Article by RDA Senec – Photo credits: Ondrej Bobek

Current pandemic situation and its impact on the dual education particularly in the gastronomy and hotel industry in Slovakia

We are bringing an interview that was published by the State Vocational Education Institute in Slovakia. The article sheds light on a current pandemic situation and its impact on the dual education particularly in the gastronomy and hotel industry in Slovakia.

The interview was done with a director of the Šimák Chateau located in Pezinok, Slovakia. The pandemic situation caused a problem throughout all sectors of dual education primarily in the area of practical learning that takes place directly in the workplace. Therefore, the following interview is just a small example of how different sector then the cultural one copes with the new situation.

They opened last summer and started dual education in September. Currently, the Palace Art Hotel, which is a part of the Šimák Chateau in Pezinok has nineteen dualists and plans to further expand their advice. We also talked to the executive manager of the hotel, Lukáš Špilák about what the practical training in the current situation looks like and how it can affect further education of students.

“We try to pass on experience to students, we work with them in this situation as well” 

In which fields of dual education do you practically prepare students?

Of course, a chef and a waiter predominate, because we are a hotel operator, but we would like to try other professions in the future. Because we are a big castle, we will also need, for example, a handyman, a gardener or a confectioner.

What is your experience with dual education?

By devoting myself to the students for a very long time and I was in charge of the students even in my previous job, I think that I have already established the principles that I follow. I was very happy when I first heard about dual education because I was in favor of the school system restarting a bit. I still use Tomáš Baťa as an example. His story is understandable, whether for parents or students. Even on the basis of it, it can be said that the dual education has been here for a very long time but lately it has gained more prominence in Slovakia, and that is specific. To me, dual education is more specific even in the following, although I have got some textbooks from school, my position as an Apprenticeship Coach allows me to modify the textbooks a bit and put something from my practice into it. In my opinion, the time when each waiter stands with a guide in his working district is over. Times are changing and curriculum should change.

How do you cope with the current situation that is extremely demanding for gastronomy and hotel industry?

Yes, it is a very bad situation. Especially since no one has ever been through this before, so it’s new to everyone. At the same time, it is also a school of life. In my position, as director, I have closed the hotel twice in six months.

In the current situation, how does dual education of students look like? Do you manage to have at least a moment when students directly come in the hotel even during the distance form of teaching?

Yes, anything is possible if you want. There was no problem with that. It used to be up to the parents as well, they were a little scared to send the children to the higher risk place, but we always manage to find some compensation. We are also a hotel with a winery and wine production, so we can also divide the students into various other sections, so that they do not see the educational process monotonous.

How do you perceive practical education in an online form? Do you agree that it is still better than nothing?

Certainly yes. We need to keep the students “under control” because otherwise it would turn upside down and it would take longer for them to get used to it again when they return. It was a little different in the first covid wave, at that time the students didn’t want to communicate very much, they perceived the situation as the school holidays. But now, in the second covid wave, it works very well. However, I do not give them school tasks on a daily basis. For example, chefs design a menu for a vegetarian restaurant and waiters design a drink list for a Moroccan café these days. I try to give them tasks they enjoy.

So what does a regular block of online practical training look like in your hotel?

As I have mentioned, students now work on the topic of food and drink menus. Every chef and waiter should have an experience in this and be able to compile a complete list with the price list and weight, but also with the overall design to attract the guest. I also plan a video-education. As Christmas is approaching, I gave them a task to record how they are preparing for Christmas, tablecloths in their family. The chefs record their recipes. They had the same task in the first covid wave, during Easter, and it worked well. I also see parents getting involved in the topic.

In your opinion, after returning to “normal” regime, will it be necessary to catch up in the practical training of students?

I don’t think it will be that bad when I have the students under control directly at the facilities during a normal day and we also stay in touch online. Maybe I’ll give it a week and the kids will get back to it quickly.

Do you think there are advantages of dual education in the current situation?

There are and they are big. I am not that old and I still remember when I studied and went to do my practical education in fancy hotels and my apprenticeship coach followed the outdated schemes. The employees laughed as the schemes have not been up to date already for several years. I show students the reality and teach them real operation. Our hotel in particular, the fact that we have two restaurants in the castle is a huge benefit. The first restaurant is really one of the top most luxurious (we have just won the Restaurant of the Year award, as well as the Hotel Restaurant of the Year) where we teach students the highest level of gastronomy. The second restaurant is typically a wine-oriented bar where the service is completely different from the hotel restaurant. So we do have very good places where dual eduaction takes place.

What is the feedback from students in relation to dual education?

We have received the feedback primarily from the parents. Let’s say, I am in close contact with the parents, even when I am submitting an online task for students, I put them on the cc list. Parents themselves can see that dual education is really a higher and better form of teaching.

What does dual education give you as an employer?

The best thing for us is that I have students here on a weekly basis and still the same people. It’s much better than having a different student in practical education every week or month. In this way, I can pay attention to the students as much as possible and for as long as possible during their four-year study.