Is the Serbian Primary School System Broken?
By: Li Novak
Belgrade, Nov.16, 2009 (Serbia Today) - As Serbia makes strides forward in reforming its education system to prepare with integration with Europe, the dysfunction in the primary school system looms its head as a significant barrier to progress.
Individual teachers singlehandedly presiding over classrooms of as many as 40 students with no resources at their disposal are unable to properly prepare and supervise primary school children for the educational challenges in secondary school and beyond.
The Serbian primary school model has significant gaps, such as the need to design a new curriculum matching European educational standards, and retooling outdated educational facilities, but those inside the system point out that low pay to teachers is one of the greatest barriers to progress.
In spite of the many years spent completing degrees in higher education, teachers in primary schools have low salaries. Low pay has been sighted as the single reason behind their low job motivation.
“Hidden Poverty” is the title of the recently done study by Blanka Bogunovic and Ivana Stankovic from the Institute for Pedagogical Researches. A total of 141 teachers from high schools and primary schools, from the various Serbian towns, have participated in this research. Participants confirmed that the difficult economic status of educational workers has influence on their personal life and on their job motivation.
Many school teachers are forced to do extra jobs to make extra money or to keep the schools functioning. In primary schools, a teacher’s full monthly salary is approximately 40,000 RSD (EUR 400). This pay is barely enough to cover rising living expenses in Serbia. Travel, concerts, cultural events and the other traditional diversions associated with middleclass life are simply not a possibility for Serbia’s primary school teachers. Teachers ask themselves how could they be role models to their pupils, if they come to work in the old clothes, frustrated and dissatisfied?
Teachers from several Belgrade primary schools told SerbiaToday that in addition to issues over low pay that systematically lax disciplinary standards has created a growing sense of anarchy in the class rooms. Behavior which is legally determined as “indecent behavior to the teachers or other pupils”, results in a short detention for the violating students which does nothing to deter future infractions. In practice, this means that certain pupil may constantly disturb classes, he may swear, insult teachers or other pupils, argue, make noise and there is no adequate legal means for the teacher to sufficient corrective measures.
There are efforts to improve awareness of student conduct in schools, but because of the ineffectual after school detentions, there is still lot of verbal aggression. Teachers report significant numbers of students with problematic behavior, due to the trauma the last 20 years in Serbia has caused to the society as a whole.
Many primary school teachers are in constant fear from the ongoing cost saving measures and reorganization in Serbia’s primary schools. The current process called “rationalization” has already begun, yet the Ministry of Education is keeping some of the aspects of the program under a veil of secrecy.
There is a possibility that some schools should cut the number of classes, and concentrate pupils from smaller class rooms into one class, according to the rules of rationalization. Some small schools will be conjoined with bigger school’s. Many teachers are afraid of being fired or sent into the early pension, as a result of the reforms, and express concern that the current economic crisis may deepen the cuts that are already planned.
In some cases, outdated curriculum is unable to get the interest of the student. Serbian language teachers are complaining the choice of texts hasn’t been fully changed for many years, yet the pupil’s way of living and their interests have changed dramatically. The school program isn’t flexible enough to include current literature that is successfully reaching children outside of school. Texts including poems about war in the beginning of sixth grade, may have been appropriate in forging Yugoslavian identity, or in raising national allegiance during the wars of the 90’s, but children in primary school today have a different set of needs, which are not being met by the outdated model in place.
In big school’s colletives, it is not uncommon for “clans” to be formed in the administration. Some influential members of collective form some a clan with the goal of imposing their own ideas and opinions in the classroom. This type of dynamic may have been acceptable under the older socialist model of operation, but there is no place for such politics in an educational system that needs to make large improvements quickly.
Most of the reforms implemented by the Ministry of Education have been focused on administrational of schools, disregarding other issues. These reforms have made secondary school teacher’s job more difficult by talking away more time from children so that they can fill out forms and reports.
The only reforms that will actually improve education need to be centered around school life and not on administration. The trust and the respect between the teachers and the pupils should be renewed and established again with a disciplinary system that is strict enough to decrease misbehavior. The school programs more relevant and interesting. Freedom is important for the children’s development, but not absolute freedom; pupils must be reminded on their obligations, not just their rights.
The classrooms doors should be open not only for the inspectors and educational advisors, but also for support from the community and school administration.