The Education of Macedonia – Interview with Ljubica Grozdanovska of BID Consulting, Macedonia

Macedonia needs new schools – not PCs!

Conducted: September 2007

Until recently and for five years, Ljubica Grozdanovska worked as a journalist in Macedonia’s best-selling daily newspaper, “Dnevnik”, covering issues on every level of education in the country. Three months ago, she became correspondent for the prestigious Czech e-zine Transition Online (TOL), again covering topics in education. Ljubica also works at the Faculty of Journalism in Skopje as a junior assistant. Recently, she co-founded “BID Consulting”, where she serves as a market analyst, business and PR consultant.

Q: Some observers say that education in Macedonia is being revolutionized – others that it is undergoing a chaotic upheaval. Can you identify for us the major changes (private education, financing, major legislation, etc.)?

LG: The extension of primary education to nine years, the provision of a PC to every student, the Law for Higher Education, and the construction of schools through public-private partnerships are some of the big projects in education announced by the current Government. However, their implementation in practice yielded varying outcomes, sometimes deviating from the expected ones.

The implementation of the concept of nine-year long primary education started on the first of September 2007. Consequently, two generations of pupils enrolled in the first grade: those five and a half years old and those seven years old. Parents were more than confused.

According to the revised Law of Primary Education, children who are going to be five years and eight months old by the end of the year have the right to enroll in first grade. Therefore, some children were forced to wait till the next school year just because they were going to reach the proper age only in January.

The Macedonian constitution doesn’t allow private elementary schools to be opened. Thus, parents can’t choose teachers. The school does it for them. Another irony of the model of the nine year long primary education is that the pupils who are seven years old this school year and are in the first grade, will, next year, skip the second grade and automatically go into the third.

In a situation in which many schools in the country have ruined roofs, no toilets, no secure electricity wiring, the Government last year announced a project “PC for every child”. Despite the grandiose announcement that computers will at first be installed in all high schools, at the beginning of this school year only three high schools were so lucky. By comparison, six or seven years ago, almost all the elementary and high schools in the country received a few PCs each: a donation from the Taiwanese Government. The equipment has soon become the target of robberies.

One of the major obstacles is that teachers – especially the elderly ones – are computer-illiterate. Another major problem is that in Macedonia, for a few years now, there is no model to measure the knowledge of students after they had finished elementary, or secondary school. Because of that, around 95 percent of the students that graduate from elementary education as well as from high schools, are straight A students. If this tendency continues, the predictions are that till 2010 all students in Macedonia will be straight A students.

3. Macedonia is a multi-ethnic country. How does its education system cope with this diversity (quotas, segregation, teaching in minority languages, etc.)?

LG: The constitutional right to study in one’s mother tongue (in Macedonia, students study in the Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish and Serbian languages) and the influence of the conflict in 2001 caused and still are causing segregation among students. If this right initiated the segregation, the conflict and the prejudices it gave rise to increased the division among students – between Macedonians and Albanians, and in the past two years, among Macedonian, Albanian and Roma students.

Parents are also guilty because they fear that their children are not safe in an environment which includes “others” and they pass on their fears to the children. This is especially obvious in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje and in the cities in the western part of the country, where the majority of the citizens are Albanian.

For example: if Macedonian and Albanian students attend lectures in the same school, they usually go in two shifts. There is segregation among teachers too, although they deny it in public.

Two years ago, the Ministry of education made changes in the history books. This caused the lecture model to be altered: Macedonian students learn about Macedonian national history, Albanian students – about Albanian national history. When time comes for the Albanian students to learn something about the Macedonian national history, then usually a Macedonian teacher does the teaching and vice-versa.

Since the last school year, there is also segregation among Macedonian and Roma pupils. For instance, a few weeks ago, nine mothers of Macedonian pupils refused to sign in their children into an elementary school in the city of Kumanovo because there were seven Roma pupils in that class. But, the pshychologist in the school and an NGO called “National Roma Center” managed to calm down the situation. This is not the only example. Roma students are being taught in the Macedonian language. There are no books nor teachers in the Roma language because their language is not recognized by the Macedonian Constitution.

In my opinion, the implementation of the teaching of religion in primary schools may cause the segregation among students to deepen. In this case, not only on an ethnic, but also on a religious basis. The Ministry of Education and Science plans to introduce the study of religion as a subject in the fifth grade and it gives two choices: pure religious teachings and the history of religions.

All studies and polls show that Muslims will probably choose pure religious teachings while Orthodox Christian pupils and others will opt for the history of world religions. The authorities don’t have a solution for the problem of ethnic and religion segregation among students. They may have some corrective projects in mind, for instance for Macedonian and Albanian students to study English together, but projects are time-limited by nature and definition.

4. Is the education system politicized? If so, in which ways, can you give some concrete examples?

LG:Way too politicized. A few days before the official start of the new school year, the mayor of one municipality in Skopje, who by the way is a member of the political party in power VMRO-DPMNE, expelled all the teachers whom he suspected of being members of the opposition party SDSM, thus allowing him to employ his own people.

The same thing is happening with school principals. As soon as there is a change of the political parties in power, the principals who are not with the “right” political orientation, who are not aligned with the newly formed Government, usually are afraid that they will lose their jobs.

Even more ironic is the fact that if they are not fired or changed, school principals are willing to praise the political party in power and to deny that they are members of the opposition party. In this case, they publicly extol the reforms that the Government is conducting.

Unfortunately, it usually is necessary to obtain a political party’s membership card just to be employed in the public sector, schools included. In September, the Ministry of Education is granting approval for new employment in the schools. Until the middle of September, only approvals for Albanian teachers are granted, while approvals for Macedonians are granted much later. This especially was the case in many towns in the western part of the country.

Political orientation usually determines even which schools are going to be renovated, and where new ones will be built. Unofficially, on the list of school buildings to be repaired there are more schools from the western part of Macedonia, where the majority of the population are ethnic Albanians. The State University in Tetovo for example was granted the status of a budget financed university because of political reasons: it’s an Albanian University. In Tetovo, by the way, there is one more university: the Southeastern Europe University. The fourth University, the one in Shtip, is also a political solution.

How difficult is an Early childhood education to pass.?

Early childhood education relates to the teaching of children whose age group is from birth to the age of eight. It is described as an important period in a child’s development. It refers to the development of a child’s personality.

Early childhood education is a professional designation earned by the teachers. According to Alvarado, it is an important period of a child’s life because this is the age when they learn how to interact and how to develop their interests that will remain throughout their lives. Someone who loves to be with children and enjoys working with children must build a career in early childhood education. The teacher can take the topics or subjects areas that fascinate individual students and expand on them, through in class or at home activities. This will help to develop the critical thinking skills of a child.

Early childhood education is a wide and varied process. A person can build his career in this field only

if she enjoys being with children. This program includes any type of educational program that serves children in the pre-school years and is designed to improve later school performance.

All programs in early childhood education are not equally effective in promoting the learning and development of young children. Long term benefits are seen in high-quality early childhood education programs.

The overall effectiveness of the childhood program depends on factors like quality staff, a proper environment, consistent scheduling, and parental involvement. An early childhood education program is not hard, but it is rewarding. Being, an educator of a pre-school is itself an investment. Teaching is not for everyone, and it takes a special person to teach especially when it comes to early childhood education. If you love kids, then definitely you are going to love this job and it is an enjoyable program for you. An early childhood education program is definitely not a difficult process, but it needs to be pursued dedicatedly and passionately.

Educators who love kids –
The early childhood education program is perfect for those who love being around children. It is very important for an educator to love her profession and the children. As school is always a second home for the students and teachers are considered to be the second mother. Hence, they need to provide proper care and affection to the children. It is important for an educator to understand, that they will have to spend a huge portion of their time on the job and will have to spend time with the kids. Hence, it is very important for them to feel refreshed rather than exhausted. They need to be joyful and playful. They must have the ability to listen to the children. Even though they are kids, they have numerous things to share. This is extremely important as when the kids pour their heart out, the elders should listen to them with proper interest. So, that the child doesn’t feel ignorant. An educator should help them in completing their tasks and assignments. A child must feel safe and secured in the arms of their teacher.

An educator needs to be confident –
An individual who is pursuing early childhood education must be confident in her leadership abilities. As an educator, she is the decision-maker of her class. Hence, if she faces any difficult situation they need to use their leadership skills to motivate, encourage and guide students in the right direction.

The teacher needs to be mature and must hold patience to deal with the situations. They must encourage the students to engage themselves in the learning process. The teacher must be prepared beforehand with the curriculum. She should have the skills to deal with the kids. There will be days when the tone of the classroom becomes hectic and as a teacher, you might feel exhausted. Instead of behaving in a negative way, she should deal with the situation patiently. As the behavior and the attitude of the teacher affects the environment and the people around her. Self-control and discipline begin with conscious and deliberate practice.

Must be communicative –
An educator of a preschool needs to be communicative. She needs to be an extrovert in nature. She must have the ability to deal with the mood swings of the kids. Just obtaining a degree in early childhood education is not enough. The teacher needs to understand how the young minds work and what effective strategies can be used to improve the ability to obtain and retain knowledge. The teacher must communicate in simple languages so that it is easily understood by the kids. The kids should be explained in their own ways. It should be kept in mind that kids do not understand adult languages or their way of speech. Hence, it is very important for the educators to talk to the kids in their way.

Being a good communicator the teacher needs to express herself. The teacher must meet the parents and explain to them the development of the child.

Willingness to share knowledge –
A teacher who is pursuing her career in early childhood education must have the urge to share her knowledge with others. They must communicate their thought directly to the children with the process of learning. They must use a multitude of different methods of teachings.

To become an effective teacher and to build a career in early childhood education one must have the urge to teach others and help them to learn. Now, this teaching should be in an interesting way. So that the child engages himself in the process of learning. Sharing leads to happiness. A world without sharing cannot be imagined. If knowledge would have been kept as a secret. Then no one could have imparted knowledge to each other. Thus, the process of teaching and learning would have been restricted at a certain point in time.

Understand the brain development of children –
Early childhood education encourages the teachers to read the minds of the kids. In the teacher training course, the educator is taught to understand the psychological needs of the kids. Since the kids of preschool are very young. Hence, we cannot expect them to express their emotions to us. They only know one gesture of expressing their emotions that is by shedding tears.

Hence, it is very important for the educator to understand the emotions of the kids. It is believed that an educator must not only have the skill to impart her knowledge to the kids but also to understand the importance of developing the minds of the students and prepare them for the future.

Since the children try to find their second mother in their teachers. Hence, she needs to be lovable and show affection towards the kids. So that they feel safe and secure.

Early childhood education is an asset –
Building up a career in early childhood education creates different job opportunities. There are people pursue these degrees and becomes a successful entrepreneur. Individuals who pursue a career in this field dedicate their teaching and knowledge to improve the minds and lives of the kids. This can help them to build the structure of their own child too. Whether you are currently a parent or may consider in the future, the knowledge of how their developing minds work and adapt to learn provides great advantages to the teachers. When it comes to interacting with and helping your own progeny grow.

In the 21st-century early childhood education is occupying a bigger space in building a career. All over the world, the population is increasing at a significant rate. As we proceed into the future, the number of children who need to learn will also increase. This means there will be a need for researchers, advisors, and teachers with expertise in early childhood education in the coming years. Hence, this program is extremely important for building careers and for upcoming generations.

Changes in the education process –
Early education is seeking to make improvements in society. It is a platform to rally for educational changes and improvements. Many individuals have pursued this degree to create many opportunities through civic organizations institutions of higher learning and government agencies to advocate for the educational reform needed to maximize the ability of all children to learn.

As early education system is student-oriented. It uses different technologies and updated methods for the teaching process. It helps the kids to get motivated and engage themselves in the learning process. The teacher should use various fun-loving methods to carry out the learning activities. This has helped to change the entire process of the education system.

Previously, it was only teacher-oriented. Where the teacher uses to impart knowledge at the same pace to every student. Hence, it seemed to be monotonous and boring. Often the students were found to be distracted. Thus, the modern education system has created interest in the minds of the students. It is the responsibility of the teachers to keep the process of teaching interesting and fun-loving.

Thus, what we have understood after going through certain factors of early childhood education is, it is not difficult to pass. But definitely, an individual who has a strong passion and willingness towards children can pursue a career in this field. They will definitely become successful in this field. People who are ready to take the challenge and enjoy the rewarding feeling of empowering young minds and make a lasting impression.