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Census Results Cause Concern

The Ministry of Education claims to be exerting ongoing efforts to reform education, but census results indicate the need for more work. The “Platform of the Eight Deans” proposes measures for immediate and significant improvements

The recent census has placed the spotlight on the state of education in Serbia, revealing a troubling disparity in educational achievements. Serbia has more citizens who’ve only completed primary education or no education at all than citizens who possess higher education qualifications. Specifically, more than six per cent of the population lack primary education and approximately 18 per cent have only completed primary school. PISA test results indicate that one in three fifteen-year-olds is functionally illiterate, while educational issues emerge as early as the fourth grade.

Concerns deepen as there are doubts over the apparent surge in highly educated individuals, with suspicions over the inflating of questionable or even illegal diplomas since 2011. Experts primarily attribute these negative indicators to inadequate educational policies and staffing decisions within institutions, including the Ministry of Education. Furthermore, Serbia’s budget spending on education as a share of GDP remains among the lowest in Europe.

Adding to the complexity is the perception that education and knowledge no longer guarantee social mobility and success, due to the emergence of alternative routes through political and social hierarchies. Particularly worrisome is the ongoing decline in the material and social status of teachers, rendering the teaching profession increasingly unrewarding.

The declining material and social status of teachers in Serbia contributes to an unrewarding teaching profession, which poses a significant challenge to the country’s education system

Addressing this crisis of education requires a multifaceted approach. Experts advocate in favour of increased funding, suggesting a rise from the current 3.5% of GDP to the European average of around five per cent. Improving the position of teachers is deemed critical, given the pressures, violence, unnecessary paperwork and below-average salaries that they currently endure.

A comprehensive societal debate on the type of education needed in Serbia has been called for, emphasising the importance of avoiding the hasty enacting of laws and reforms without broad public discourse. While the Ministry asserts that is has been exerting continuous efforts to reform education over the past two decades, the census results suggest that much more work is required.

In this context, the University of Belgrade’s “Platform of the Eight Deans”, featured in this special edition, is gaining recognition for its reasonable and optimistic message. The Platform identifies critical issues in the Serbian education system, highlighting the diminishing dignity of the teaching profession, financial hardships faced by teachers and a decline in the quality of education. It serves as a call to action, emphasising the urgent need to restore dignity to teachers through decent pay, protection and respect. The proposed measures are framed as being viable and capable of creating significant improvements in a relatively short period. This narrative underscores the crucial role of education in Serbia’s future and stresses the Platform’s commitment to immediate and effective solutions to preserve and enhance the education system.

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Comment by Zoran Panović

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