|27 Sep 2023
|2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize
From a young age Uroš Ocepek was passionate about helping others and leading groups, so recognized his ability to connect with students and make a positive impact on their lives. He chose to pursue teaching as a profession to not only share his knowledge, perspectives, and experiences with students but also learn from their successes, aspirations, and visions.
The Zasavje region of Slovenia is statistically one of the poorest with the highest rates of unemployment, depression, and suicide in the country, having once been economically significant with heavy industries and coal mining, which declined in the 1990s. After completing vocational education, students typically leave the region to attend university since there are no local institutions. Uroš Ocepek believes it is important to make students feel capable and connected to the area, so they return after completing their degrees, find employment, or start a new venture within the region.
Throughout his teaching journey Uroš has adopted innovative teaching methods: project-based learning, technology integration, and differentiated instruction to improve student outcomes and engagement. This includes introduction of an agile learning method combined with gamification in the classroom, empowering student leaders to take charge of their learning groups with Uroš maintaining oversight, improving student leadership skills, communication abilities, and self-confidence while fostering a sense of belonging and collaboration within the groups. He developed a new module titled "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence," integrating AI into the curriculum and equipping students with the knowledge and competencies needed to explore and investigate data using AI algorithms. Uroš is co-founder of the first high/secondary school conference in Slovenia, called TRiii (since 2015) where teachers, researchers and students can present innovative projects. This year, the conference became international, with teachers from Iceland, Norway, Turkey and Kazakhstan attending.
Uroš’s work has received acclaim and a plethora of prizes - including Teacher of the Year 2022 from AmCham Slovenia and the highest award of the Republic of Slovenia (from the Ministry of Education) for outstanding achievements in the field of secondary education. These have been for innovations impacting education and technology development from his school, local community, teacher community, Slovenian Chamber of Commerce, Centre of the Republic of Slovenia for Vocational Education, and Ministry of Education. He has frequently been selected by the teacher community to represent them at technology and education conferences. As a researcher he has also participated in the humanization of technology, collaborating with DDTLab and AFormX to create NeuroFly, a flight simulator controlled by thoughts alone, presented at the international Expo 2021 in Dubai. He has guided many students towards academic accomplishments, critical thinking development, and active civic engagement, receiving awards in their own rights for inventive projects, such as the Brain-Computer Interface Painter, enabling individuals to produce digital art through their brain signals.
His enthusiasm for teaching, originating in an aspiration to inspire and engage students while fostering global citizenship and sustainability awareness, have the capacity to revolutionize education and equip students for 21st-century challenges.