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Ombudsman: Schools not prepared for distance learning

For any future attempts at distance learning to be successful, the country's public schooling needs to radically change, according to the Ombudsman's Office in an official letter to the Ministry of Education and Science.

Skopje, 7 August 2020 (MIA) — For any future attempts at distance learning to be successful, the country’s public schooling needs to radically change, according to the Ombudsman’s Office in an official letter to the Ministry of Education and Science.

Signed by Deputy Ombudsman Vaska B-Mustafa and addressed to Minister of Education Arber Ademi, the letter says that schools in the country were not — and still aren’t — ready to provide reliable distance learning.

In particular, the schools failed to address the needs and means of educating students in rural communities, students from socially disadvantaged families, and students with disabilities.

According to research done by the Ombudsman’s Office — which also took into consideration reports from UNICEF, UNDP, the Youth Educational Forum, the Secondary School Students’ Union, and others — many students didn’t have the necessary computers or internet access to be able to do the work assigned by their teachers.

Teachers, on the other hand, were not able to support all students the same, which exacerbated the existing inequality and lack of inclusion in schools.

The students who suffered the most, according to the Ombudsman, are students with special needs or disabilities, Roma children, migrants, refugees, and other socially disadvantaged young people.

The coronavirus crisis highlighted ongoing challenges, the letter says, “especially in the absence of systemic solutions and established distance learning programs with specific activities to implement, as well as nonexistent e-learning standards or a national platform to support distance learning in primary and secondary education.”

“When the Eduino platform was launched in late March,” the letter adds, “people noticed a host of problems with the platform, primarily because it was one-sided teaching through short videos filmed by very few teachers, who volunteered out of enthusiasm.”

Many lessons were needlessly repeated while others weren’t taught at all, and entire school subjects were missing, the Ombudsman notes.

The letter further draws attention to the overwhelming demands on parents and children of studying on their own; the lack of support given to teachers and students dealing with negative psychological effects from social isolation, and “improvisations” instead of “systemic, seriously developed solutions and a well conceived plan.”

In the opinion of the Ombudsman, online instructions have been sub-par, considering the insufficient planning and resources, which are detailed in the letter.

The letter, nonetheless, acknowledges the importance and safety of virtual classes in a nationwide health emergency, highlighting the need to improve the public education system so it can better support students, especially those on the social margins.

“Distance learning,” the letter points out, “requires a deep transformation of the education system, including the mechanisms for its financing, managing, developing and delivering curricula, and monitoring student progress.” mr/

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