Olivera Nedic works in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the entity of Republika Srpska. She is a geographer by profession. Her career is marked by work on social engagement through active work within the Association of Families with Four and More Children ‘Budućnost 4’ Doboj. In addition to becoming an excellent pedagogue and teacher, she managed to translate her motherly role into her mission, by spending all her free time fighting for other large families and realizing their greater rights in the state. She got the Fulbright Scholarship for Teacher Excellence in 2020. She attended the Media Literacy Program at the University of Kent in Ohio, USA. Olivera is also an awardee of the title of the Best Teacher of former Yugoslavia and a very active and dedicated member of the EduBalkancommunity of teachers and parents in the Balkans.
We live in a historically troublesome Balkans, which has released eternal art, fascinating athletes,immortal literary works, scientists who have given the world inventions without which there would be no progress, but when it comes to the most important, learning and teaching young generations and generations who need to take responsibility for our tomorrow and continue the path of our ancestors, the Balkans have been sinking into despair for decades and cutting its wings. The last in a series of absurdities is the answer to the needs of teaching and learning in the conditions caused by the pandemic and COVID-19. Teachers were not prepared or such a turnaround in the implementation of the teaching process.
They did not have the training and professional development that would lead them faster and better to appropriate learning outcomes during distance learning. They managed on their own and co-financed the education system from their resources so that the classes could run smoothly. Many did a great job, responding without sparing themselves to the increasingly demanding needs as online teaching progressed, believing that it was the job of a professional, to always be ready and for the response to the needs of their students to be at a high level. In the following months, at the addresses of schools, only in the form of a questionnaire there was occasionally some attempt of contact by educational authorities. We never learned anything about the purpose of it, nor did we noticed anywhere in the process that our answers, mostly honest, led to some substantial improvement in working conditions. The public policies that were adopted during distance learning and that are announced, and are still being adopted, absolutely did not include that who need to implement this process, teachers, students and their parents. Nor all key parameters were included in the formula for it to function for all stakeholders in the teaching process.
Aware that this is an extremely difficult and challenging period, teachers did not expect miracles, but they expected to respect, appreciation of their emirate and therefore they feel that they need to react to irregularities in this process. Addressing identified problems in education through public policies should be based on conducted situation analyses and needs assessments, elaboration of possible options and preliminary impact assessments of a solution that is most effective in the decision-making process. Situation analyses need assessments primarily targeted at our students and faculty, options development, and impact assessments are rational steps in making policy decisions based on some type of evidence that suggests the likely effectiveness of education authority intervention.
Did this happen in the decisionmaking process? It did not. It is further important to say that skipping option analysis, shortcomings in monitoring implementation or lack of evaluation of public policy effects often result in the insufficient implementation of poorly defined public policies, with unclear objectives and spending of public funds without real results. This inconsistency in making decisions about procedures of work in case that the epidemiological situation does not allow us to return to regular classes, the increased necessity of raising the voice of teachers gathered through the organization Edu Balkan. Gathered around the needs of students and teachers, this community of experts and individuals who have made an immeasurable contribution to the profession during distance learning for these reasons described above, they could not silently observe that the process was taking place without those most invited to participate in making decisions. They contributed by creating a database of materials, strategies and tools through which virtual classrooms functioned with at least minimum required standards and the outcomes necessary for a successful transition to regular teaching.
Research on the role of ministries in the process of policymaking and implementation in the new EU member states, with a similar administrative tradition in education as in the Western Balkans, to clarify the role of ministries and transfer best practices in policy development and implementation in EU member states, indicate the determination of the necessary steps in making decisions for the best outcomes in terms of distance learning. In each of these steps, it is necessary to ensure consultations with educational experts, non-governmental organizations and government institutions that have a mandate to monitor the education policies, learning outcomes and to examine the degree of satisfaction of those affected by previous decisions.
None of the usual steps has been followed in decisionmaking procedures in the education sector and during the implementation of distance learning in a pandemic. Some of the steps are: defining priorities, planning public policies, preparing public policy proposals, preparing draft public acts, inter-ministerial and cross-sector consultations, considering proposals by the government sector in charge of education, line ministries, decision implementation, evaluation and monitoring. None of the phases in this important process in which it was necessary to appoint the responsible persons and time provisions that would determine the dynamics of implementation were implemented. Public policy analysis should be based on systematically collected information, which forms the argument base for defining problems in a pandemic situation and shaping public policy proposals.
Thus, knowledge and expertise become a relevant basis for shaping the attitudes of educational authorities and concrete solutions. Sources for gathering the necessary information can be very diverse – websites, ministries, agencies, associations, reports of state administration bodies, studies of scientific researchers, research institutes and NGOs, internet search, daily and weekly press, but the most important thing is to include among sources the voice of those for whom future decisions will be made, teachers, students and their parents.
At this stage, line ministries, as most responsible for the proposal, have a key role to play, as they are the initiators of the process that mobilizes educational expertise and coordinates consultations. The specific procedures to be carried out under this step are:
● Defining the problem to be solved (in this case overcoming the inadequate equipment of teaching staff and students in the process of distance learning)
● Defining public policy goals (choosing the best approach to online teaching, the best implementation models and the most efficient evaluation of the results of our students’ work)
● Defining options
● Analysis of public policy actors
● Consultations with key stakeholders
● Assess the impact of option
● Recommendation of the best option to the ministers.
In other words, the decisions made by decision-makers had to be guided by these above-mentioned procedures and had to be based on responses to the needs of teachers, students and parents for their effects to make sense and be enforceable. The situation we found, in leading the overall process in a pandemic situation and the continuation of decisionmaking in the event of a possible extension of extraordinary conditions when the new school year starts, did not satisfy the needs of the profession and did not convince us that future decisions will be based on different principles. Teachers are worried, students are worried and unmotivated because they have faced numerous problems, and parents are very discouraged because they know that the authorities have not shown readiness to involve them in the decision-making process. There is little time left until the new school year begins, and what still worries us is the sluggishness of the system to respond to the growing needs for quick and efficient decision-making, as crises imply. Numerous issues have been raised, from the negative selection in education to the absence of legal mechanisms to stop this unfavourable situation and to finally start moving in the European educational space through positive changes, both in the situation of pandemic and without it.