Iveta Barková

Private Elementary School, Senec, Slovakia

Iveta  Barková

Early in her career as a secondary school teacher, Iveta realised that educational success depends upon a supportive environment (for teachers as well as students) and constructive, honest relationships between those teaching and those being taught. It was the desire to pursue these values that prompted Iveta and a colleague, in their mid-40s, to open a private primary school focused on innovative learning, co-operation and openness. Although these approaches to education are accepted almost as received wisdom in other countries, Slovakia’s education system still wrestles with the legacy of Communist rule – a period when education was based more on regimented rote learning than personal experimentation. These habits of thinking linger on in the system, which often adheres to methods that no longer prepare young people for the modern workplace.

The ambition to change this situation was what motivated Iveta to establish a new school. In her teaching, Iveta uses storytelling, humour, trust and personal impact to show children that learning can be a joy and a lifelong “hobby“. Her school, which now educates over 200 pupils aged 6-15, is financed mainly from parental and state contributions and grants: Iveta even used her private savings for the refurbishment of the building. However, founding a school that looks for the joy in education is an achievement that she is rightly proud of.

Iveta’s teaching philosophy is inspired by experiential learning and constructivism which is based on the idea that children actively construct their own knowledge piece by piece in their own unique way. The role of the teacher is to find ways to inspire children and get them excited about education. Children are not merely given information but are instead handed problems to be solved. Subjects include a second language (English) from the 1st grade, swimming as a regular part of Physical Education, and playing instruments in Music instead of just singing – not always the norm in post-Communist countries.  

Iveta’s achievements have been widely celebrated. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the Slovak National Teachers’ Prize (Učiteľ Slovenska) and in 2020 she won both the main prize and the Public Prize based on online voting – the first time in its history that one teacher has won both prizes. Then, in December 2020, the Slovak edition of Forbes magazine named Iveta as one of 12 COVID crisis heroes chosen from different areas of public life – appearing on the cover next to President Zuzana Čaputová and other distinguished Slovaks.

If Iveta wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will invest most of the funds in a new building for her school. Currently, the school needs more rooms and new facilities. The new building would introduce the concept of an innovative, open, creative and green school with a gymnasium, cafeteria, playground, auditorium and garden. The funds would also help start a scholarship for families who cannot afford school fees.