A new school year brings old problems for many students and parents in the region.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 12/09/12
About 15 percent of Romanian schools will not have a health permit this year, and some lack running water or sewage service. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]
As a new school year begins, officials throughout the Balkans say they recognise the many challenges facing the region's education programmes. In many cases, the problems can only be solved with a stronger economy.
In Serbia, the government invests 3 percent of its total gross national product in education, and as much as 95 percent of that is poured into salaries, Education Minister Zarko Obradovic told SETimes. Serbia has about 8,000 primary and secondary teachers to serve 900,000 students.
"With that kind of budget it is not easy to develop and enhance education in Serbia. We do not have many possibilities. I hope that the overall development and better economic situation in the country will eventually allow for more investing," Obradovic said.
He also said that Serbia should invest in better means of education and school equipment, and until the money for that is secured teaching programs should be developed and students should be provided with the best and most practical knowledge possible.
"In this school year, we have managed to ensure free textbooks for four generations of elementary school students, and that is our contribution to overcoming the economic crisis more easily," Obradovic said.
The underspending on facilities has become a significant problem, said Dragan Matijevic, head of the Teachers Union of Serbia.
"We are not happy with our salaries, but that is a much smaller problem than the generally disastrous state of education. In the 21st century, we have schools without toilets and gymnasiums," Matijevic told SETimes.
Romanian schools have similar problems with outdated facilities. About 15 percent of the nation's 21,200 educational institutions will not have a health permit this year, and have issues such as a lack of running water or sewage system, or the buildings are being refurbished, officials said.
"The school where my daughter Ana is going, the common school Vinju Mare looks the same for 50 years," Radu Tudor, parent of a child in Vinju Mare told SETimes. "There is a miracle that the desk where my daughter goes to school is not the same as that I learned when I went to the fifth grade."
Romanian Minister of Education Ecaterina Andronescu was blocked recently from visiting a 100-year-old rural school that was infested with fleas. The school has classes for 320 children.
A new school for the students has been under construction since 2008. Andronescu allocated 1.2 million lei (267,000 euros) to finish the project.
"I am outraged by those who failed to finish the new school and to move the kids from hundreds of years old school. Let's see how we can solve the problem," Andronescu told reporters, noting that the school is inhabited by dogs and cats.
Students in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) also face the issue of national segregation. The phenomenon of "two schools under one roof" means that children of different nationalities learn by completely separate school programmes.
Munevera Taskov, one of the professors that works in such school in Stolac, near Mostar, said that Bosniak and Croat children are entering the school by two separate entrances and that each studies their own education program.
"There are two playgrounds in the schoolyard, also two canteens for dining. This is a very ugly practice and everyone cannot wait to be finished. You can't blame teachers or parents for this, and especially not the children. Only politicians," Taskov told SETimes.
Official in Brussels warned BiH in 2002 to end segregated education, but at least 50 schools still separate students.
In early May this year, a Mostar-based court ruled that the "two schools under one roof" system in the towns of Stolac and Capljina violates Bosnian law against discrimination, and ordered the officials to establish mixed classrooms for Bosniak and Croat children by September. Education officials instead said the school would be integrated in two years.
"That means establishing one school bell and one entrance, joint school and after school activities will be planned, and the last step will be establishing multi-ethnic classes and unique books," Damir Masic, minister of education of Federation of BiH, told reporters.
In Macedonia, some schools lack funding, electricity or money for new textbooks. There have also been delays in receiving money from the government to fund the schools, Skopje Mayor Koce Trajanovski said.
Students are also segregated, said Emine Ismailova, whose child attends a primary school in Bitola.
"Children and young people are deeply divided along ethnic lines. They are divided into shifts, and now divided into different buildings," she said.
Despite the problems, Macedonia Education Minister Pance Kralev said that this is a record year for education investment.
"Bulk infrastructure works to improve the quality of schools everywhere in the country," Kralev said
SETimes correspondents Drazen Remekivic in Bosnia, Klaudia Lutovska in Skopje and Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest contributed to this report.