Sequence of priorities for this year, reforms in favour of students

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Education is the most valuable investment in your life. It is never enough and never too late to learn something more. The concept of lifelong learning is making difference. The opportunities that exist today should be used for personal improvement and prosperity, but also for support and contribution to the socio economic development of the country.

Minister for Education and Science, Spiro Ristovski in weekend interview for Kurir sends this message to the people. He talks about major reforms in 2013, as well as for big steps planned for this year, that will raise Macedonian educational system to a higher scale of quality.

Kurir: You have started the 2013 as Minister of Labour and Social Policy and it ended up as Minister for Education and Science. Can you make a comparison of the complexity of these two areas?

Ristovski : There is no more or less complex area. Any portfolio that touches certain population, expects some benefit out of each decision, something to be improved, to facilitate process. It is very big commitment and responsibility. It is essential to have desire for work and vision, to act in areas where there is a need for greater concentration of activities and places where things are well positioned to maintain continuity. Of course, a good team, proper organization and efficiency, exploiting the available resources and experiences of strengths, and you will succeed in the goals.

Kurir: What is your opinion, what has marked the past year in the field of education?

Ristovski: In 2013 were implemented several major reforms, which arose the quality of the Macedonian educational system. For the first time was implemented external process of testing or checking up the student achievement and objectivity in the evaluation of teachers. Then, as a pilot project in two primary schools inSkopje, “Brakja Miladinovci” and “Kiril and Methodi” introduce international IB – program which completely rejected the classical way of teaching with black board. Reactions are positive, so that it is possible to expand this program in schools in other municipalities. I would mention the activities for the improvement of educational infrastructure. We opened 5 completely new school buildings in Aerodrom, Vevchani, Hrom, Chair and Arachinovo, six prefabricated schools, we have re-constructed 30 school buildings, 12 school gyms built and opened, and also helped the expansion of several higher education institutions – as UINT in Ohrid, the Veles Technology Faculty within the UGD and so on. Especially important is that we signed a contract with the International Center of Curricula within theCambridge, one of the leading universities in the world, for implementation at national level of the curricula and textbooks in mathematics and natural sciences with adjustment of national particularity. And it will be a great educational privilege for Macedonian students.Cambridgewill provide superiority of the Macedonian educational system and will be in the company of countries with one of the most modern and high quality educational systems worldwide.

Kurir: You mentioned external testing. There were numerous responses to its suspension, delay, change the model and the alike. However you have decided to implement it as it was intended.

Ristovski: External testing is one of the essential reforms, adopted in most of the Member States of the European Union, which checks the student achievement and objectivity in the teacher’s evaluation. It is the same process that my predecessors announced it several years ago, and it was tested two years ago. It was a period without any note, reaction, protest and it was announced that it will be part of our educational system in 2013.

Suddenly there were pressures through negative campaigns and activities, with political background which, unfortunately were accepted by small group of students who later, realized the essence of this reform. External testing is conducted successfully. There were unpredictable situations, but it is minimal for process involving nearly 200,000 students and 14,000 teachers and professors. However, we did not allow any student to be damaged, everyone got the deserved. Same happened with the teachers. Based on the gained experience, and suggestions of SONK with whom we have excellent cooperation as well as teachers, students and parents, we created system in which it is promoted. I am confident that the process will become routine, as was the case with the introduction of state graduation.

Kurir: You have announced changes in passing the state graduation exam. Mathematics is introduced as a compulsory subject. Do not you think that it can cause reactions and boycotts among students?

Ristovski: Mathematics will be introduced as a compulsory subject in external academic 2014/2015 for students in the secondary school and the 2015/2016 graduates of secondary vocational education. It means that we have a period of 2 or 3 years in which we will adapt and simplify the matter, will change the approach of teachers and students and will be well prepared. This year mathematics will be an external subject, but will remain optional, not obligatory. We decided to give more importance to mathematics and different perception, because it is matter which, as recently mentioned, is slightly visible, but very practical and effective in everyday life, especially important for young people who are determined for technical occupations. To remind you that this year will be introduces the concept of e – matriculation or electronic examination which was promised by the Government that at the end of this school year will be implemented.

Kurir: How do you assess the situation in higher education?

Ristovski: We have highly competitive education system, which is increasingly open to Macedonian citizens of all ages, and for students from other countries whose

interest grows from year to year. We opened new state universities, colleges and dispersed studies; we have excellent curricula that constantly expands and updats, studies in English language, quality professors from our countries and visiting professors from foreign universities, solid infrastructure conditions in which we are also investing in space, in equipping, availability of literature that is taught in the world’s top universities, numerous opportunities for scholarships, new Law on student standard, introduced real, not fictitious practical training for students and so on. Our main focus will still be, linking higher education with the needs of the labour market, with special emphasis on vocational education, because that’s the real necessity of employers, foreign and domestic companies. I’m not saying everything is perfect, but we are working on improving the situation in each segment. For example, in 2014, the priority will be reconstruction of dormitories.

Kurir: Worldwide, science is rapidly going forward. Do we have plan for development of the Macedonian research area?

Ristovski: Scientific research is an area which is increasingly paying attention. The funds are increasing in parallel with the increase of the Ministry’s budget, which from 2006 up to now is increased by more than 60 percents. I would mention some very important projects, the completion of the purchase of laboratories that have been equipped 80 laboratories of public higher education and research institutions in various scientific and application areas, in which so far, we have invested 1.6 billion MKD. And they have a very large application; they are used by students, business sector, and ultimately citizens. Additional incentives and support for scientific research is awarding grants or one-off funding for published research papers from the domestic authors in international scientific journals with an influence factor. It is kind of reward for efforts and incentives for continuity of commitment and motivation for all the other scientists who in the past or had the opportunity to publish personal articles in journals with impact factor. I would mention the support for the implementation of research projects, where the Ministry has so far paid approximately 40 million MKD. Also, we provide availability of journals with impact factor. More than 50,000 journals, 300,000 e- books, 100,000 biographies, over 140,000 documents, over 270,000 photos, maps, flags and other documents are available to teachers and students at state universities. We awarded creative subsidies, introduced for the first time in 2013, and intended for artists in the fields of art, drama, music, architecture, film and literature that representMacedoniaat prestigious events worldwide. We continuously strengthen the administrative capacity of public research institutions. For example, in 2013 the seven public research institutions received total of 29 new employments. We gave great support to NGOs that are engaged in scientific research. It is particularly important that the recently signed regional research and development strategy for innovation in the Western Balkans, and theRepublicofMacedoniajoined the initiative to strengthen cooperation between countries in the field of scientific research, development and innovation. The strategy provides number of initiatives and activities for exchanging ideas and experiences, in order to promote cooperation between the countries of the region and greater investment in science and innovation, and provides budget of 200 million euros. Some of these funds are earmarked for theRepublicofMacedonia.

Kurir: What is the priority for 2014?

Ristovski: We are strong focused on implementation of theCambridgeschool system, the investment activities in all segments, the successful implementation of external testing and new concept of state graduation. Of course, at any time we will not put on side any of the announced projects, for example the opening of the Academy Awards in Ohrid, as a kind of subsidiary of FAMU in Prague, expanding through the Sports Academy opening of dispersed classes in several municipalities, equipment for vocational schools with laboratories, reconstruction of dormitories. We will continue to provide free textbooks for all students, free transportation, counselling of parents and students who have certain problems in learning and behaviour at school. We have budget which is the largest to date and is approximately 22.4 billion and is expect full implementation of planned activities.

Minister Spiro Ristovski in an interview for Kurir to all citizens of theRepublicofMacedoniacongratulated the new 2014 and wished them good health, good mood, happiness and to be success in every field.

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