Eight NGOs supported the Initiative for systematic solution of teaching assistance, in order to provide more adequate status and conditions for education of children with disabilities and other categories of children under educational process, who are entitled to this service in accordance with the law, and thus for resolving the status of teaching assistants themselves, which was previously sent to the Government of Montenegro by Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro (AYDM).
The Association of Assistants, consisting of about 300 members, has repeatedly addressed the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports to resolve the problem, i.e. the position of teaching assistants, through several outstanding issues that have not been resolved for years, which appear to have been further pronounced in the years marked by COVID-19 epidemic. In addition to this organization, as stated, associations of parents of children with disabilities, but also AYDM have been advocating for years for a systematic solution of teaching assistance, while Human Rights Action has already addressed the Government of Montenegro in June this year and reminded the Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić of that.
The Initiative says that AYDM has repeatedly received information from school administrations, even the assistants themselves, and parents, claiming that one assistant assists to a larger number of pupils or that this type of service is not provided to the extent required by each student individually, which is inadequate and unacceptable because it violates the fundamental obligations of the state prescribed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which refers to individualized support measures, prescribed by Article 24 concerning education.
One of the issues, mentioned in the letter, is the years-of-service of teaching assistants, as well as the motivation for this type of engagement. Namely, terminating the engagement for a couple of months, by signing a contract for the duration of the school year, denies the possibility and the right of assistants to sign a permanent contract and thus get a permanent job. This is particularly problematic and unfair to assistants who have been engaged for a long time and who assist the same pupils for many years. Termination of their contract for two months and unpaid annual leave put themselves in a very inferior position compared to other categories of employees, not only in education, but also in other areas. We especially emphasize the problem of avoiding concluding permanent contracts with those who should have that right after three years of engagement, pursuant to Article 37 of the Labour Law, which was pointed out to us by several assistants. Namely, the contracts with assistants were “paused” only in July and August, which is less than 70 days and not considered a termination of a fixed-term employment contract according to the mentioned Article of the Law.
In this context, NGOs recall that the Council of Europe in a recent resolution to Montenegro recommended that “mediators are employed on secure, long-term contracts” (see Resolution CM/ResCMN(2021)14 on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Montenegro)
Furthermore, this year, teaching assistants from several educational institutions who have been working with children for many years addressed the public and stated that they did not get the opportunity to continue their engagement this year, while those educational institutions hired new assistants that, as it is stated, have no previous working experience in this position.
Frequent changes of assistants also affect the feeling and status of pupils, to whom any new adjustment and change, in the already challenging conditions of education, can be an additional obstacle to progress.
This functioning of assistance ultimately causes inadequate education and the fact that most of these children complete the process of primary and secondary education with a lower level of acquired knowledge, sometimes neglected and demotivated and/or de facto unable to continue their education, which is only one of the reasons why there are larger number of pupils in the system who remain at the level of secondary education, compared to the number of those who continue and have adequate preconditions for higher education.
The initiative was sent to the Government of Montenegro, not to the relevant Ministry for several reasons, and the key one is the announced Government reconstruction. If that happens, these NGOs expect that in the programme of the competent ministry for next year, without delay and regardless of its organization and structure, this priority will be highly positioned to be resolved.
The Initiative further states that no child should be a victim of structural, organizational, political or any changes, but all changes in the field of education must be in the interest of children. In this respect, “amendments to the Law on Education of Children with Special Educational Needs are necessary, not only in the context of teaching assistance but also numerous other issues, which should be addressed after a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the so-called inclusive education”, concludes the Initiative.
The initiative is supported by:
Human Rights Action (HRA)
Centre for Civic Education (CGO/CCE)
National Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Developmental Disabilities of Montenegro “NARDOS“
NGO “Children of Montenegro”
The Union of Blind of Montenegro