Two-thirds of 15-year-olds illiterate, education in free fall
The European Commission’s latest report on education, as well as PISA tests, indicate poor quality in the education system. Although last year the European Commission issued guidelines and recommendations for improving this segment, this year it makes a serious note – that nothing has been done. According to PISA test analyses, all countries in the region show an upward trend in education, except for our country
The analysis of “Reflector – Data under Light” shows that North Macedonia stands worst compared to countries in the region, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania in terms of reading according to PISA student test results. While other countries in the region are making progress, Macedonia is lagging behind. This was also pointed out by the European Commission in the latest Progress Report of the country which states that the introduction of detailed education strategy measures 2018-2025 remains limited and that none of last year’s recommendations have been implemented. It is therefore recommended to: – Implement a new strategic framework for education, in particular preschool education targets; increasing support for teacher training, teacher professional development and providing an effective assessment process; improving access to quality education for all, especially preschool children, children with disabilities and Roma children. The report further states that public spending on education, training, youth and sports in 2018 remained at 3.8 percent of GDP. The level of enrollment in early childhood education remains a concern. Only 30 percent of children attend licensed preschools, which is far from the EU’s 95 percent goal of education and training. Significant improvements in the quality of education are still necessary in primary and secondary education. It is estimated that 10 per cent of Roma children do not attend regular primary education. The quality of education is worrying at all levels and the system remains vulnerable to political influence and corruption – says a European Commission report. Concerning higher education, the Report focuses on the new Law on Higher Education, adopted a year ago, which states that a National Higher Education Council and Accreditation Board and a separate Higher Education Evaluation Board will be set up.
What are the PISA tests like?
Conducted PISA tests, which otherwise test 15-year-old students’ knowledge, in 2000 and 2015 showed a steady decline in results in comparison with other countries, well below the OECD average, more precisely the highest percentage of students from the country is below or at level 1, i.e. the weakest. Students are tested in several areas.
Mathematical literacy means the student’s ability to recognize and understand the role mathematics has in the world, to make well-founded decisions and to apply mathematics in ways that meet the needs of life. It practically means mathematical reasoning and the use of mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict a particular phenomenon. PISA mathematical literacy testing puts emphasis on solving real-life problems, going beyond what is usual for the classroom. It involves choosing the appropriate mathematical strategy and students need to think and use mathematical concepts and procedures acquired at school.
PISA’s area of reading comprehension, that is, literacy, means the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts and this concept needs to be continually upgraded. According to PISA research, functional literacy is acquired through a quality link between formal and non-formal education and the purpose of PISA testing is not to discover how much knowledge a student has in the form of memorized facts, but whether students can use that knowledge and how. Reading comprehension is defined as the ability of students to understand what they read, to use the text and think about it.
In testing the area of literacy in sciences students are expected to have not only knowledge of ideas, concepts and facts about nature and natural processes, but also knowledge of the procedures, methods and practices of scientific research. Students need not only to possess knowledge of an area but also to apply it in practice, to be able to recognize processes and phenomena in nature as well as to deal with the daily challenges of solving them. The explanation is that the field of sciences is not just for scientists but also for the common man and everyone nowadays should be able to think “as a scientist” i.e. to record and make conclusions, such as regarding healthy food, natural disasters, as well as mitigating the effects of global warming.
Klisarova: Our education system does not match the PISA test
Jadranka Klisarova, a long-time teacher at Blaze Koneski Elementary School in the Municipality of Aerodrom says that PISA tests are atypical for our education and therefore students perform poorly.
“PISA tests do not match our education system, they are atypical and therefore have such results, but that does not mean our children are illiterate. Our education has a completely different system from the one that is conducted with the PISA test. I think that test programs and trainings should be introduced first, because in this way there is some confusion”, says teacher Klisarova.
Bojana Naceva, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank office in the country says that PISA is the most influential international assessment mechanism that provides valuable data, but in our country criticisms and attitudes about PISA test results are mainly on social networks, and the Ministry of Education has no attitude.
“However, the main concern is not whether the education system in our country serves the children, but that Macedonia is ranked at the bottom of the table. Of course, that in itself is a concern, but what really needs to be worrying is that two-thirds of 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate on every subject tested”, Naceva says. She adds that many young people do not even have the basic skills thus hindering the future job prospects of young people and the country’s economic competitiveness. Our education system has been operating for decades in the dark, a system unable to help most students acquire basic skills. That is why, Naceva points out, we need an in-depth analysis of what activities and reforms are possible that are truly aimed at improving educational outcomes.
“All available expertise in the country needs to be mobilized to address these challenges, regardless of political or ethnic background. It is time to stop working in the dark, for starters, we need to learn what this data-rich system has to say about our education system and how to improve it”, Naceva says.
The state of the education system is poor and there are no curricula
To such assessments in the report, Professor Samoil Malchevski says the European Commission concludes that curriculum deficiencies are crucial to the lack of skills needed by companies and thus disrupt labor productivity and economic competitiveness.
“The Commission recommends us strengthening the management and efficiency of spending in the education sector in order to accelerate the modernization of education systems at all levels. From this we can conclude that the government has not done anything on education in the past 12 months, and so much was promised. To the most positive report and after it remains the fact that there are no reforms and unfortunately they have no capacity for reform. The situation in the Macedonian education system is very bad starting from the bad curricula in the so called. Cambridge, which is the biggest crime against Macedonian children, continuing with the lack of basic methodological didactic resources in schools etc”, criticizes Malchevski, adding that teachers’ salaries in primary and secondary education are also very low. According to him, the situation in higher education is also at a very low level, from lack of staff, programs that are not adapted to the needs of the labor market, to an enrollment policy that, he says, is based on the wishes of some powerful ones.
The Minister announces two new laws, how much will this improve education?
The Minister of Education Arber Ademi announced two new laws, which he said would soon be submitted to the Parliament, the draft law on primary education and the draft law on teachers and professional associates in primary and secondary education.
“We have two completely new laws, essential to the education system, now the Parliament is on the move. In the interest of the time, I expect the debate to start soon and after the discussion is fully exhausted, the laws to be adopted and enacted with the start of the new school year. The new draft law on primary education refers to improving the quality of teaching and the educational process in general, and gives more opportunities to students, especially those with special educational needs”, Ademi announced. He clarified that according to this draft law it is foreseen to organize students in the Community of Class and Student Parliament, reduce the number of students, which means one class will have from 20 to 30 children, inclusion of students with special needs in regular education from the academic year 2022 – 2023, introduction of expert teachers on the subject of sports, teacher career development, and the political influence on school boards to be eliminated.
But the resignation of Deputy Minister of Education Petar Atanasov speaks about the situation in education, and on his Facebook profile he then explained why he was leaving his post. He wrote that instead of raising the quality of education, in his 10-month career, he had faced rejection of reports and proposed measures to address problems in the education system, as well as inertia and slowness of educational institutions.
“Apart from the many and endless formalities in the work of the Ministry, nothing significant happened during this period. And what seems to be done is far from the needs of the system and does not change the overall situation. We do not realize the changes in education that we have foretold. At a public performance I have said that the red light should be on and if we keep up this pace, we can expect to reform education in 10 to 15 years”, Atanasov writes.
At the latest PISA test – Macedonian students among the last
At the last PISA test in 2015 of 72 countries our students were ranked 69th in reading comprehension and scientific literacy and 68th in mathematical literacy. The latest PISA test showed that about 70% of our students are at level 1 in math and reading, and about 63% of students in science are below or at level 1. Only 0.2% of students reached levels 5 and 6 in science and reading and 0.9% of mathematics.
PISA testing has showed that in terms of achievements in gymnasium and vocational education, students in vocational secondary education have 44 points lower results than those in gymnasiums. There are differences in performance whether they come from an urban or rural environment. Children from cities have 12 points more than those who study in villages. Also, students who previously attended kindergarten scored 50 points better than those without preschool education.
At the PISA testing in 2000, out of 41 participating countries, our students ranked 38th in reading comprehension and mathematical literacy, and 36th in science.