Centre for Civic Education (CCE) conducted research that indicates the uneven investment of municipalities in the improvement of schooling conditions, with the aim of pointing out the need for stronger synergy of all actors in order to contribute to better working conditions within the formal education system in the territories of respective municipalities. According to the available data, the most funds for these purposes in the past two years were allocated by the municipality of Bar, and the only municipality from which it was not possible to obtain this data was the municipality of Budva.
For years, the CCE has pointed out the necessity of providing free books for all primary school students and monitored how Montenegrin municipalities participated to help in this regard, which mainly depended on the understanding and goodwill of the municipal authorities. Amendments to the Law on General Education and Upbringing, from 2021, finally stipulated the obligation that “every pupil has the right to free books for elementary school, at the expense of the state budget.“ That represents one step forward in the direction of ensuring full compliance with the constitutional norm on free primary education.
Although the obligation to provide free books was transferred to the competent Ministry, some of the municipalities provided certain funds for needs in education during one or both years, not anymore for books but for the maintenance of educational institutions in their territory or the purchase of school supplies.
According to the data collected by the CCE, in accordance with the provisions of the Free Access to Information Law, eight municipalities allocated funds to support pupils and educational institutions. In the 2021/22 school year, the municipality of Andrijevica allocated funds for free books for pupils who did not receive those books, and in the 2022/23 school year for the books for secondary school pupils, which amounted to a total of 7.641,99 EUR. The Municipality of Bar reallocated the funds for the purchase of books to the improvement of the working conditions in schools, hence investing a total of 50,000.00 EUR for the last two school years. The municipality of Berane allocated funds in both years for books for pupils of elementary music education in the total amount of 716,10 EUR. On the other hand, during the last two years, the municipality of Bijelo Polje allocated funds for school supplies for pupils up to the fourth grade of the elementary school in the total amount of 24.853,40 EUR, and the same was done by the municipality of Plav, which in this manner helped pupils with 6.253,96 EUR. Also, the municipality of Rožaje reallocated the funds planned for the purchase of books for the purchase of equipment for the pupils of the first grade of the elementary school of 9.057,00 EUR. The municipality of Danilovgrad provided vouchers for pupils in the amount of 20 EUR for the 2021/22 year, and 3.900,00 EUR were spent for these purposes, and the same principle was applied by the capital of Cetinje, which allocated funds in the form of vouchers of 40 EUR in 2021/ 22 and 50 EURO in 2022/23, which amounted to 15.108,40 EUR in total.
The remaining 15 municipalities (Gusinje, Herceg Novi, Kolašin, Kotor, Mojkovac, Nikšić, Petnjica, Plužine, Pljevlja, Šavnik, Tivat, Tuzi, Ulcinj, Žabljak, as well as the newly formed municipality of Zeta) and the Capital City of Podgorica did not submit data to the CCE that they had costs on this basis. In addition, the municipality of Budva did not respond to the request for free access to information or to numerous reminders regarding this issue, which is why the complaint was sent to the Agency for the Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information.
Those municipalities that invested funds for these purposes remained within the framework of the previous allocations, with a note that the number of those that reported items in the part of support to educational institutions in their territory is significantly lower.
Comparative experiences from the countries in the region and beyond point to three approaches to providing free education in primary schools for all pupils. The first is through the provision of free books to vulnerable groups, the second through the provision of textbooks to lower grades of primary schools, and the third through the provision of textbooks to all primary school pupils. For example, Croatia is providing books for elementary school pupils through the so-called “co-financing”, while Slovenia and Macedonia provide free books for elementary and partly high school pupils. In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, only vulnerable groups receive books, with the exception of the Republika Srpska, where books are provided for all pupils up to the fourth grade of elementary school, and in Banja Luka, where books are additionally provided locally for pupils up to the ninth grade. In Serbia, also, only vulnerable groups are entitled to free books, but there is a website Free Library – Alek Kavčić Foundation, which contains in electronic form all the books, reading material and other materials necessary for the education of elementary school pupils.
The CCE assesses that the municipalities, the Capital City and the Historical Capital in future budget planning should go towards planning funds for the provision of accessories or vouchers for elementary school pupils. In this manner, parents would be supported to equip their children for school, which is a big expense for many families, especially if they have more than one child.
Mira Popović Trstenjak, Democratization and Europeanization programme coordinator