Photo: Neda Radulovic-Viswanatha
Photo: Neda Radulovic-Viswanatha

After only 24 hours, PISA has faded from the mind of the Serbian public. One expert said that the 2018 data is devastating. The minister said that we can’t expect good results before 2024 or 2027, while the members of his team tried to avoid commenting on the current situation as much as possible. And after that – silence.

If we listen to the minister, the donkey from the Serbian proverb is a long way from the “green grass” – 10 years away, in fact. We just have to agree on who’s the donkey here. Undoubtedly, the first in line are the pupils and their parents/caregivers, followed by teachers in pre-school, elementary and high schools. Then, university professors who educate teachers for lower levels of education. The minister himself is the only one who didn’t get in line, although he is the only legitimate candidate for the proverbial donkey.

It’s not just the poor results which disqualify the minister and his team. Let’s look at their treatment of those results by comparing their reactions to those from the neighboring countries. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, the results were summarized and published two days ago. There is no trace of such a report on the website of the Serbian Ministry of Education or PISA Serbia (which uses Cyrillic in its title as a trademark, regardless of the visitor’s chosen script). 

In Croatia, on the day of the publication of results, the public broadcaster aired an hour-long debate on the poor performance of their schools. The debate included university professors, school principals, and teachers. Without any shame, they all pointed to the hated Slovenia as an example of good practice. (We, for some reason, thought of Poland). In Bosnia & Herzegovina (whose report also mentions Poland), a long interview with a member of the national team for implementation of testing was published. Since we didn’t do any of this, we are free to look over the fence at our neighbours.

Everything they said can be applied to us (although frankly, more so when it comes to B&H than Croatia). To be completely fair, we had a chance to hear some details from the report on Serbia in the media. We heard that the research showed that children don’t consider school and education as a good path to a successful career and fulfilled life. We also heard that 80% of the students of three-year vocational secondary schools are – illiterate. On average, they score 140 points lower compared to students from general secondary schools. These cataclysmic images aren’t necessarily representative of the situation in Serbia (although they probably are). Maybe they were chosen by the media precisely because they are cataclysmic to attract attention to the problem – or merely to attract attention.

The point is that we didn’t get competent public guidance and interpretation of the results, accompanied by suggestions on how to stop the evident and decades-long decline of the schools. As expected, the minister was defensively aggressive and diverted the attention from the problem to himself. The media, as expected, was more interested in the grotesque vaudeville play unfolding around Megatrend than in the PISA results, which they probably didn’t even see, nor had guidance on how to interpret them. The report on PISA results evidently exists, because a few commentators chosen to be initiated into PISA secrets cite it to substantiate their claims, even though it should, by all accounts, be publicly available.  

However, despite the flawed data, some conclusions can be drawn based on common sense. How can we even talk about repairing the image of schools and education with plagiarists in the government – who, according to the Minister of Education, are great at their job and should be kept in their current positions – and clowns from and around Megatrend. The moment he said that he is fine with Sinisa Mali staying in the government, after being proven to have plagiarized his PhD thesis, Sarcevic openly demonstrated that he shouldn’t be in charge of the Serbian education system. To be honest, it’s not his first attack on the very profession he should, as Minister of Education, be in charge of. Now, however, the confluence of his statements on Mali, silence about Megatrend, and avoidance of PISA results paints a complete picture.

What does that picture show?

Still, there are more important things than Mali, Megatrend, and PISA – for example, the minister’s unwavering dedication to introducing dual education in Serbia at any cost. That’s his vision of education, projected further than 2027. If we put together the dual education model, which is just another name for vocational schools, and PISA results, we seem to get the conclusion that the Minister supports the schools which produce 80 (eighty!) percent functionally illiterate graduates. If nothing else, the 2018 results serve as a warning for the potential impact of dual education. In addition, they show what kind of school Sarcevic stands for as part of Vucic’s regime: the ones that produce graduates unable to think.

The reader may choose whether this is an evil conspiracy or pure stupidity, but there should be no doubt about this: whichever explanation you choose, the result is the same – donkeys at the top, donkeys at the bottom. Asses.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 14.12.2019.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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