Problems in education must be in focus of the Government

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), on the occasion of the International Day of Education, indicates that education in Montenegro is not equally available to all pupils in the time of the COVID19 pandemic. Empirical data warn that the pandemic highlighted numerous problems and deepened discrimination amongst the children and the youth.

The UNICEF opinion poll, supported by the British Embassy in Montenegro, which included parents or guardians of the school-age children, indicates that they have extremely negative opinion about distance learning, and almost  3/4 of the parents who do not support distance learning state that children  are losing motivation and work habits. Additionally, almost 60% of those respondents consider that it has a bad influence on the socialisation of children, as they are distancing from their peers. It is indicative that more than a half of them think that the quality of education is low as compared to the traditional way of teaching, which is concerning having in mind previously bad results of PISA testing. Furthermore, many parents fighting for their existence neither can take enough time to help their children to master the coursework nor they can replace teachers, and they point out that the organisation of distance learning is not efficient. It is also unrealistic to expect from children of primary school-age to have that level of self-responsibility to overcome that. The problem of (un) availability of this type of education is one more to add, and the research gives the evidence that around 13 % of the children and the youth do not have a technique for online education available. If we start with the fact that primary education is attended by 68,000 pupils, and secondary by around 28,000 then we reach the number of app. 12,500 children in Montenegro who practically have no teaching because they lack basic means to fully attend it. This number should be a red alert for decision-makers when it comes to the state of size of Montenegro.

The pandemic has undoubtedly also hit teaching staff with the challenge of distance teaching without adequate preparation. That brought a huge load to many, most of which are parents themselves. We also have consequences in the announcement of the strike, as the legitimate and legal mean of getting better work conditions for all, including the teaching staff. No matter some promises have been made to teachers as a part of the pre-election campaign by previous ruling stucture, the CCE consider that tone of the Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, at the meeting with the management of schools,  was not appropriate, regardless of the fact that strike could be unpleasant for the new Government, the entire educational system and children who should be in the centre of that system. The Government has to find a way to address this question with much more sensibility and to acknowledge problems of teaching staff through the open dialogue with the teaching community  and with respect to their dignity and dignity of their profession. Children are back to school in limited conditions, and the mental endurance of all participants in the education process is questionable if this distance learning lasts, and teachers are an important link in it which should get the best possible support.

Consequences of deficiencies in education are to be reflected and hence, this area should be put among priorities of the Governments work. In that respect, it is a justified concern that merging of the competent Ministry with other portfolios has weakened the focus that education must have.

It is good that the new minister dismissed several, so far „protected“, directors, who were abusing the authority and whom the competent inspection, more than once, proposed for dismissal, and in some cases, their abuses were proven through criminal procedures and final verdicts. This especially refers to the dismissals of Radmila Backović, director of  PI “Dragan Kovačević” in Nikšić and  Veselin Pićurić, director of the High school for electro-technical studies “Vaso Aligrudić”. From those to whose illegal acts the CCE pointed at the meeting with the minister, Veljko Botica, director of Nautical school in Kotor, has not been dismissed yet. Also, there is the case of Gordana Klikovac, director of PS “Branko Božović” in Podgorica, whose diploma and competency for that function are disputed, and the case of controversial nomination and work of  Vuk Stanišić, director of  PI “Đina Vrbica” in Podgorica is well known to the public.

CCE points out that the list for dismissal of the directors against whom there are pieces of evidences of abuse of authority is not short, but that those dismissals need to be approached only when there are reasons prescribed by the law, and one of which is the undoubtedly negative report of the competent inspection. CCE will soon submit new motions against controversial directors with the evidence of abuse of function and party employing in educational institutions.

CCE believes that adequate ruling staff, which is not the result of party calculations, can help in developing the educational process, good relations among teachers and bringing education back to the place where it belongs in society. Hence, the CCE will continue standing for the amendments of legal framework so that directors would not be hire and fire by the ministers, but that school boards of educational institutions make those decisions. That is the only way to create conditiobs for the long-term depoliticization of the educational system.

UN Parliamentary Assembly proclaimed  24 January as the International Day of Education, as proposed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior legal advisor