For better quality education, school resources must be increased and reorganised
Skopje, 6 July 2023: Increased investment and reorganisation of the school network can contribute to enhanced efficiency and improved quality of education, was the main conclusion of today’s international forum that brought together policymakers, experts, thought leaders and practitioners who engaged in a dialogue on lessons learned and key success factors from school network optimisation in European countries.
Organised by the Ministry of Education and Science, UNICEF and the World Bank, the Forum also provided knowledge and data to inform the ongoing work on optimization of the school network in North Macedonia.
An initiative to optimise the primary school network including reviewing the primary school funding formula is being considered in North Macedonia to respond to ongoing challenges in education. Ten pioneer municipalities are currently receiving support to prepare local optimisation plans, in close consultation with students, parents and teachers.
"The optimisation of the school network in cooperation with the municipalities is one of the priority activities of the Ministry of Education and Science," said the Minister of Education and Science Jeton Shaqiri. "Municipalities should not be worried about the optimisation, because we will work together to successfully implement this process. In cases when there is not a sufficient number of students due to declining birth rates or migration, we will consult the local community to identify how the unused school space can meet the needs of citizens for other social services."
“Increase in public funding for and investment in education is a precondition for enhancing the quality and inclusiveness of education for all children,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative. “We need to get more from the investments made in education and to accomplish this, we need to persist in curriculum reforms that ensure children acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for thriving in a modern society. Greater focus has to be placed on ensuring that resources are directed to the areas where improvements in teaching and learning outcomes can best be achieved. The funding system should ensure adequate resources for education in schools with multiple languages of instruction, as well as for children in social risk, including children with disabilities and those coming from poorer households,” emphasized DiGiovanni.
"We are currently working on finalizing the funding formula for primary and secondary education and on methodologies for optimisation of the school network in primary education. The main benefits that we can expect as a result are: 1) with the new funding formula, finances will follow the student and his needs, in a way that the most vulnerable students will be a priority; 2) stimulation and rewarding schools that work well and responsibly based on clear criteria 3) improved efficiency, which will free up more space for investments in the learning environment and support for teachers,” said Bojana Naceva, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank.
The country is facing a learning crisis, with students performing below the Western Balkan, EU and OECD averages. Sweeping demographic changes, including declining birth rates, migration and increasing urbanisation without major adjustments to the primary school network, have resulted in some schools having underutilized space and staff. In contrast, other schools are overcrowded and lack teachers, thus, having to organize classes in double shifts – likely impacting learning outcomes.
Such changes have led to inefficient and inequitable allocation of resources. Furthermore, a large majority of primary education expenditures go to cover the school staff salary costs, leaving insufficient funds for updating and keeping facilities in good condition and investing in modern equipment, innovative teaching and learning methods and staff professional development.
Increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the primary education school network, while ensuring equity in school access, has been a challenge for many countries.
To learn more about experiences in other European countries, participants engaged in a dialogue with experts from Portugal, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Bulgaria during three sessions dedicated to: optimal financing, ensuring better allocation and utilization of schools’ human resources for improved efficiency and quality, merging or expanding schools to respond to demographic changes, providing transport and welcoming environment for transferred students to schools offering better learning conditions.
The keynote speaker Mr. Luka Boeskens, OECD Policy Analyst shared information on re-organisation of school networks in a number of EU countries and how this has contributed to enhancing efficiency and improving education quality.
The first session was opened by the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Filip Nikoloski.
"Investment in education and human capital is an investment in the future and development of the state, it is the driving force in society, therefore the policies we implement, which are part of the overall reform process, are aimed at providing comprehensive, inclusive and integrated education that will enable future generations to acquire knowledge, skills and competences in accordance with the needs of a democratic multicultural society, the labor market and new challenges in the global scientific and technological environment," said Deputy Minister of Finance Filip Nikoloski and added that in order to implement the reforms the budget for education and block grants to municipalities are increased to respond to the transferred competences.
The other sessions were opened by the Minister of Local Government, Mr. Risto Penov, Head of Section Operations 2, from EU Delegation Mr. Alexandru Albu and President of the Association of Local Government Units (ZELS) and Mayor of Kisela Voda Mr. Orce Gjorgjievski.
The Minister of Local Self-Government, Risto Penov emphasized that the Government is ready and open for cooperation with municipalities, local self-government and the Community of Local Self-Government Units (ZELS) with a solution-oriented focus on the essence of the issue.
The President of the Community of Local Self-Government Units (ZELS) and Mayor of Kisela Voda Municipality, Orce Gjorgjievski, expressed hope that the current unrealistic and above all insufficient distribution of financial resources allocated to municipalities for primary education will finally be put to an end and that a more objective methodology will be applied, where the pre-determined amount of all costs per student is taken as the initial basis.
For more information see the Conference webpage and the policy brief “Are Schools Fit for Purpose?”.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.