Blogbox | Education

In the aftermath of PISA

By - 14.12.2016

We need to reflect on the problems in Kosovo’s education system and finally reform it for the better.

Kosovo students went through quite an ordeal in the 2015 International Students Assessment (PISA). “Who will help us?” “How do we get answers through our phones?” “How can we work together and copy?” All these thoughts have been installed in their heads since preschool, where they are taught that grass should only be colored in green — forget about using the imagination!

So dear citizens of Kosovo, before we compare our country to Singapore, which sits on top of the PISA rankings, and before we compare it to the other countries in the region, let’s compare these international results to the results of the country’s annual graduation evaluation.

In 2015, around 32,000 Kosovo students sat this national test, and around 17,000 of them passed it. This means that 53.9 percent of them were successful. Meanwhile, as part of the PISA assessment, level 2 is considered as the basic level of skills necessary for successful participation in economic and social life. Around 70 percent of Kosovar students did not manage to pass this basic level (in three fields: science, reading and math).

Now, as we face up to the PISA results, it is time to learn from the mistakes and not just to criticize them.

You might be concerned, but you should not be surprised. The quality of education has been suffering for some time now. However, few gave it much consideration and acted upon it — priority was largely given to political agendas, monumental events and developments, and rarely to this indispensable pillar of economic and social development.

Now, as we face up to the PISA results, it is time to learn from the mistakes and not just to criticize them. Let this be seen as a new era that pushed us to reflect upon the issues we must improve.

If you are looking for who to blame, then each and every one of us, whether we are an individual or institution, is guilty. That is to say, everyone but the students, for rarely were they consulted when institutions drafted strategies and laws. Our modern laws, borrowed from other developed and highly ranking PISA countries, were never truly meant to be implemented. That is because they fail to address the needs of the students, teachers, parents, leaders — and particularly the context.

These laws and strategies were never implemented because the responsible institution, the Education Inspectorate, did not play an active role. For example, when it would plan to visit and monitor schools, the schools’ administration would generally be tipped off in advance, and as such, no irregularities could be found. Also, municipal directorates for education, and national institutions such as the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and the Assembly of Kosovo’s education committee never managed to talk the same language. What mattered more was politics, even above developing education at the municipal or state levels.

As institutions, schools are also required to have other structures, such as school steering committees, parents’ councils and student councils, which are all expected to play an active role. At this point, the responsibility of parents should not be shrugged off either. Generally, their involvement vis-a-vis their child’s development and learning has only one goal: grades. They do not hold anyone accountable for the poor methodology used in these schools. Moreover, it is them who provide technological equipment to their children in order to allow them to copy with greater ease.

And of all the stakeholders, the teachers themselves are particularly important. Many are unqualified, old and with little capacity to update their skills. The teaching methodology is old, unattractive, biased, regressive and mechanical.

According to the “Stances of Students Council Regarding the Quality of Education in Kosovo” report published in November by the Kosovar Youth Council and the Student Council of Kosovo, the quality of education falls into three components. The first one deals with ‘Learning process and content.’ In this regard, the report finds that there is shortfall in school curricula, which do not provide solutions to practical problems and do not develop critical thinking. Many textbooks lack diversity of sources and are not updated. The Administrative Instruction on Assessment Standards, UA 33/2013, is not properly implemented: students are graded based on their behavior instead of their knowledge; students are graded for their mechanical learning which they fail to ground as knowledge, and above all, students are encouraged to fight for higher grades instead of proper learning. This is why their scores are low in international assessments.

Among other things, students who attend private courses organized by their teachers, especially those related to natural sciences and math, are given preferential treatment and higher grades. And while the organization of such courses is illegal, their continuation means that students are ‘buying’ their grades.

These results should be welcomed and should serve as motivation to improve from this point forward.

In the second component, ‘Learning environment,’ the report finds that Kosovo students learn in basic conditions. Schools do not provide the necessary infrastructure for practical development.  Most schools in the country have no laboratories where practical learning could take place. Even when such infrastructure is in place, students are not granted access to these premises with the justification that they might break school resources. Additionally, students do not feel safe in their schools. They often face violence and experience terrible health and safety conditions that hardly manage to provide for their well-being, an important component for stable development.

“Budget” as the third component is the most complex process that the Kosovar education system faces, and it does not correspond to the needs of education. The annual state budget allocation fails to address the issues that could contribute to increasing the quality of education; for example, the improvement of infrastructure, the organization of extracurricular activities, the provision of hygiene products and the covering of safety expenses in schools (in fact, the latter is paid for by the students themselves).

According to UA 33/2013, in order to implement a standardized system for determining school budgets — which are administered at the municipal level — schools are obliged to draft an annual financial plan, in which they should plan all expenses within a school year. Most schools draft their financial plans and submit them to their municipal education directorates, but these plans are formal and largely exist just on paper; they are rarely properly planned, and consequently create problems when it comes to implementation. In fact, according to the government’s education grant 2015-2017, 144,230,328 euros were planned with the sole objective of improving the education system, but to date, this investment has not been reflected in practice.

A poor education system has been in place since we’ve been a country, but it appears that our first participation in PISA might have had the effect of making us reflect upon this more. The debate is now open, therefore let us not close it down after just a few days. These results should be welcomed and should serve as motivation to improve from this point forward, but a week after the results were announced, no one should expect the situation to improve overnight.

We will not reach the top by 2018; that of course is not to be expected. However, each and every one of us should work consistently in order to make the quality of education a priority for the benefit of the country’s development, not just to achieve a higher ranking.

Our success as a country should not depend on results; reforms that target empowerment are needed in order to ensure continuous improvement in line with the needs of the modern world and global developments.

Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.