SCHOOLS: Computers bought, ceilings collapsing
From 2006 to 2014 the Government invested 35.7 million Euros in construction, restoration and re-construction of primary schools. This amount is slightly less than the amount spent for the purchase of computers from the project
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author: Natasa Stojanovska
Schools have not yet repaired the damages from theft and broken computers that were part of the project “A Computer for Every Child” and already there is an announcement of another major computerization. The ruling VMRO-DPMNE in the pre-election campaign announced that it would purchase new 300,000 tablet-computers for primary and secondary education students with an explanation that it would continue teaching modernization. But according to statistics, for the past seven years there have been about 2,800 stolen computers and computer equipment in 400 primary and 38 secondary schools. For these reasons, some computers are still kept under lock and key and in municipalities and schools they complain about not having enough money to maintain toilets let alone insurance of computers delivered.
Even seven years after the largest investment in education, as the government called the controversial computerization of schools, there is still no account on how much money has been spent and what the effect of this project is. Instead, a new purchase of tablet computers is announced at a time when the ruling party recognizes the need for reconstruction of 200 schools
Two hundred schools are currently awaiting renovation, and some of them have began to crack and even become a health hazard to students, as was the example of the secondary chemical school “Maria Curie-Sklodowska” where part of the ceiling fell down on a student.
In such circumstances, schools should welcome the new tablets that will be distributed to all schools, although computerization as a phase is completed in all buildings. The announcement of the tablet computers further increases dilemmas why the new computerization is necessary as only recently computers for schools have been purchased, and despite the idea, are not used everywhere.
So far no one has revealed how much money the project will cost and when its realization will start. In 2015 budget, in the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Information society no money is projected for this purpose.
The goal of the new project, as announced, is to continue modernization of teaching pupils in primary and secondary education.
“In order to follow and apply the latest information – communication technology in education, the program of the Government for the next 4 years provides a project for the purchase of 300,000 tablet computers which will be implemented in phases, first for students in secondary education, then for students from 6th to 9th grade in elementary school and ultimately for students from 1st to 5th grade in elementary school. Also, through this project, the Ministry of Education and Science will continue with the purchase of interactive whiteboards for primary and secondary schools”- they say from the Ministry of Education and Science.
On the other hand, in the election program of VMRO-DPMNE this year it is indicated that a large number of schools need reconstruction and therefore those schools are listed in the program.
“Even 48 schools with a total of 31 thousand students wait for replacement of roofs. Then, 59 schools with a total of 44,929 students wait for replacement of sanitary facilities, 35 schools with a total of 14,636 students are in need of heating repairs and 39 schools with a total of 130,156 students wait for replacement of windows and 19 schools with 16,499 students wait for replacement of floors”, it is said in the electoral program of VMRO-DPMNE.
But in the electoral program of VMRO-DPMNE it was also stated that they, as a ruling party, from 2006 to 2014 invested 35.7 million Euros in construction, renovation and reconstruction of primary schools. This amount, which, as stated, was invested in schools for a period of eight years, is something less than the amount, according to estimates, spent on the purchase of computers from the project “A Computer for Every Child”, implemented in a period of three years. Despite sharp public criticism that in a situation when schools are ruined, the purchase of computers is only a makeup that does not reflect reality, however, for the Government, it is a project that is in the interest of the educational process.
Five thefts in a month
The project “A Computer for Every Child” is one of the biggest investments to increase the efficiency and quality of education in RM through which 17,818 personal computers, 98,710 LCD monitors, 98,710 keyboards and mice and 80,892 thin-clients for primary and secondary schools in Macedonia have been provided. The purpose of this project is to increase the usage of computers and internet thus significantly improving information-technology skills of students and their teachers, through the possibility for faster and easy access to educational digital content and information of the global internet network”, they explain from the Ministry of Education and Science. They emphasize that computers have been delivered to all primary and secondary schools.
“Ministry of Education and Science, on the basis of public procurement conducted in 2008, carried out distribution of computer equipment in all secondary schools and 45% of the total requirements of the primary schools, based on data provided by schools for the number of students in that period. Also, based on public procurement, Ministry of Information Society equipped the remaining 55% of primary schools so the distribution has been completed”, they say from the Ministry of Education.
However, Ministry of Education has not provided a list how many computers have been separately delivered in every school in the country. On the contrary, principals say that not every student has received a computer.
“Even six years ago, when computers arrived, they were not enough. We received 220 computers, and we have about 900 students. Even then there was not a computer for each child. Since then, some of them have broken down, some of them are unusable for various reasons. We keep them away. There have been thefts. So now we do not have that figure of 220 computers. During the external testing, we took a computer by computer from each classroom, so we could equip four cabinets for testing. In my estimation, those we have, work for about 20 percent of children. Right now I am checking the situation with computers to have full insight”, said Kjamuran Kaci, director of the primary school “Vasil Glavinov” in Cair.
Where have most computers been stolen?
There have been five thefts in a month, on average, since the computers were brought in the schools. Thefts almost always occurred at night, when in the schools there was neither staff, nor security. Schools in Skopje were the most common target for thieves.
According to data collected by SCOOP Macedonia in the period from 2007 to the first six months of this year, in Macedonia there was a total of 438 robberies and thefts of computers and computer equipment from 400 elementary and 38 secondary schools.
Most of the thefts or nearly half were in Skopje-213, then in Tetovo, Kumanovo, Ohrid, Stip, Bitola and Veles.
Desktops and laptop computers, printers and keyboards were stolen. Everything which was within the reach of thieves. For seven years from the schools they have stolen 1,922 laptop computers, 872 computers and greater amount of computer equipment (monitors, printers, keyboards, mice, chargers, boxes for connecting computers, etc.).
Of the total number of registered thefts, the Ministry of Interior has so far managed to solve 104. However, the Ministry has no information about the number of damages done with these thefts.
Computers still kept under lock and key
Some of the professors in the country believe that despite the efforts to demonstrate that the project “A Computer for Every Child” has been successfully implemented in all schools and that everything is fine, real situations are not like that. Elizabeta Sekirarska, professor in Kumanovo school “Pero Nakov”, says that this school is just one example that the project is a failed investment, for which vast sums of money were spent.
“In my school, the project was eventually reduced to 8 cabinets equipped with computers, kept under lock and key and used by teachers as needed (usually for the subject Practical Training in year 4). These cabinets are used by other teachers when it fits into the current preparation for teaching. In other classrooms computers have been removed due to destruction by the students or because of dilapidation and lack of maintenance”, says Professor Elizabeta Sekirarska.
With similar attitude is the former Minister of Education Nenad Novkovski, who believes that the said project is one of the long series of activities aimed at computerization of educational institutions. In addition, he states that the project has been the largest mass purchase of computers for educational institutions in our country so far and one of the largest investments in education, but unfortunately, three basic principles have not been obeyed in the concept of these activities.
“Firstly, the optimal use is not taken into consideration. This is not a disadvantage only in terms of economic rationality, but from a pedagogical aspect. Namely, through all activities conducted in schools, students should gain a clear idea of how funds should be used most properly. Secondly, it violates the principle of sustainability. For such a system to function efficiently, it is necessary to maintain it constantly and update the parts. Taking into account that computers’ life is short and obsolescence rapid, continuous upgrade and replacement of some equipment should be provided. Thirdly, it is not considered that anticipated solutions should be upgradable. In the course of time it should be modernized, without removing the whole system. At the same time, this ensures continuity of knowledge provided with training”, said former Minister of Education Nenad Novkovski.
Both Sekirarska and Novkovski consider that the project has not given the expected results, but warn that now the same mistake must not be repeated with the new announcement of the purchase of tablet computers for schools.
“The project was implemented without serious preparation, support and defined purpose and the effect is absent. From contacts with colleagues in other schools and towns, unfortunately the situation is the same. I fear that the new project “A Tablet for Every Child” will suffer the same fate, because for now I see no basis for applicability of tablets in the classroom – neither didactic nor pedagogical, said Sekirarska.
Novkovski suggests that the announced purchase of tablets further testifies to not taking into account the continuity of development.
Penalties for principals but schools do not have money for maintenance of computers
In the period computers were delivered in schools until the middle of this year, the Ministry of Education and Science initiated 159 misdemeanor and 15 criminal charges for principals or teachers for damaging and not using computers in the classroom.
“Due to theft or other unethical behavior towards computers 73 principals have been fined, whereas 54 principals and 47 teachers have been fined for not using the computers that are part of the project “A Computer for Every Child” since the project realization to date”, it is said in the written notification of the Ministry of Education and Science to SCOOP-Macedonia.
According to the information, last year the State Education Inspectorate made 838 controls in several schools, and it passed 33 decisions to remove deficiencies, 88 references to education and 2 complaints to court.
For computers to be operational, administrators are appointed, employed in the Ministry of Information Society and Administration, serving to municipalities, or intervening where necessary. Problems are mostly in the rural areas, where due to poor intake or power failure comes to a disorder of computer systems. But in the Ministry they do not know the number of computers that are not in operation, that is variable, because, they say, if there is any problem in functionality, after a complaint by the appropriate school, administrators intervene and remove any flaws.
However, the line ministry emphasizes that computers of this project have been handed in possession of schools or municipalities and the City of Skopje, and they are responsible for their maintenance, insurance, damage repair and replacement with new computers. Some principals complain that maintaining computers is difficult in a situation when budgets are not sufficient to renovate the toilets where students go or leaking roofs.
“After many years since the implementation of the project “A Computer for Every Child ‘, our schools are still spending huge funds for computer maintenance. In this time of poverty, it would be better to spend money on improving the infrastructure for better conditions for our children, better school yards and more playgrounds”, says Leonid Tancev, director of the elementary school “Vidoe Podgorec” in Strumica.