From: Stivi Canka
Comment: Reforming the Albanian Education System

By now, it has become crystal clear that Albania severely lacks human capital. Despite efforts made by the Rama administration, over half of Albanian 15-year-olds and around 64,000 adults are functionally illiterate, all this while 14,000 – 15,000 children are out of school. What is more, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an OECD instrument that measures the performance of 15-year-olds across different subjects, Albania ranks 61st, among the 79 countries that participated in the 2018 testing.

Things have to change, and fast. That is why it is high time that the government initiated effective policies that will improve the quality of the primary and secondary education in Albania.

Improving Pedagogical Quality
There is one simple reason why the current government is constantly missing the point when it comes to the way that it approaches education: teachers. Even though millions of dollars have been invested in improving the technological infrastructure of schools all across Albania, the quality of the teachers has not improved significantly. There is an old adage that says that no matter how mighty the sword, it cannot cut a blade of grass if the owner does not know how to wield it. The same goes for teachers. If teachers are not at the top of their game, investing in infrastructure is pointless. Sadly, teaching is far from being one of the most coveted professions in Albania. As a consequence, attending teaching schools usually is a second or even a third choice for students.

There are three things that the government can do in order to improve the quality of teaching in Albania. First of all, it has to increase student demand for teaching positions. That can be done by introducing economic incentives such as higher salaries and increased retirement benefits for teachers. Secondly, the number of training workshops for teachers has to increase dramatically. Presently, the number of teaching workshops is severely limited. Even when there are workshops, teachers have to travel from distant cities to the capital or other big metropolis in order to attend those workshops. Therefore, the government should increase the number of teaching workshops and seminars, and it also has to subsidize the teachers for their participation in those workshops.

Lastly, in order to improve the quality of education even further, the government also has to devise a performance tracking program for teachers. This program would use various inputs in order to give each teacher a rating. These inputs could include the teachers’ graduating GPAs, the test results of their students, the number of teaching seminars they attend, feedback from parents, feedback from students, and more. The teachers would be much more motivated to exercise their profession if this program was to materialize. That is because the higher the rating of the teacher, the higher the amount of performance bonuses they would receive.

Introducing a New Secondary Education Format
Even though the curriculums of the Albanian primary and secondary schools have been changing on a regular basis, they are still very outdated. The government, instead of emulating every reform that its international counterparts are conducting, should begin implementing changes that actually benefit the Albanian students. In the U.S. for instance, high-school students have the freedom to choose two optional courses every semester. In Albanian schools on the other hand, students do not have any freedom in choosing their courses whatsoever. That is the reason why the Albanian government has to give students the flexibility to choose the courses they like. By doing this, the government will undoubtedly help the students make better career choices.

In addition, the format of the semester is not the only flaw in the Albanian high-schools curriculums. The types of courses that are taught are also a major problem. When I was in high-school three years ago, I took the same courses that my mother took when she was my age. Three years later, my sister is also taking the same courses as me. There is simply no incentive from the government to update the curriculum. That is the reason why subjects such as Public Speaking, Academic Writing, Coding, Home Economics, and Medial Literacy have to become mandatory courses in every Albanian high-school. Reading historical and historical fiction books should also be given extra importance. Most Albanian students have a limited knowledge about Albania’s communist past, and they also lack a global worldview.

On another note, the Matura Exams should be banned – forever. Standardized tests do not define one’s skills and capabilities; they do not differentiate between students, they encourage cheating, and above all, they cause massive emotional trauma. Those are the reasons why the Matura Exams have to be abolished. Instead, the GPA should be given the main role in deciding a student’s future. Lastly, it is about time that manners are taught before knowledge. In Japan, there are no janitors. Instead, the students are the ones that clean the classrooms and the bathrooms. It would be intriguing to see just the reaction of Albanian students if this practice was to be adopted in Albania.

Dealing with education-related matters is unquestionably a very challenging endeavor that requires a lot of time and commitment, but it is not rocket science. Based on PISA scores, the tiny Baltic country of Estonia ranks number one in Europe when it comes to the quality of education. The Estonian government did not have hundreds of billions of euros at its disposal. As a matter of fact, Estonia invests 30% less than the OECD average for education. Their secret sauce is their commitment to the cause. If the Albanian government is committed to implementing some of the above-mentioned proposals, then it is destined to succeed. Where there is a will, there is a way.