The cost of failing to make the learning crisis a national priority is high

Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative calls on all political leaders to make structural education reform a national cross-party priority

07 December 2023
Students raising hand in class
UNICEF North Macedonia/2019

Skopje, 7 December 2023:  “The country should be seriously alarmed by the latest results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which show regress in student learning outcomes in reading,  mathematics and science.

“The results show that three quarters (74%) of 15-year-old students in North Macedonia perform poorly in reading; while two out of three students show low-performance in mathematics (64%) and science (65%).

“The country has been experiencing a learning crisis for years. We always knew the pandemic exacerbated the learning crisis and that children in almost every country have fallen behind in their learning. The new PISA results now give the hard evidence to quantify how far back children in this country have fallen in their learning.

“These results need to be a serious concern for everyone in the country. The learning crisis is the result of decades of not adequately addressing the key structural challenges, a lack of continuity in reform processes across different governments, and not centering education on the real and individual needs of students. 

“Tackling the learning crisis is everyone responsibility.  The Parliament, Governement including Ministry of Education and also Ministry of Finance, municipalities, school management, teachers and parents all need to act now. We need all political parties to come together now and agree on a long-term commitment to address these long occurring issues now.

“Legislators in the Parliament need to recognize the urgency of the situation and prioritize reviewing the amendments to the Law on Primary Education. When reviewing the budget, the Parliament should consider requesting that the Ministry of Finance increase education funding to improve quality of education and bring the country’s public expenditures on education closer to the EU average of 4.9%.

“There is a new funding formula for primary education waiting to be adopted by the Government. The funding formula is designed to ensure municipalities have the resources to meet the fundamental needs of students and to improve the quality of the learning environment in schools. The Government should also prioritize the process of adoption of a new Law on Secondary Education aiming to enhance the quality and inclusiveness of secondary education.

Municipalities must work on consolidating their school network. Due to sweeping demographic changes marked by declining birth rates, migration and increased urbanization, some schools are overcrowded while others are underutilized, resulting sometimes in a situation where schools have more teachers than students.

“The school management plays a crucial role in ensuring an optimal learning environment for all students. Reducing school shifts to allow for additional hours of instruction and engage in extracurricular activities is critical. The practice of creating multiple smaller classes to accommodate the ever-increasing number of teachers needs to be replaced by engaging their surplus teachers to create additional learning opportunities for students that enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.  There should be a place for every teacher, but it should not be put before the best interest of students in school management decisions. Schools need to be child centered and focused on the individual needs, interest and abilities of every child.

Teachers must create opportunities for students to connect the theoretical knowledge with practical experience. For this to happen teachers must organize hands-on activities, experiments, projects and use the experiential learning to equip students with practical skills and deeper understanding of the subject matter. The quality of teaching and the effectiveness of the teachers are the most influential factors of the student performance. Thus, every teacher must have access to continuing professional development to stay up-to-date with the new pedagogical approaches and opportunity to enhance the teaching skills and practices.

Parents play pivotal role in supporting their children’s learning. They have a great impact on shaping their attitude towards learning and fostering academic achievements. Research show that parents who are involved in their child’s daily activities at home (e.g. reading, drawing, supervising their progress in school) and are active participants in their school life (e.g. communicating with teachers about their child’s learning progress and behavior, being engaged in school activities), these children have better school performance.

“Children have been lagging in reading, math, and science for way to long. Many are now young adults, entering the higher education or the workforce, where the gaps in their knowledge will be exposed and will come at a cost. This will have severe repercussions on current and future generations.

“The situation requires all to come together now. Children cannot wait. Education cannot wait any longer. Addressing the learning crisis must be a national priority. These losses not only have a negative impact on children today, but they will also impact children’s life outcomes and will hamper the economic development of the country for decades to come.

“North Macedonia’s aspirations to improve economic competitiveness and accelerate European Union integration are key to achieve a more secure, resilient, sustainable, and prosperous future for its citizens. These are important national priorities and achieving these goals greatly depends on building a healthy, highly skilled workforce and developing human capital. High-quality and equitable education is one of the most important areas to create new opportunities and improve the quality of life for today and future generations.

“Political leaders have recently come together to agree on the next elections. I call out to all political leaders to come together now to agree on a cross-party agenda to make education a priority. One that no party will be able to use for political points. One that will unite the country because it’s important for all children.

“Children deserve getting the quality education they need, now!  The country deserves to have sustainable socio-economic development and improved well-being of the country’s citizens - now! Making structural education reform a national cross-party priority with the sense of urgency is the only way to correct the situation.

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