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Ristovski: The reforms are the foundation for building knowledge-based society

The package of proposed reforms, is primarily stimulating, it refers to all segments of our education system and it is derived from a real need, recognized on the basis of a comprehensive analysis and construction of further route for building a society based on knowledge as well as a basis for the overall economic and social development of the country

Deputy Minister of Education, Spiro Ristovski, in an interview with the weekly magazine Republika talks about the needs of the education reform package, the manner of its implementation and the expectations. Ristovski also explains the arguments for introducing a state exam, responds to the accusations of violating the autonomy of universities and at the same time calls on everyone concerned to contribute to the successful implementation of the reforms by proposing ideas in order to improve the quality of education.

The Government is offering a rather comprehensive package of measures in the education system. Why so many novelties?

RISTOVSKI: The education is an area that must not suffer delays. Once the set quality standards must be continuously updated following the modern education trends. As a government we are extremely determined in that part because Macedonia is a country that does not abound with vast natural resources, oil fields or long sandy beaches, so we are limited when it comes to the performance on the global market. There we can only compete with the extent and the level of knowledge offered. We have no other alternative. The package of proposed reforms, is primarily stimulating, it refers to all segments of our education system and it is derived from a real need, recognized on the basis of a comprehensive analysis and construction of further route for building a society based on knowledge as well as a basis for the overall economic and social development of the country.

It seems that the changes mainly refer to the education of future teachers. Does that mean that is where the changes are most needed?

RISTOVSKI: The quality of the education system depends on several determinants. But, personally, I think that the biggest role is the human factor. When I talk about the human factor, primarily, I think of teachers, professors and professional staff at all educational levels. In the past period of time we often heard comments that do not always the best students enroll at pedagogical faculties. That some of them were students who failed to enroll at another university where they had applied before. We have witnessed that even after three application deadlines the quotas of these departments were not entirely filled. On the other hand, every day we hear criticism from students and parents about certain teachers, the bad manner of teaching, the lack of care and commitment to the children in their education. We have decided to thoroughly change such practice and findings. In this regard, we have prepared a new Law on Higher Education Establishments for the education of teachers in pre-school, primary and secondary education. It clearly defines the criteria for enrollment in pedagogical faculties, i.e. only students with an average of at least 4.00 in secondary education will be able to apply.

We offer a new unified study program developed by the best professors and experts in the field, with special emphasis on practical training, as well as application of the latest literature used in the highest-ranked pedagogical faculties in the world. The best students with an average of at least 8.00 during the studies, will get a scholarship in the amount of 50 percent of the average net salary in the country. Additionally, the law also precisely defines who can teach the theory and practice at these faculties.

Simultaneously, for the existing teachers in primary and secondary schools, we have prepared a new legislation, which also is stimulating and I believe that will encourage them to invest in themselves and thus contribute to raising the dignity of the teaching profession. The new law allows advancement in titles in a precise and open way, and a continuous professional development and career advancement.

What can be expected from the planned academy for teachers?

RISTOVSKI: The forming of a special educational institution, an Academy for teachers respectively, complements the reforms I mentioned earlier, in the context of creating teachers of better quality, but also improving the professional competence of the already engaged. Virtually, every student coming from teacher studies will have to have a license in order to be employed at school. The Academy will be the one to issue the licenses, which will guarantee a job to all students who will pass the enrollment exam and successfully pass the training program of a period of 8 to 12 months, which will be made by the Programme Council whose members will include teachers from the 50 highest-ranked universities in the world according to the Shanghai list. The lecturers at the academy will be top foreign and domestic professors from the corresponding field. Meanwhile, each candidate for training gets a monthly stipend, a kind of a salary, up to 100 percent of the amount of the average monthly net salary in the country, or about 21,000 denars. It is very important that the Academy will be open, as mentioned before, for the already employed teachers that if they apply for training and obtain a license, will receive higher monthly income by 3.000 denars. With this we also want to encourage them to get involved and upgrade themselves.

Many have found themselves affected by the allegations that the higher education institutions lack quality. What are the main arguments that confirm the fact that the education system needs serious reforms if we want the faculties to provide quality staff

RISTOVSKI: For us, as a government, the opinion of the business community is very important. Because the companies directly feel the advantages and disadvantages of the educational results. Practically, the largest employer in the country is quite clear that the labor market includes quality selection of staff which is not sufficient. Unfortunately, some of the graduates, when they are hired, show substantial lack of knowledge in the area they studied. And that points to the need for additional training and courses, which for the employer means lost time and additional cost. There are many other reasons, but this is essential. That’s why we’re suggesting these major changes.


Could you please explain them shortly?

RISTOVSKI: In short lines they can only be enumerated. They will be presented in detail at the public debates, which are ongoing and we will continue to realize them with the participation of all parties involved. In particular, what matters most is the proposition for introduction of four-year bachelor degree studies on all universities, because the three-year studies de facto produce too many unqualified and unprepared graduates, who have to resume their education, enrolling two-year postgraduate studies and will end up being overqualified on the labor market, thus reducing their chances to get a job. This is supplement by the obligatory state oral and written exam, aiming to promote students’ communication and expressing skills. Furthermore, the state exam is being introduced as a mechanism for systematic check and verification academic of the knowledge. We also suggest for an entry exam for foreign students for higher valorization of the diploma gained in our country. Amendments stipulate that only the five highest-ranked universities will be entitled to provide doctoral studies. The last amendment stipulates that university rector or dean can also be a foreign citizen.

Student’s Plenum accuses that reforms are being introduced in a violent manner, with no intention of a more serious debate. How do you plan to convince the concerned parties that their suggestions and remarks will be taken into serious consideration if they might contribute to increased quality of the educational system?

RISTOVSKI: Public debates have been initiated by the Macedonian Education and Science Ministry and the Government because we strongly wish to hear all constructive suggestions and ideas. It means a lot to us and believe me, every well-intentioned  suggestion will be seriously reviewed and taken into consideration when making the final decision. However, all those who have appeared in the public and declare themselves as an informal student’s organization have not yet provided us with no single idea, except for absolute destructiveness and refusal towards all that is being offered for improvements in students’ education. I am truly sorry they succumbed under political pressure and influence.

One of the main remarks is that the introduction of the state exam is an incursion into universities’ autonomy, that defining  forms and types of students’ knowledge revision is part of the university academic freedom. Did you consider this issue when preparing the project concept?

RISTOVSKI: The state exam will be administered by the Accreditation and Evaluation Board, comprised of university professors, a body that has thus far been in charge of higher education system control, approval of educational programmes, monitoring of their implementation etc. It will be submitted to certain personnel and structural changes aimed to provide appropriate response to obligation arising from the state exam concept. We must in no case speak of any incursion in universities’ autonomy. They will continue to independently create the education programmes, will continue to decide on the students’ grading system, will appoint their professors, deans and rectors. In my opinion, that assertion comes from some of the professors, supported by the political structures, which obviously have a problem with students gaining grades and diplomas in accordance with their actual knowledge. This reaction is due to the disturbance of professor’s comfort. Even in Visegrad Group countries, in Denmark, in Sweden, Australia and many other countries such knowledge revision model exists and it is nowhere considered to be an incursion of university autonomy. Only in our country it is being interpreted and defined in accordance with personal needs and interests of a certain group.

What kind of effects do you expect from the state exam?

RISTOVSKI: The state exam will provide unified knowledge for all students from both state and private universities. All students will be equal. We witness numerous speculation regarding easy ways to gain diplomas from certain faculties which are being proportional with the amount of money spent there instead of the acquired knowledge. Such diplomas harm the student who receives them, because without any elementary knowledge from their area of studies they could not possibly achieve further advancement. On the other hand, in the job-seeking struggle they also cause damage to students who invested tons of effort and painstakingly completed their higher education and have acquired real knowledge and expertise in their area of studies. Such injustice does exist and the government can not let it go unnoticed and sit and do nothing. That is why we have decided to go down this line. The idea is to make sure every student has gained at least the minimum amount of knowledge for grade 6 (out of 10), while the labor market will further assess the acquired skills and competences.

You are also working to put some order in selection of future elementary and high school principles. Are, perhaps, latest events of lack of oil and electricity in some of them, the reason for this novelty?

RISTOVSKI: It might seem so, but the Law on Training and Examination of Elementary and High school Principles has been planned for a long time now. The most important feature when selecting a principle back in the day used to be for that person to be strict, but criteria nowadays are much stricter. They must, above all, be good managers to be able to run and administer all school processes. This is exactly what the law will secure. First, high-quality training for every principle candidate, which will contain six modules: application of information and computer technology in the managing process; theory of organization; personnel; principle as pedagogical manager; legislation and finances. An exam for principle license is to follow. In the end, selection of the best personnel will be made, which will definitely be constantly upgraded in the future. Modern times require true managers.


By: Nenad Mircevski

Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski