CodeAcross & OpenDataDay Zagreb 2016

This blog post was written by Filip Rodik from Code4Crotaia. 

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Close to 100 guests, speakers, teachers and journalists gathered in a conference room on March 3rd to hear the recent news about the ongoing Croatian curricular reform and the development of the Open Data program. The event was hosted by one of our sponsors – Algebra University College.

After a short introduction by the organizers, the event was kicked off with a keynote by Eben Groenwald, UK lead for Coding Education Policy. Eben gave a rather short, but very informative talk about UK’s experience with the Computer Science reform. The reform started off with a diagnosis of what had been wrong with the previous CS curriculum, and a panel of experts trying to solve those problems from the perspectives of both the private sector and the scientific community. The main goal of the new curriculum was to teach students how to solve problems using a computer. This would be a far greater challenge than the previous curriculum, which was mostly based on learning how to use Office software and sometimes a programming language. Teachers now had the liberty of doing things their way because the schools were told what the students should learn, not how to do it. But this level of flexibility brought up new issues because only a small percentage of teachers had a real computer science background. The solution to this problem was organizing a core team of 300 Master Teachers who then educated their colleagues around the country.

According to Eben, students should be creators of digital content, not just consumers. To achieve this, computing needed a big shift in the curriculum, so it became a core subject – like English or Mathematics. It also includes moving from the classical ICT curriculum to general digital skills. This would not be possible without the full support of everyone included – the government, teachers, local communities, the private sector and the parents.

First panel discussion – education

The guests were very interested in Eben’s talk because of the fact that Croatia is currently going through a thorough curricular reform. A total of over 500 experts have been preparing it for over a year now and this was an opportunity to learn from the UK’s experience. One of the experts was Lidija Kralj, who was a member of the first panel discussion of the day. Lidija is the head of the team of experts working on the ICT curricular reform. She was joined by Vedrana Miholić – ambassador of the eSkills initiative, Bela Ikotić – Member of Osijek Software City, and finally Eben.

20160304_Code_Across_&_Open_Data_Days_d_Andrea_Radmanic_07The participants, who were inspired by the UK’s reform, started out by comparing Croatia’s situation with the UK prior to the reform. There was curiosity regarding the pace at which the reform had been done. A single year for adapting to the new curriculum seemed rather short, but, according to Eben, changes needed to happen as soon as possible.

Vedrana stated that there is a great shortage of workers in the IT industry in Croatia. This is something that everyone from the industry has been aware of for years. The education system is simply not providing the market with enough skilled workers. Apart from that, lots of them are leaving Croatia in search for better working conditions in foreign countries. Some people, like Bela, started to improve things in their local community trying to reach out to young students and improve their computer skills. Another approach would be to increase the number of girls in computer science. A community which tells young girls that computers are for boys, and that they should be doing other things is doing incredible harm to everyone involved. The situation is slowly improving at Croatia’s top technical faculties where there are now 15-25% female students.

One question was particularly interesting for everyone in the room – why won’t the new curriculum make computer science mandatory for all Croatian students starting at the first grade? The answer is that there are still not enough resources for such a radical change though everyone is aware that it is something that should have been done years ago.

Second panel discussion – open government

The participants of the second panel were Anamarija Musa – Commissioner for Information, Tomislav Vračić – Chief of Infrastructure at the Ministry of Administration, and professor Neven Vrček – dean at the Faculty of Organization and Informatics.

Since the first #OpenDataDay in Croatia, things have been improving at a certain pace. One of the results was the data.gov.hr website, which was first presented at last year’s open data day. Since then, the number of datasets has been growing, but there is still not enough knowledge, and laymen do not know  what open data is and how it could be used. According to Anamarija, the datasets are still not clean enough and can hardly be connected or reused. This is a problem on which her team has been working for the last year, so in 2016, trainings for Croatian ministries are scheduled. The portal Imamo pravo znati, which was launched in the middle of 2015, has been a success so far. This was a project created by volunteers on last year’s hackathon which followed the conference. Its goal was to help civilians get the information they are interested in by making requests which follow the Freedom of Information laws.


Tomislav, who is in charge of data.gov.hr, said that georeferenced and real-time datasets are something the public wants the most, but those are the hardest to get. Dean Vrček stated that the most useful applications, made on top of public data, are the ones which use data generated by the local administration, so developers should put more pressure on local government to release useful data.

After the lunch break, there was a general discussion about open data in Croatia. This was an opportunity for non-technical people to learn about how to get involved. It was also a short introduction to the hackathon which would follow Friday’s conference.

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Hackathon

Saturday was the first day of this year’s hackathon held at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing in Zagreb. The Hackathon was scheduled for both days of the weekend. The day started off with a presentation of ideas for projects both from the organizers and other NGOs. Dražen Hoffman from GONG presented a project named “Stop the Hatred” – a Web app people could use to report hate speech (on the Internet, public gatherings, TV, news, etc.) so data can later be analyzed. Antun Sevšek from “Pravo na Grad” presented an idea to gather data about the unused infrastructure owned by the city authorities and present it on an interactive map. Other ideas included creating a visualization of all crimes in Croatia, visualizing infrastructural projects in Zagreb and integrating unemployment data.

Civic hackers were working on applications which used open data, while non-technical participants attended workshops about scraping data from the Web and accessing public data. Participants learned to scrape data on real examples, and they successfully scraped registers of non profit organizations, theatres, museums in Croatia, centres for social care and a dataset with a complete list of cultural legacy. There were only two teams of programmers actively participating in the contest, but the good news is that we had participants from Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina coding, learning, and sharing different experiences from their countries. The result of this year’s hackathon programmers were these projects and applications.

Photos by: Fotosekcija KSET – Andrea Radmanić, Darjan Grilec, Josipa Vragolov

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