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 Youguslavia

 

 
Education system in tatters under sanctions in Youguslavia
By Vesna Peric Zimonjic
 
  BELGRADE, 10 March (IPS) - For years teachers in primary and high schools all over the country have complained that chalk and blackboards are all they have at their disposal -- even motivation appears to be out of stock.
 
  The collapse of the education system is part of the overall state of impoverishment faced by the country which began with the wars of former Yugoslavia in 1991 followed by two rounds of economic sanctions.
 
  The first was the United Nations sanctions between 1992-1995, and since 1999, the European Union (EU) has imposed its own embargo -- both were intended to punish Belgrade for its role in the Bosnia and Kosovo wars.
 

  With the economy at a standstill, budget allocations have shrunk to levels not seen since 1992, and education, being almost totally dependent on state funds, has been directly affected..

 
  Teachers' salaries are never higher than 50 dollars a month. The education system employs some 100,000 people in a country of 7.5 million people.
 
  State funds have been deployed by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia until 1997 and now president of Yugoslavia, on funding the police and security rather than on health and education.
 
  Lack of money has destroyed the education system, according to the coordinator of the four trade unions that represent Serbia's elementary and high schools.
 
   ''This situation has resulted in a visible drop in the quality of teaching and this is turn has had a truly negative impact on entire generations of children who have been attending school during the last years,'' says Radovan Pavlocia, the coordinator.
 
  Since 1991, teachers in Serbia have struck work three times demanding higher salaries. The government has cracked down on protests by increasing the winter vacations to six to eight weeks from the previous two weeks to prevent further unrest.
 
 Officially the winter break has been extended because of the lack of heating, as a result of the oil embargo.
 
  Since Jan. 24, 900 of the 1,618 elementary and high schools in Serbia have been on strike. Teachers are demanding a 20 percent salary increase paid with retrospective effect. However the government is only agreeing to a 10 percent rise.
 
  Education Minister Jovo Todorovic has repeatedly urged the country's teachers to show ''solidarity with the economic hardships of the country''.
 
  Now striking teachers are facing the real risk of losing their jobs. They are being replaced with undergraduate students who are eager to get jobs. Serbia has an unemployment rate of over 40 percent.
 
  ''Taking on unfinished students as teachers was unimaginable 10 years ago!'' exclaims Pavlovic. ''What is the knowledge they can give? Besides, our students have huge gaps in their knowledge due to the situation (disrupted academic sessions in 1999).''
 
   On Mar. 24 last year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, launched a series of air raids against Serbia, forcing the closure of schools. The year ended without the syllabus being finished, and no final examinations were held.
 
  This year the school year began on time in September but since then students have been running to make up lost ground. ''This is not education, it's patching up pieces of knowledge,'' says Gordana Nikolic, psychologist at the Belgrade Fifth High School.
 
  Educationists warn the problems of illiteracy are serious. According to the most recent figures, 9.5 percent of people have never been to school while 25 percent dropped out of elementary school.
 
  While an acute shortage of funds has halted all adult literacy programmes, only some 5.5 percent of the population are now university graduates..
 
  Universities in Serbia are also in trouble. The new Law on University, endorsed by the Serbian Parliament in October 1998, has practically abrogated the autonomy of the university, and enabled the government to appoint the rectors and deans.
 
  ''This was not the case even after the communists came to power in 1945 (after World War II) and demanded loyalty to their 'new order','' says Dr Vladeta Jankovic, professor of literature. ''They (communists) saw that they needed educated people to teach at the university and quietly let things continue as they were.''
 
  The law was enacted after pressure was applied by the government's coalition partners, the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Seselj and Yugoslav Left (JUL), the party of Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic.
 
  More than 60 Belgrade University professors of independent views lost their jobs in 1998.
 
  ''The university is slowly dying. This regime has destroyed both high schools and universities. When you do that, you need 20 to 30 years to put things back in order,'' says Petar Grujic, a former university professor of physics.
 
This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
 
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