For years, the problems in education have been the subject of debate in North Macedonia, along with the need for urgent but also efficient reforms in the education system. Throughout the past years, we have witnessed a series of such reforms and application of certain education models whose impact and success were never evaluated properly. The new conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the well-detected and long-established problems and brought to surface the additional shortcomings and flaws of the country’s education system. But at the same time, this experience during the COVID-19 global pandemic can be seized as an opportunity for revolution in education.
Problems and lesson learned
The parameters that were evaluated in education regrettably showed the reforms in the past to be unsuccessful and inefficient. For example, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests the practical application of knowledge in reading, mathematics, and natural science. Since the first test in 2000, Macedonian students continue to perform significantly below the overall average. Many studies that have tackled education, youth and employment, all concluded that education in the country fails to adequately prepare the youth for the labour market. This contributes to the high unemployment rate among youth which has prevailed in the country for years.
Because of the lack of reliable data on young people, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Skopje released ground-breaking reports on the experiences and attitudes of youth in North Macedonia in different realms of life (first edition in 2013 and second edition in 2018/2019). The data published in the second edition show that only 20.8 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with the education system. 70 per cent of the respondents were particularly dissatisfied with the compatibility of curricula with the needs of the labour market and only 16 per cent think that it will be easy to find a job after completing school, pointing to several major problems in this area: no opportunities for practical work, independent work and development of critical thinking.
The new conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic not only revealed the existing problems but also offered teaching staff guidance on how to overcome them. This is the case because the unexpected suspension of classroom teaching faced all stakeholders with the necessity to be creative, to seek innovative teaching approaches and non-conventional methods of transferring and imparting knowledge and skills. This is something that, in essence, ought to be an imperative in normal circumstances as well.
Urgent modernizing of curricula and their harmonizing with labour market needs as an answer for the new demands after COVID-19
We can generally conclude that there is a systemic problem in education that has been dragging on for years, and to which solutions exist but entail great commitment and eagerness for cooperation among all factors and stakeholders. We are aware that such changes take time, but the world post COVID-19, facing economic losses and rise of unemployment, shall require a lot more. Those changes should start with modernizing and digitalizing educational programmes. With the objective of increasing chances of finding a job, curricula should be revisited and harmonized with labour market needs. The schools must strengthen their technical capacities, and the government must provide the schools with equipment needed for teaching process. Regular staff training will keep the teachers up to date with modern trends in the profession, and students should be familiar with the possibilities of opening their own business and the opportunities offered by the Innovations Fund.
This summer, North Macedonia is preparing for elections. The citizens will expect the new government to make the educational reforms a top priority and after experiencing the education in pandemic the pressure for these reforms will be real. Because going back to education as usual would be short-sighted and self-destructive.
Nita Starova has been working as a Project Coordinator in the FES Office in Skopje, North Macedonia since 2008. She is also a PhD Candidate in International Relations at the University of Skopje.
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