graduate and doctoral studies at the University of Koper.

In BiH you can find it in some towns, such as Doboj, Tuzla, Sarajevo and Istočno Sarajevo, in Brčko, Bijeljina and a few others. However, not even Emanuela is optimistic that it will soon be recognised in this country and introduced, not even into preschool education, let alone into schools. This would require huge changes which, evidently, no one here wishes to undertake, although it has long been necessary, as the educational system in this country has literally remained unchanged for decades.

I found it interesting to hear about this learning program and to talk to Emanuela. I am certain that many parents would like to have an NTC program in their town and I fervently hope that the number of towns where it is available will grow.

Emanuela Božić:

A particular advantage of this program is that it is adapted to today’s children. In essence, it had even been conceived for this modern age, because children no longer get as much exercise as they used to. There are many elements that have ramifications in school, such as that certain reflexes, which need to disappear, linger, because children do not get enough exercise, because they do not chew enough, they do not talk enough and, in effect, everything seems to be screen-based, so to speak.

In essence, the program is structured in three levels. Level One works with younger children, preschoolers and it focuses on motorics, while the two other levels are a bit more complex and concern certain though processes and the development of intelligence.

What matters about this program is that we found that it is effective in all children. Which means that a child needs not be gifted, because that had been the original purpose of the program. Essentially, all children benefit from an NTC program, even the children with developmental problems. Which means that children with dislexia, disgraphia and certain learning difficulties that we encounter today, and which had not previously been recognised, benefit from this program. The children graduating from the program fare much better in school, learn much more easily and quickly.

I have been working on adapting the program for the children with developmental problems.

In particular, at present I am working on design and adaptation of the program for children with developmental problems. Basically, we here in BiH are the first to undertake something like this. All former Yugoslav republics apply NTC, plus certain other European countries, 17 in total, but no one has yet tried to implement this for children with developmental problems. I started, by accident, with an autistic little girl. Then we gradually started learning, bit by bit, and we obtained truly great results. Then this was published at the University of Koper and I can proudly say that this was recognised as pioneering work in this field. Currently, I am working with the „Down Sy i mi“ Association from Banja Luka on a project to implement such a program, we are adapting it for the children.

How did the „Labyrinth“ emerge?

As a matter of fact, the „Labyrinth“ came into existence by accident. I say by accident, but it wasn’t really an accident. For some three and a half years I worked in Paris, I had worked in one of our schools with bilingual children. Then I was informed that the Day Care Center in Doboj would be opening. So I returned with the intention to work here as speech therapist. And I worked there for a year or so and I lost that job. And in the meantime, this thing with NTC took off.

Working on NTC has really been a satisfaction for me. It was a great honour when Ranko proposed cooperation to me. We met quite by accident, talked a bit and, since speech therapy is, effectively, based in neuropsychology, he said „You should essentially understand the program, and I lack such associates, let us start something“. It was a satisfaction for me and it constituted a contrast relative to what I did in the Day Centre, to come and work with gifted children.

My associate Vesna is my right-hand person. She is a social worker by training and the two of us have been working together for 15 years, on many different things. Then we came up with the idea to merge our knowledge and experiences and create a program of our own that we would implement with preschoolers outside NTC. So we had an idea to create an intellectual development agency. In effect, this is an agency, not a kindergarten nor a school. Within that framework, we now apply certain programs and implement all the knowledge and experiences we have gathered and we have found to be effective.

I believe that we have already managed to stand out and that our work is already recognisable. Our children emerge considerably different, considerably more resourceful, nimble, mobile. We get them to move and we strive to be outdoors as much as possible, to be barefoot as much as possible. Basically, we indulge in those things that are now absent from childhood. Our children play jumpsies, play many different ball games, they do not sit around and get bored.

Our pupils who are in the NTC learning system tell us that they learn much more easily. Take for example this anecdote of a girl pupil who told us that the teacher came in and started opening the grade book at random, asking questions. There was a general panic, because the questions related to the lesson from the previous class. But, using NTC techniques, she had been able to cover that lesson literally in 5 minutes, which is how much it took for her to read it through and draw something. In the end, she raised her hand, saved the entire class and got an A.

Nowadays, children have much more information, and they know so much more.

Our children today, relative to the time when we were children, have so much more information, they know so much more, but they don’t know how to use that knowledge. Then the knowledge they have is simply of no use. I also look at our generation. We are all on Facebook or other social networks, and, in effect, no one is reading any long articles. We all seek to get short-form information and then, in company, we pretend that we read something interesting someplace, but we can hardly recall the topic, let alone retell the story.

There is too much information we fail to make use of, and the same is happening with the children. We strive to bring it all together in a specific fashion which they really see as play. Not for a moment do they understand that it is an exercise, nor an assignment, nor that we have an underlying objective.

In effect, reproductive learning is the most primitive form of learning. Education effectively channels us into a line and a direction, and that is made the only way. And then it is very hard to „think outside the box, beyond frameworks and limits“.

And this is exactly what NTC does – provides this openness. We all, when embarking on a program, have to practice quite a lot. This is not the kind of work everyone can do, because of its quite particular nature. Then children arrive at ideas in an interesting way. Once they learn to think in this way, their brains and their though processes accelerate, and they get better at putting right information together, which gives us rather peculiar results.

What do I think about how to keep the youth in BiH? Particularly from the standpoint of someone who worked abroad and then came back.

In effect, I never had an ambition to stay abroad. I went to Belgrade to study with the intention to come back to my town. I love Doboj so very much. Perhaps in our system things are not as they should be, but I do not believe we should give up. By accident, private circumstances took me to Paris, but I came back and I am not sorry.

My personal view is that, perhaps, someone who lives at age 20 perhaps might adapt. We, who already adopted the peculiar way of life here, hardly. It is nice to have all that money, it is also nice to work abroad and have social security we don’t have here. But, in fact, all that is worth nothing if you do not have a neighbour you can have coffee with, when you walk down your street and have no one to greet…

So, in effect, I am against leaving. But how to motivate young people to stay? I believe that to be a much bigger question and a systemic problem.

First we should alter the mindset of our people, the attitude that you should spend all your working years in one workplace. This no longer exists anywhere else – to find a job and hold it until retirement.

In truth, young people need to have opportunities, which is rarely the case recently. And I believe that the government does not care at all.

Let me state just one example I have in Doboj. I was informed that one little girl who enrolled at the 1st grade of elementary school can read and write Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, print and handwriting, she can add and subtract three-digit numbers. No one educated here ever. This was found at induction, and this is a child of barely six years of age.

Then we inducted her here in the NTC program. It is a gifted child, which means she gets to attend for free, does not pay anything. But if it were not for my reaction, and the fortunate circumstance that I got the information, the school had offered to move her up to the third grade. But her mother, naturally, came in and explained that the child is quiet, gentle, withdrawn, how would she cope if she were cast among older children, how could she take it psychologically? So her mother rejected the school’s offer and things ended there. And this girl is now a regular pupil at that school, just like any other child.

I am not accusing neither the teachers, nor pedagogists, nor anyone, but this shows that, as a system, we lack solutions.

And it means that we have here many gifted children. In our program, by about third or fourth workshop we recognise children with above average intelligence, those who function in different ways, but, put simply, our educational system has remained quite rigid.

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