Continuously marginalized education

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), on the occasion of the International Education Day, marked on 24 January, reminds that for decades, the education system remains outside the focus of the Montenegrin governments, which have not demonstrated the political will to prioritize and qualitatively strengthen this important sector. This fact remains unchanged even after the change of the previous decades-long government, as supported by many unfulfilled promises made in the exposes of the last three Governments for the education sector.

Zdravko Krivokapić’s expose promised, in principle, the improvement of the quality of education, but by placing education in the cumbersome and dysfunctional Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, from the beginning, it indicated the the Government’s poor approach to this sector. Although he emphasized “potential of talents”, in practice, the previous Fund for Talent Support was rendered meaningless by the change of the General Law on Education, as the method of allocating and controlling funds and was not determined. This left room for manipulation and to this day, it is unknown how much funding has been allocated from the budget for donations, sponsorships, legacies, etc. in the last three years in that Fund. In addition, in the expose was promised “a dedication to persons with disabilities and other persons with special educational needs”, but this was not accompanied by an adequate resolution of the problem.

Furthermore, in the expose was promised that they will “prepare and implement activities for the improvement of the competence of teachers engaged in all levels of education – from preschool to university – having as a basis for this activity the standards of the teaching profession,” which did not materialize. Also, Krivokapić’s position in the expose that “only those who have knowledge, can today be verified on the market and valued, regardless of whether he is in Montenegro or anywhere outside it” contradicts the records of educational inspectors during his term of office. In this period, we also witnessed an unprecedented wave of illegal dismissal of heads of educational institutions, and the announced reform of the education system in terms of focusing on critical and creative thinking was also forgotten.

Krivokapić’s expose promised “depoliticization and the return of autonomy to the University of Montenegro”, but in practice only the replacement of political actors was carried out through the leadership, primarily of the Managing Board, which had a direct reflection on the selection of a suitable rector, so UoM remains far from autonomy. There has been no announced amendment to the Law on Higher Education or the Statute of UoM, but salaries at UoM have increased enormously.

Dritan Abazović’s expose brought the promise of some more realistic activities in the education system. So, the 43rd Government quantitative fulfilled the promise that “management of educational institutions belongs to school/management boards”, which was not the case before. However, important promises remained unfulfilled about “meritocracy and transparency in the selection of directors and management structures of educational institutions”, given the way representatives of the Ministry of Education in school boards were appointed. These appointments were mostly based on political, religious suitability or some other particular interest. This directly exerts political influence in school boards in the appointment and dismissal of directors, resulting in further collapse of the education system and relationship within the teaching staff.

The promised “Analysis of the education sector 2015 – 2020” was carried out, with the support of UNICEF, which revealed a devastating picture of the situation in the education sector, but it was not accompanied by an urgent and prioritized multi-year plan for the education sector, as promised in the expose. “Strong investment in school infrastructure” was also omitted, even though solving those infrastructure issues is one of the most urgent, along with increasing the necessary teaching staff, especially those in deficit occupations. The Government of Abazović did not even establish inter-institutional cooperation with the inspection services and often ignored proposals for the dismissal of certain heads of public education institutions sent to the Minister of Education by the Directorate for Inspection Affairs.

In addition, the promise that the Government “will strive to target the biggest challenge in this area, and through strategic planning will try to strengthen the functionality of the education system. A system based on knowledge, expertise, and functionality…” was not followed by any mechanisms to verify knowledge according to staff who obtained diplomas from controversial private educational institutions in the region, and the media often reported on teachers who taught without adequate professional qualifications but with political protection.

The establishment of the promised “best practices in the domain of inclusive education, especially for children with disabilities and children from the Roma population, to be continued and improved, so that education is equally accessible to every child”, was not realized.

Milojko Spajić’s expose takes parts from the “Analysis of the Education Sector 2015 – 2020”, which are followed by ambitious general long-term goals with the promise of a stable policy of promotion and improvement of the previous authorities’ performance, but without clear activities and performance indicators. With poor infrastructure and unqualified staff, it is challenging to achieve the goal of the 44th Government “to build a modern, efficient and inclusive education system in the coming period”, and there is no mention of any of the mechanisms for achieving this complex goal. There is no mention of the growing problem of peer violence in public educational institutions or models to combat it.

In the expose, Spajić also promised that he would “affirm the advancement and improvement of the teaching staff, with constant concern for the economic and social position of educators, which will restore dignity to the teaching profession and motivate the best young people to opt for it”. However, the Government’s first steps, including the suspended salary increase in education provided for in the General Collective Agreement, which was supposed to be planned in the Budget for 2024, nullify that promise.

The review of these documents was conducted through the CCE’s programme, supported by the Core Grant regional project SMART Balkans – Civil Society for a Connected Western Balkans, implemented by the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPM), and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior Legal Advisor