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Education budget to support deepening reform efforts

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s speech during presentation of the 2019 state budget for education system:

Hello everyone!

Thank you very much for your presence!

I will focus on several key aspects that, in my view, underline the very nature of this budget, highlighting at the same time “the why” of the budget potential to guarantee further progress of a comprehensive reform in our education system, which has already yielded meaningful results.

The Education Minister provided an incontestable example of our students’ performance and scores according to the global Pisa barometer, but, such results in the future will remain constant and more significant and I am convinced they will. I don’t want to give you an extra bother by providing figures and data, yet some figures are indispensable to have a clear picture in order to judge over the overall outlook of the today’s education system.

The education budget has increased by 66 percent compared to five years ago.

Is this a sufficient figure?

Spending in education is never sufficient! Government expenditure on education is not sufficient neither in developed countries, and it can’t be as such in a developing country like Albania. However, this is a meaningful figure. Yet more significant and meaningful is the entirety of results and important accomplishments by best utilizing the whole volume of funding we have made available to the education system.

I am very pleased that again thanks to the profound and painful reforms we have launched, and of course thanks to the work to increase revenue and enhance opportunities, we can now afford to raise again the teacher salaries. All pre-university education teachers and personnel will benefit a pay rise. The seven percent pay rise for teachers will cost state budget an additional amount of over $10 million.

As many as 940 teaching assistants will be employed in 2019. You know well that no teaching assistants worked in the country’s education system five years ago. I am quite aware that 940 is not a sufficient number to meet the needs of children with special skills, 940 is yet much more than no teaching assistants and more than the half of the number of such teachers we need.

The number of special needs teaching assistants rose to 700 this year and their number will increase to 940 during next year. By the end of this term in office, our ambition is to hire one teaching assistant for each child with special needs. Considering the today’s number, every parent of a child with special needs and who will not benefit help from a teaching assistant next year, has reasons for concern and be deeply dissatisfied. But considering that no parent was provided the opportunity to send their child with special needs to a school to be taught by a teaching assistant five years ago then the progress we have made is significant.

We will increase tenfold the number of school security officers. A pilot project was implemented in 15 high education institutions in Tirana this year with the deployment of a security officer in each school. A positive feedback was received from the teachers, students and parents. We have also witnessed the benefits from this kind of intermediary figure between the teaching body and the State Police. The security officer is neither a teacher, nor a policeman, but an intermediary figure that schools have been missing and that has a direct impact on safety and good conduct of the teaching process. We have decided to deploy 150 security officers in 150 high schools across the country in a bid to address the security and safety issues in the most populous secondary schools and where this need is enormous.

We have also increased the state budget funding to cover the pupil and student transportation costs.

I am not only pleased that the Minister of Education and the entire Ministry staff have shown courage and strong determination in pressing ahead with the closure of the collective classes, but I also want to strongly emphasize that we will keep on closing the collective classes. Let those who left thousands of students studying in collective classes with children of different age groups raise their voice and tell the Albanian citizens that we are closing schools.

Indeed, we are not closing schools, but concentration camp-like classes for small children, who are not taught in such classes. The doors to the future they deserve would be closed for these children should they were to be left studying in collective classes. This is the truth and we have faced and will continue to face this truth despite difficulties of this process.

The 2019 state budget will guarantee the transportation service for around 35 000 pupils and 12 000 teachers. The funding will also cover the transportation service costs for the children who fortunately are now saved from the collective classes.

There still many other children studying in the collective classes and if we are to look to the future and to where we want to go, we still feel ashamed at all those parents who keep on sending their children to study in collective classes. But if we were to consider it from right where we started, then we are proud of what we have accomplished to date and of the fact that we have saved tens of thousands of children from the cold terror of collective classes.

This year we could afford providing textbooks for free to fourth graders and covered the textbook costs for children from families in need. As we have already promised, the next year’s budget will cover textbook costs also for the fifth graders who will receive their books for free. The textbooks will be provided for free to all primary education students, i.e. from first to ninth graders, by end of this term in office. This is a promise we have made and we will honour.

It will not be initially easy and discussions with teachers, school principals, regional educational directorates about the issue of returning the textbooks are still underway with the Ministry of Education. We have seen other models working, but everyone should understand – especially the parents who don’t know when it was the last time they read a book but now yell and threaten via Facebook – they should understand is not just a matter of money. France, which has been a frontrunner in this process, has set the rule for the return of textbooks not because the state budget can’t afford providing them for free, but for a much deeper reason than that. The book is not like any other commodity, even though it is bought.

The book is love and love’s value is precious. The relation with book founds the child’s constitution for the years to come. So, fortunately for all those parents who haven’t read a book for years, we won’t allow their children also develop a relation just like with every other object.

Having said this, we will find and apply the most appropriate model in the students’ best interest and make the system work. The entire budget funding is again allocated as if no book was to be returned, but some sanctions must be in place.

I am glad that more funding than previously is earmarked for the higher education institution and scientific research under the next year’s state budget. Certainly, the funding is insufficient, but I am glad that we now can finalize the university’s digital library. We are the only country in Europe without a university library. The existing libraries have survived the riots and chaos of the transition period thanks to the care of rectors, deans, but they still fail to meet any standard to be called modern university libraries. The global digital libraries of the universities we allow for the record updating of the data and provide students and the pedagogical bodies access to the digital university library, just like their peers in any European country. This will be done thanks to guaranteed funding and it definitely represents an important step towards creating normal conditions for researches in every field of studies.

On the other hand, we will provide funding to support free English courses for university students. Few initial steps will be taken so that each student can learn English for free.

The upcoming state budget will also support investment projects on construction and reconstruction of school buildings across the country. This is of course a project that goes through the municipalities, but the state budget will allocate funding for construction of some 80 new school buildings all over the country based on the demands from the local government authorities and the studies carried out by the Ministry of Education.

To conclude, I would like to highlight that scored results under the Pisa Process are very significant ones. I strongly believe that an already consolidated merit-based system for teachers ensures that no teacher is no longer dismissed from job on political grounds or their arbitrary and corrupt transfer, as well as establishment of merit and competition-based employment system for all teachers is a strong reason to voice optimism over the future of our pre-university education system and believe that more results will be achieved.

Of course we need to raise the teachers’ salaries. The next year’s pay rise is significant. Just like it is important to look back and see what the real salary of teachers was five years ago. Teachers’ salaries were lower, while paying at the same time higher income tax rates. Teachers today receive higher salaries and pay less in income taxes.

However, we want to further rise the teachers’ salaries until end of this term in office. This is the goal.

I believe we have provided teachers a new instrument. The Oxford, Cambridge and Pearson textbooks that form new basis of our education system, which has escaped the jungle of countless textbooks, 600 of which were rejected by the teachers themselves when asked about the books’ quality.

The high education reform has helped the process, and it has also helped teachers and students themselves. It has been a great leap forward. The system change resorting to the three subjects in six classes system was a significantly positive step forward that has been welcomed by teachers and parents, but accused and criticized by those protesting against the Big Ring Road project. However, a lot remain to be done in this direction and I am confident that the new School of Principals initiative will yield further improvements, because we have saved teachers from politics.

This is the truth.

Today no teacher should be afraid of voting for whoever they want to vote for, because the job position is guaranteed by the merit-based system.

This is not the case for the school principals and this is the truth.

Although significant changes have been made – last year, if not wrong, we replaced 300 school principals with most distinguished teachers – the truth is that, without wanting to insult anyone, many “unworthy individuals” still handle the managerial duties in schools across the country. Although politicization is no longer a problem when it comes to teachers, it still remains a problem when it comes to school principals and vice principals. This is the truth.

If cabinet members, MPs, mayors and politically influential people are now aware they cannot intervene and use their influence to employ teachers, because no one will be able to work as a teacher without sitting the exam first and without gaining the needed scores, they still insist to appoint the school principals. We will put an end to this.

It can work. There are very competent school principals, yet there are many others who should be dismissed. There are other school principals who can become very competent ones, but first they should attend the School of Principals which is designed to turn the school principals into real managers.

On the other hand, I believe we need to push more decisively and much faster forward the higher education reform. No one has ever imagined that the son of an ordinary citizen or a shepherd can enrol in the university. No one has ever imagined that the son of an influential father can no longer enrol in the university if he doesn’t deserve it. No one has ever imagined that this could become a reality in Albania.

Today, this is guaranteed. No complaints are filed against the university enrolments today. Zero complaints. The entire system is a digital one that identifies no influential father or mother, but just the performance and state matura scores. The problem now lies in the universities. A lot remains to be done to ensure that what has already started in the pre-university education system to be extended to the higher education system too. Today, to be realistic, it is not the same quality and we still have a long way to go and achieve in higher education system what we have already accomplished with the pre-university education system. This is what the rectors know very well, the teachers know very well, everyone knows this very well, this is what the parents know very well. This is a serious challenge as the higher education system is a much more complex one.

By expressing all your respect and gratitude for everything you do, I want to ensure you that as far as I am concerned, I am not only aware that you deserve much more than that, but I also pray very much whenever you listen when I speak about our accomplishments in the education system, you should understand that what I say is related to complacency or sufficiency. By no means. We have done a lot for education, but we will never do as much as the teachers in this country deserve.

It is quite easy to write down negative news reports. It would take just a drunk teacher physically maltreating a student and it takes just another smart student to record everything and this way the teachers’ reputation is seriously damaged. Meanwhile, the good conduct of 99.99 percent of other teachers is not news.

Albania is not the country where the majority is the one to make the headlines, unfortunately, but Albania is the country where majority is the one to do the right things and you are part of that majority.

Many thanks and much respect!