Public consultation on National Youth Strategy 2022-2029 with pupils and students in Elbasan 

Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama at meeting in Elbasan as part of a country-wide public consultation recently launched with pupils and high school students to discuss a new National Youth Strategy 2022-2029:

 

Thank you very much for your presence and contributions!

I would like to begin by noting that this process has been launched by the Minister for Youth and Children and at first glance the process may seem like a routine of meetings, but it is indeed a very helpful and constructive process, because it tackles many tangible issues and aspects of our daily life and the difficulties a certain community faces in the everyday life, such as the community of students in this case, and these aspects are usually  not under the radar of the decision-makers or those who make  decisions at the expert level.

Direct contact and discussions with the subjects of a strategy or a certain decision-making process helps us incredibly a lot to focus many issues that otherwise would be averted from the focus of decision-makers and I would provide a very concrete example from these meetings. Bora said this is the 11th meeting. I haven’t attended the eleven gatherings like this one, yet I have taken part in some of them in Shkoder, Durres, Korça and here in Elbasan, with the young participants voicing almost the same concerns. For example, some of the participants highlighted the career counselling as a need, a pressing demand stemming from the fact that the career counselling is obviously a poor process, an insufficient mechanism and service.

I have come across the career tips issue at all meetings I have attended with your peers across the country.

Some of you highlighted the issue of assessment of pupils and students’ learning and performance, not only based on what they say or write on the exam papers on various subjects, but also on voluntarism. I have encountered the same issue in every meeting with you.

The issue of the school labs was also highlighted at the today’s meeting and I have come across the very same issue at every previous gathering and I am really pleased to announce that we have included the school labs issue in the 2022 state budget bill, through which we have projected a certain amount of funding to tackle this issue, because it is very true that such labs exist on papers, but some are already available in many schools. There are many chemistry and biology labs, but they are mostly poorly or modestly equipped and of course when the labs are modestly equipped or when they are poorly equipped, the learning and teaching process in such laboratories certainly fails to deliver the same impact it would normally deliver otherwise.

So, starting next school year, we will launch a mass investment in best equipping school labs, but in the meantime the Minister and its ministry staff have already kicked off work on the school labs content, in order that not only labs are best equipped, but also make sure that such equipment help in a quality learning and teaching process and equipments are used to your maximum benefit.

Another problem I have come across during these meetings is the seemingly wide-spread problem of teachers who teach important technical subjects, including IT and technical drawing, but these teachers are not trained or they are not graduated to teach such school subjects, but they are mostly math teachers or other exact science teachers. This issue needs to be tackled urgently and therefore we have set aside a specific fund to completely alter the IT teaching system, because IT classes are actually available at almost every school on paper, but, as one of the participating girls noted here, the situation is almost the same everywhere, with computers being available at every IT classroom, but a good part of them are out of order, and therefore teaching lags far behind these pupils’ ambition to learn and advance in IT science.  Actually, since we have attached special attention to new technology and digital education, not only in schools, we will introduce a completely different IT teaching system, taking advantage of one the lessons we learned during the pandemic that we don’t necessarily need to be present in person at the very same space in order for us to exchange know-how, so by making available to IT teaching through a centred system best performing teachers and by taking advantage of their contribution so that no only pupils and students, but also the IT teachers themselves can enhance their knowledge, capacities and performance by attending centred lessons simultaneously taught in several schools of a certain area.

Likewise, we have also been hearing about the arts, sports and crafts as a subject on the school curriculum and fortunately the government envisages two new national programs, namely the national program on arts and crafts and the national program on sports. To this end, the government has earmarked a fund and we will gradually launch the system’s overhaul to reorganize it in a way so that schools build the required capacities to meet the pupils’ needs, desires and demands to develop their talent and skills in a certain field of arts, but also providing them the opportunity to improve know-how on certain crafts and trades, including more intense IT learning in school.

Of course, what the participants noted here is absolutely true that the lack of a space featuring out-of-school time activities and extracurricular activities, with pupils and students wishing to be active part or spectators of competitions, festivals, championship and other extracurricular events and where some pupils want to be protagonists, while others want to involve in them as spectators. This is definitely a missing space that we will make utmost effort to gradually make available by creating a totally new sports, arts, and crafts system at school.

I am sometimes forced to recall several things, because if we don’t recall them it would then be difficult to figure out the reason why we are here and where we could get.

Until a few years ago, physical education was totally removed from the school curriculum. Not a single physical class was held. The physical education has been recently reintroduced into the school curriculum, yet the process still leaves much to be desired and physical education as a school subject is still at a basic level, failing to provide space for the most talented ones who wish to further perfect their skills through sport and therefore this is an objective and it is not about what is going to happen after several years, but a work already underway and the funding has been made available starting next school year.

Something was noted about teaching. The truth is that we have attached great importance to teaching. I don’t see teaching as I do not see it as an occupation without future, on the contrary, because we have greatly increased the demand for the level of students enrolling in enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in education. Previously, teaching was a matter of choice when no other opportunities were offered, and students were somehow forced to enrol education degree programs to become teachers and strangely enough mainly the worst performing students were given the opportunity to enrol in education degree and become teachers. This is no longer the case.

Second, the teacher’s role becomes increasingly more important and, for the sake of truth, the teacher’s role has attracted more attention than ever before. A teacher is no longer “a soccer ball” being kicked by politics and the political parties. Teachers are much respected now and more stable at their work, no matter what they have in mind when it comes to politics, or no matter whom they vote for.

On the other hand, the teachers’ recruitment today is a merit-based process. One cannot become a teacher  – and I don’t mean sporadic abusive cases  as everywhere and always there are exceptional cases – but one can no longer take up a job position as a teacher by a recommendation and through the help of an influential individual or by paying bribes, because every applicant has to undergo a test via “Teachers for Albania” portal and selection of applicants is now more controlled than it used to be previously, although, as I already acknowledged, there are abusive cases, yet no comparison can be drawn with the teachers’ recruitment process in the past. In the meantime, the financial support for teachers has kept increasing and will increase again next year as projected under the 2022 state budget bill, with teachers’ wages set to be increased again, because they are very crucial to the society.

I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but I want to note that it is up to us to translate these needs into decisions and mechanisms, but of course everyone makes his or her own decision for himself or herself and you too can make decisions for yourselves.

Two or three participants asked us to tell them why they should stay here and not leave the country.

I, despite the position I hold, I can’t avoid the answer in this case and I haven’t changed my mind and I won’t change the way I see this issue. Everyone is free and it is in his or her own right to make decisions for them what to do in the future. And fortunately enough we now live in a free society, completely different from that of 30 years ago, when we were not given such a choice and we didn’t face such a dilemma.

We weren’t offered the opportunity to ask ourselves this question, because it was impossible to imagine, let alone say “I would attend higher education abroad.” Nobody was allowed to go abroad neither for education nor to work or anything else. So, we didn’t face such a dilemma. Somehow, we knew there was no other option. Freedom has its huge dilemmas and free choice is something really much more difficult to make than a sole imposed option, which comes with all the terrible consequences for human life, when man has to make his own choice while facing dilemmas.

Since we were asked here, I would start with quite the opposite. I wouldn’t name the reasons why I should go abroad, but I would start with the reasons why I shouldn’t leave the country. Which are the reasons why I should leave the country and if these reasons are not sufficient I would consider going abroad? However, in any case, no matter whether one decides to stay in Albania or go abroad, this world belongs to the brave and determined.

Undoubtedly, whoever is brave and determined enough, he or she would succeed anywhere. Of course, everyone makes his own choice depending on how far he aims to go and how high he aims.

Given my position, I have had the opportunity, more than once, to visit very poor families. I mean literally poor families, and not the poor ones who complain while using an iPhone. But I mean really poor families, but with their kids being the best performing pupils in school.

I will never forget a poor family in Shkodra’s rural areas, where three girls were preparing for their lessons and doing homework under a tent, because the roof of that small room leaked when it rained. They had grade point average 10 and they spoke English.

The three came from a poor family, with their father being the only one to work and provide for his family after having built a sort of cart and transporting the goods of various people in exchange for a payment.

Of course, the family head had no chance of influencing the girls’ performance in school. The girls, and not only them, but I have seen many like them, could well be justified by saying they lack proper conditions to learn and we can’t do our homework.

Indeed, they really lacked the right conditions to learn and had every right and the excuse not to excel in school, but by learning they are growing their wings to fly out of that pit of poverty and lead a different life, because I know that know-how is what provides most to everyone.

Knowledge makes you move forward and progress, when you have decided to progress in a fair way. The answer lies within everyone and whatever you may come across and whatever you may happen to hear or be told, they are just arguments and opinions. However, whoever has the ambition, courage and determination can achieve what he or she aims to, despite the social position.

On the other hand, it is really a problem that 30 years later after the regime change – and all of you were born during the new democratic system – everyone is seeking to take up a government job as if the government is the mother and the father of everything. The state has many tasks to deliver on. According to their opportunities, the states are divided into states that have more or less opportunities, but the state cannot do for you what you have to do for yourself and if you expect everything from the state, you are destined not to go where you wish to go.

If we are to comment on the situation of students abroad, you should know that students work while at school and it is not the state looking after them and finding them a job.

Someone asked “what are the odds of landing a job shortly after graduation in a certain university degree program here in Albania?” Is this anywhere taken for granted? If you were to look at the statistics of other wealthier countries, you would find out that the percentage of graduates taking up a job in the area of their training is very low. In no country such a figure is 100%.

There are many people finding a job in fields completely different from their training or they adopt themselves to do totally different jobs. At the same time, students in foreign countries attend all sorts of training courses upon graduation from university so that they can develop skills and become fit for the labour market, which changes constantly. You could attend and graduate in any university degree program and you may succeed in finding a job according to your training, but you could also end up doing a completely different job.

One of the participants said he wants to graduate in law and said that the government should provide a job position to all jurists. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way anywhere in the world, while each and every one of you with a certain level of education is capable of earning money to cover personal education costs.

I am convinced that many of you speak English, but I don’t know whether you have ever wondered about offering English courses to younger kids, offering these kids and their families a cheaper service than they would be paying for private English courses to a certain degree. I am convinced each and every one of you is capable of doing this. This is just a simple example among countless other examples everyone can set by asking yourselves the question: “What can I do by making the most of my knowledge so that I can earn money to pay the rent?” And I don’t mean other costs that can be covered by your parents, the scholarship granted by the government. Each and every one of you can definitely do something more.

Older people, who live alone, are to be found in Tirana and other cities across the country and their children are ready to pay someone to look after their old parents, even for four hours a day. Of course, every one of you can do this if you are willing to do so.

I am not going to take more of your time, although it is actually a very interesting conversation, but I would briefly and simply tell that you should get to know yourself better and ask more of yourself, and ask from the state what state is tasked with providing for you, but don’t let everything on the state’s hand. This is the system we have chosen, and it can’t be otherwise. What happens to Albanians when emigrating abroad is that they know nobody there, they know now friends, relatives, neighbours or political parties, and they have no choice but do whatever it takes to succeed.

This is why the level of success of Albanians as individuals abroad is incredibly high and this is a feature that citizens from the neighbouring nations enjoy too, as they turn out to be really successful when going abroad and they prove to be successful at any level.

They perform much better than many others. But when here, because of all sorts of interference and influences, the opportunities and the capacities to take things easy –and of course it sometimes happens that someone doesn’t deserve yet he is granted something that you actually deserve and that’s why this sort of turbulence is caused. This doesn’t mean that such an individual would succeed. No, he won’t. 

Whoever decides to succeed and whoever believes in himself and invests in himself, he will definitely succeed, and the choice he then makes is completely individual.

We will make utmost efforts to best address all these issues, which are things we come across everywhere and which are very clear to us, and which we will start delivering on right away. Like any strategy, the new National Youth Strategy will of course have a time frame, longer than 1 year and 4-year span, but what we are seeking to make sure is that the strategy is not just a beautifully written document, but a step-by-step action plan that is implemented and that things you say today, won’t be questionable after a year, after two years or three years, but be all resolved and the discussion focuses on how your proposals become more interesting ones, and not discuss the art education environments, craft education environments, sports activity environments, not discuss anymore how those activities at the municipal, county or national level, which I believe will create a positive energy in the lives of students, giving them the opportunity to have much more interaction about their passions and desires related to gifts, talents, ambitions beyond going to school, doing homework, leaving school and going home to do homework.

Thank you!