Together to successfully get through the most challenging academic year in history of education

Prime Minister Edi Rama at online video conference with the heads of Education Directorates on the eve of the new academic year 2020-2021:

I wanted to hold this meeting along with your Education Minister to say a few words about the upcoming academic year amid an emergency situation, with the quote by Sami Frasheri, who said: “The greatest lesson in this world is learned through difficulty, no success can be achieved without difficulty,” sounding very quintessential.

And indeed, the biggest difficulty is the greatest challenge we face and we all together need to overcome this academic year, given the paramount importance of everyone’s health and given that children are not fully immune to this virus. In spite the fact that children less likely to get, spread or suffer from Covid-19 and the virus is generally less dangerous to them, but not harmless than for adults, the chain of transmission is not interrupted there, but happens as for everyone else.

So, taking notice of what is happening around the world and taking into account the fresh coronavirus numbers and epidemiological data in other countries, we are certainly worried and concerned about the need for a maximum level of performance of the entire education system and school management chain.

To this end, the Ministry of Education has conducted an in-depth survey and has already made available a considerably detailed Guideline for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. However, despite of what has been studied and despite of what very carefully and responsibly has been included in this Guideline, successful implementation of the Guideline will totally hinge on the double, triple or multiple energies that you and your teams, along with the school principals and teachers should invest in this academic year. This means you all should ceaselessly and patiently work day and night to closely follow and ensure rigorous implementation of the Guideline.

And this is not a matter of accomplishing a state duty, but it is about living up the duty and distinguished humanism by each and every one of you and about setting and becoming a example and a source of courage, energy, a source of credibility and trust in all people in the education system, from the school principals to every teacher and parent. This means that you should not only bear in mind each paragraph of the Guideline, but also be the first to rigorously and strictly observe it.

You know very well that the schools will function differently now. The schools will operate in one, two to three shifts. You also know that some 1097 schools will operate in one shift, 479 will operate in two sub-shifts and 183 schools in three sub-shifts.

Schools will operate from one to three shifts and no more than 20 students will be allowed in a classroom. Also, classes will last for a maximum of 30 minute and shift between online learning and attending the classroom, while students will only be evaluated based on what teachers will give during the class sessions.

Some 600 public schools all over Albania a day ago opened their doors ahead of the new academic year to more than 4500 pupils who have been unable to attend online classes during the total lockdown. With the physical distancing rules in place, pupils from first to fifth grade need to complement their knowledge during a two-week learning process until 11 September, three days ahead of the formal start of the new academic year. The process involves some 2,600 teachers who were trained in July. Yet, the process will go on in the first two weeks of the new academic year in all grades of the pre-university education system.

In the meantime, the education institutions currently taking measures for the start of the new academic year, with health protection being their top priority, they all face an absolutely extraordinary challenge, not simply to start and complete an academic year, calendarically the same with any previous school year, but it will indeed be a long and more challenging school year. Therefore, after the continuous training of the heads of educational institutions, meetings in cooperation with the local government officials, equipping with the necessary materials, including detergents, gloves, masks, chlorine and alcohol-based disinfectants, thermometers, etc., a dedicated person from the public health system will be also deployed at every school.

Please bear in mind that the public health workers at your schools will be your prime and daily contact person of each and every one of you, not to merely and formally ask them, nor to add more pressure in this process, but to encourage, inspire and stand by them at any moment, exchange and share information and address their needs and requests immediately.

As far as I have been informed, the process of painting the necessary signage and floor markings pupils and students should follow to enter school building is about to complete. Assuring a 1.5 to 2-meter physical distance in every school premises is a must, but having said that, it is absolutely crucial to understand that this not about putting adults on a line, but it is about disciplining social behaviour of a very delicate age group, therefore attention, patience and commitment are needed to handle this process not through restrictive measures imposed on some, but through a special effort to explain “the why.”

We all are born and brought up in families, where we have been told how important it is to shake hands when meeting someone, where we have been told how much important is to socialize with other and how important is to realize that everyone else is just like you.

What we are forced to do now, unfortunately, is run counter to the very basic principle of human life of a social being, and social distancing opposes this very principle. But if this is easily understood by the adults, from a logical point of view, but not entirely applicable, everyone is caught by the inertia of a whole life, of the good habits of a whole life so to say. But this is not easily understood by children, especially the younger ones.

The whole protection system, from the face masks to all the other aspects of a whole new logistics in our lives, but very surprising to those who are younger, require a parental approach in the deepest sense of the word, primarily from you and by every teacher, by every individual raised in the school environment, performing a task as a staff. And it is absolutely clear that your daily battle is directly related to the need to keep in mind that not all teachers are easily disciplined in this new framework, because teachers are also human beings, who come from a family life, to a large extent mothers who have their children at home and they are not robots, but they should also be constantly under care, and not under your control, under the care of all of us, under the care of the school principals, who are the key persons in this battle between you and what happens every day in your schools. This is as always the same thing, but in this case with the burden of this extraordinary thing that we have to deal with every single day.

We have doubled psychosocial service staff and increased support for students with special abilities;

We have ensured support through additional pedagogical personnel to cope with teaching and learning in shifts because of the social and physical distancing rules;

Transport support for around 3000 high school students who will be attending classes in other schools as their school buildings have sustained severe damages due to the earthquake and this is happening in of the country’s most densely populated parts and as such it is a serious problem.

If you wouldn’t personally commit yourselves in overseeing the process of distribution of the textbooks for free, your daily and special care as humanist missionaries and not merely as the principals and managers of a process that should be carried out successfully, because these are elements that cannot be undone, but, quite the opposite, they should further strengthen, would turn out to be not only insufficient, but also worthless. This is about mobilizing an entire army of not only professionals, but also humanists, mobilizing the hearts and minds of everyone who are tasked with this great responsibility of teaching children, and now should increase special attention and care about the health of the schoolchildren. A health that is at risk because of the child to child contact, just imagine what an extraordinary psychological and moral challenge it poses to the mind and the body of teachers who should deal with this job on daily basis. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you clearly understand the very essence of these words and realize that now, more than ever before, in your role as education officials you are parents and share the unavoidable burden of being the parents of thousands of schoolchildren, as well as the parents of thousands of teachers. That’s why you should best combine and harmonize your role as education officials with that of the parents, the role of individuals of providing comfort and wisely says the right word when needed. This requires a lot of strength and passion.

And I am confident that you will, because I know what kind of work and efforts have been made by the General Education Directorate and the Education Offices all over these years. The truth is that the General Directorate of the Pre-University Education System, the Education Directorates and Education Offices have definitely performed better than any other institution in the huge framework of the state service institutions! With the claws of political influence and corruption practices in appointing teachers already removed and with the system already freed from the horrible burden of injustice in this process, which has been already consolidated through the Teachers for Albania portal, the entire education management system is now back to work to accomplish a vision and a mission clearly stipulated on the government’s strategies, plans and objectives.

On the other hand, while the education management system is undergoing a continued reforming process and it is now in a process of continued consolidation, all of a sudden we face this extraordinary difficulty, which becomes even more extraordinary due to the fact that our system has yet to fully consolidate and we should make up as much as we can for this huge void by resorting to the human spirit and commitment of the entire management system. Like it or not, you are today at the forefront of an extremely great and difficult humanism undertaking.

I wouldn’t further elaborate on the specifics of your work and efforts in the quake-affected areas, where, as you have already seen, an intense reconstruction wave is underway, but where, for the sake of truth, while new schools are being constructed, this situation-related problematic is much more complex due to the lack of the required and needed infrastructure. Therefore, the education officials who happened to head the education directorates and offices in the quake-affected areas face even a tougher challenge and I would urge them to deeply understand these words and this situation.

The number of infected cases will grow spontaneously. We all know this given the international practice and the reasonable analysis of the factors behind the growing number of the fresh cases. It is a huge reopening within the already completely reopened space in Albania that would lead to a growth in the number of new infection cases. The numbers could also grow because of the lack of required efforts to curb the spread of the virus and such growth in new cases would turn out to be catastrophic. But there could be also an objective growth in cases due to the daily fight against this invisible enemy. We certainly would wish for the latter. It is unavoidable. It is impossible to build high surrounding walls around the schools such that would prevent the virus entering the school areas, but the outcome will largely depend on the way how we, you and entire education system will perform and work to prevent the spread of the virus.

And the outcome in this case is not a grade or a grade system in a school; it is not the grade point average in a school, but the health of the schoolchildren.

Keeping schools closed was not option; this is also based on the experience from other countries. Hesitation and dragging this process on is an option neither for the schools, nor for the society. Why?

For a completely simple reason: the virus is not gone and it will be here at least until a credible and worldwide recognized vaccine becomes available, which means that instead of waiting for the virus to magically disappear, or instead of enter into a mad path of conspiracies suggesting that no virus exists, and instead of just idly waiting for the state to solve and address all this and we just enjoy our freedoms as citizens, we all need to take up our own responsibilities. The state has done, is doing will keep delivering to the end. The good is infinite. Certainly by making efforts to improve things day by day, but everyone should fight the human stupidity. It is not the state that should fight it as it lacks the tools to fight the human stupidity of everyone when it comes not to violating the law or committing crimes, but when it comes to self-harming, because shaking hand with someone, gathering and joining overcrowded wedding parties or a funeral service, failing to respect distance and observe some simple safety rules, including hand-washing, is not a felony, is not a law violation act, it is not a stately punishable act, but it is merely an act of stupidity to the detriment of oneself. But if we are to call this act a stupidity to the detriment of oneself when done by adults, it is impossible to name it as such when it comes to schoolchildren. Therefore your role, the role of the whole system becomes extremely key, vital, in the fullest sense of the word and difficult. But certainly it is impossible for the officials of any level to control everything and this pandemic has gripped the world, it has gripped Albania and the education system.

I wish you will bear in mind all these for yourselves, and not only for others, so that you would be able to tell one day that you were serving in a very sensitive position during a grave health crisis and that you did your best to cope with it.

You will go over details during your discussion with the Education Minister and I hope we will establish a way of communication that we will continue to maintain as such, in a systematic way according to a jointly defined calendar, definitely according to the needs, in case (God forbid it) of a potential emergency.

Thank you!