Quality improvements and innovations boost education system reform in Montenegro
Accelerating education system reform
PODGORICA, 27 October 2015 - Accelerating education system reform in order to expand preschool attendance and inclusive education and improve quality, so that students are ready to cope with the challenges of the 21st century, will significantly contribute to Montenegro’s development.
This was concluded at the international conference "Quality, inclusion and innovations – foundations for the future“, fifth event organized since July 2014 in order to remind that success of the entire society depends on the quality of education at all levels and that initiatives related to this issue should be on top of Montenegro's development agenda.
The conference, organized by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, focused on three key challenges of Montenegro's education system today: learning social and emotional skills for the 21st century; providing quality inclusive education; and increasing access and improving quality of preschool education.
UNICEF Representative, Benjamin Perks, believes that the education sector reform is never a movement from one static position to another static position.
"It is a continuous effort to keep up with the pace of development and change in pedagogy and child psychology and child development, because this is an ever evolving field and globally we learn about it year by year. It is important to bring that knowledge to the heart of Montenegro, so that we can share it and learn from it and grow," Perks said.
"An improvement of the quality of education in general will not lead to the desired result if it does not start from the preschool education. The new strategy that the Ministry of Education is working on will give us a high quality response in relation to where we want preschool education to be in the next five-year period," Minister of Education Predrag Boskovic said.
The latest findings, in a report assessing the role of school in teaching positive values and virtues to students, indicate that children in Montenegro are not always developing the emotional and social skills needed for them to be successful in the 21st century society.
For this reason, the Bureau for Education, with support from UNICEF and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues of the University of Birmingham, launched an initiative in four pilot schools aimed at developing these 21st century skills through regular classes, using innovative teaching techniques and group-work to increase children’s self-confidence, curiosity and empathy.
The goal of our initiative is to make a very conscious, planned and targeted effort to bring this neglected function of school in the focus of attention, explained Andja Backovic, from the Bureau for Education.
"We want our students to develop important values and virtues in order to prepare them to successfully face everything that waits for them in their future studies, work, career and participation in society." Backovic said.
"We believe character, morals, values, virtues can be taught, and that there are a number of ways to do this. It can be taught as a specific subject, a discreet subject that fits within the school day, within the curriculum, or as the separate subjects called character, called citizenship, but also through the specific school subjects, such as science, history and so on," said Aidan Thompson, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues of the University of Birmingham.
The conference also focused on inclusive education, where both access and quality need to be improved. The main goal of the new strategy, said Tamara Milic from the Ministry of Education, is to provide children with special educational needs with access to education. “Access in terms of meeting one of the basic dimensions of the process of education, and that is fairness”, she added.
Preschool education was the third topic of the conference. Data from 2014 show that there are around 22,000 children between the age of 3 and 6 in Montenegro, of whom 52% are enrolled in preschool, but only about 40% attend it.
For this reason, UNICEF and the government recognized the need for urgent expansion of preschool education. They came up with long-term solutions related to introducing a free, three hour preschool preparatory programme, which will gradually enroll all children between the age of 3 and 6 over a five year period.
The director of the Research and Resource Centre for Early Childhood Education and Care at the Ghent University in Belgium, Jan Peeters, said that children, when they are very young and they go to the early childhood education, they form their attitudes towards learning there.
"And if they are boosted in this, they like learning, and, later, when they go to primary school, they will have a positive attitude towards learning." Peeters said.
The new preschool program in Montenegro will deliver the minimum of 600 hours of quality preschool education yearly to bridge the gap that exist among children in relation to their preparedness for primary school.
UNICEF Representative Benjamin Perks claimed that preschool education is not just about learning, it is the most important aspect in the battle against child poverty and intergenerational poverty.
"We know that one of the biggest costs to families living in poverty today in Montenegro is the educational development of their children. They are ten times less likely to go to preschool than those in the wealthy part of the population. And government has recognized this as an important part of the reform process. We hope you take further the ideas here discussed and take them back to your communities and your schools to really think about how we can continuously improve education of our children to ensure they have, what is after all their basic right, the optimum opportunities to succeed and develop and contribute to their society in the 21st century," Perks said.
Scientific studies worldwide show that quality preschool education leads to better educational achievements, adequate child development and reduction of the unemployment rate. Therefore, investments in preschool education are among the most cost-effective ones that can be made in order to improve lives of individuals and the country as a whole.