Macedonia: Go to the Head of the Class

go the the head of the classSKOPJE, Macedonia | Kire Krstevski admits that he doesn’t like to study. The first-year university student from the city of Bitola said he was lazy about keeping his grades up in high school. By May of his final year, he had three E’s, the lowest grade possible, on his record. He hoped to be done studying for good, but his education was far from over.

“I don’t want to study because that’s not for me,” Krstevski said. “I want to work, but my parents are those who insist that I attend faculty [university].”

Krstevski said his parents helped him by calling his high school, and in August, when he finally graduated, his grades were suddenly raised to D’s. His average success was listed as “very good.” Krstevski soon enrolled at a university in Skopje.

Similarly, Katerina, an 18-year-old high school student in Skopje, said her grades changed dramatically as the last school year wrapped up. Her grades in mathematics throughout the year had been E’s and D’s, but her final grade was an A.

“We are learning for knowledge, but far more for the grades,” said another student in the fourth-year class at Orce Nikolov High School in Skopje, who spoke on condition on anonymity. “The grades are more important to us because with good average way we can enroll in the faculty far more easily. We admit that we want to pass through school in the easiest way possible way.”

At the end of each school year, Macedonian teachers face a barrage of requests for higher grades. Parents phone and beg for their children to receive A’s, and students line up outside teachers’ offices to ask for a grade boost with the promise that they will learn more the next year.

“Somewhere between May and June, I lock up my office or turn off my telephone because there is an army of parents, friends, and students themselves asking for some intervention for grades,” said Nebojsa Zivkovik, principal of the Skopje economic high school Vasil Antevski Dren. “Around 90 percent of the interventions are for straight A’s…. We put a sign on the front door and ask the parents and people who don’t work in the school not to enter during the professors’ meetings, and it lasts until the official end of the school year.”

Other teachers, however, give in to the demands and assign higher grades than students deserve out of pity or a desire to prove they are doing their jobs well. The result is that last year, 95 percent of students in primary and secondary schools received straight A’s, according to data of Ministry of Education and Science. Grades are the only standards governing students’ yearly progression and their eventual acceptance at universities.

There are no nationwide exams that determine whether students qualify to enter high school or post-secondary institutions, or to assess their progress on an annual basis. Most university departments eliminated their qualification tests two years ago because almost all students qualified because of their high marks. Efforts to develop exams have been met by a sluggish bureaucracy and resistance from people who argue that a single test shouldn’t determine a student’s fate.

Consequently, the vast majority of students in this nation of 2 million move quickly through the educational system – whether they deserve to or not.

“In this country, everyone can easily get an A because everybody knows everybody and you can easily find someone to arrange you any grade that you need,” says Dragan Arsovski, manager of Rade Jovcevski-Korcagin High School in Skopje. “The professors are the ones who write grades, and it’s very difficult to prove how the students got the grades.”

Slow to Change

Lidija B. has a daughter in her fourth year at Skopje’s medical high school. Before enrolling there, Lidija’s daughter was “an excellent student,” in her mother’s words. When her grades dropped to mostly D’s in high school, Lidija stepped in.

“We called on some relationships, friends and family, so she could get better grades,” said Lidija, who declined to provide her full last name. “We do that almost every year so that she can enter the faculty of medicine later. Last year, her grades were B’s. We hope that this year she’ll get A’s.”

In June, the State Education Inspectorate, which is part of the Ministry of Education and Science, assessed the grade inflation situation for the first time. It researched 80 elementary and 30 high schools, or a fourth of the total number of elementary and high schools in the country. The results showed that around 90 percent students’ are assessed at much lower levels of success at the end of their first semesters than they are at the end of the school year.

Officials said they are considering the problem and will evaluate it further at the end of this school year. But George Nikolov, director of the State Education Inspectorate, warned that change could be slow to come. “Our education system is very inert, and there is a lot of fear of news and reforms in the system,” Nikolov said.

“Professors are giving high grades right from their sleeves, and that’s why in most of the cases, grades are not compatible with the student’s knowledge,” he said.

This compatibility is difficult to prove because teachers oversee grades with such vast autonomy. There are no school files to track students’ activities, test scores, assignment grades, and overall knowledge. “Simply, we cannot prove how the grade is achieved,” Nikolov said.

Arsovski of Rade Jovcevski-Korcagin high school said the solutions to grade inflation are student files and new examinations that the teachers and schools do not oversee.
“There must be a center – an independent body that will prepare tests for every subject [throughout the year],” he said. Arsovski also believes the exams should be graded by the independent body.

Nikolov agrees that testing students uniformly is important, and he said the Ministry of Education and Science is planning to introduce end-of-year testing in native languages (Macedonian and Albanian), mathematics, and one foreign language. Students in their final year of high school are expected to take the tests for the first time at the end of this year. Students in three separate years of primary school will take the exams for the first time in two to three years.

The road to the tests has been a rough one. Implementation of the final high school exams, for instance, was delayed for two years. Some educators, parents, and students argued – and are arguing still – that the exams could undermine students’ collective knowledge learned over time if the youth are unprepared or nervous on test days.

As the government grapples with grading and exam issues, Nikolov adds that he has another goal in mind: he wants teachers and their grading to be evaluated by the independent center and by students.

“They must take responsibility for their acts,” Nikolov said.




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