To enrol at a university, you must submit hard copy documents to the Student Affairs Desk, you must also have a paper application in order to take an exam with a professor, and in order to get a bus ticket for free public transport at the Public Transport Company you must present a hard copy confirmation that you are a student. On the other hand, the use of digital tools in education is quite rare, and the discussions that took place in the past period were mainly focused on the issue of whether we will have digital textbooks in PDF format or in hard copy, which is the least important topic for discussion. These were just some of the conclusions from yesterday’s youth debate “Digitalization in Education”, which was organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation in “Public Room”.
The issue about the progress of digitalization in higher education, especially at “Ss. Cyril and Methodius” University (UKIM), was elaborated in the debate by Prof. Dr. Hristina Spasevska, the Vice- Rector for Teaching at UKIM.
She first pointed out that UKIM differs from other universities in the country, since the total number of students at the other universities equals the number of students in only one of the smaller faculties within UKIM. Spasevska pointed out that UKIM has 28 units, over 25,000 students and between 3,000 and 4,000 professors, including those who are not in the teaching-scientific councils, which means that it is a complex digitalization system.
The Covid pandemic caused the students and professors to adapt to a distance learning method for a period of about 10 days, and clearly the benefits of online teaching were perceived, therefore, the Vice-Rector Spasevska believes that such methods will be used in the future as well, especially when guests from abroad are invited to participate in the teaching.
She stated that the Covid pandemic swiftly made UKIM to consider full digitalization, adding that everything they have done so far is with the university’s own technical and financial resources.
At the beginning of 2021, UKIM made a decision to have a concept for digitalization in all domains and they have a plan as to the way digitalization will take place, noted the Vice- Rector Spasevska.
She pointed out that in addition to teaching on Teams, the students also requested an online learning system, hence the oldest university worked hard with its own resources, in order to make the iLearn system fully functional, which is already accepted and used in seven faculties within UKIM.
In addition to iLearn, Spasevska also spoke about UKIM’s iKnow platform, which exists for approximately 10 years, and the budget for its creation was over 1 million euros. At the moment, this system is not being changed, rather it is being upgraded, and the platform itself was envisaged as an electronic index. However, the Vice-Rector Spasevska indicated that due to the threat of hacking and due to the laws on archival operations in this country, UKIM still uses hard copy applications for exams.
UKIM’s Vice-Rector also mentioned that starting from this summer semester, three faculties (the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies, the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering, and the Faculty of Pharmacy) are fully organizing online payment, while as of today the student fees started to be gradually paid online at the other faculties as well.
“Digitalization is an expensive process, and not only is it expensive, after a few years you have to replace it. We must also have in mind that the iKnow system must be changed in a short time”, said the Vice-Rector Spasevska.
She added that UKIM organized online enrolments for two years and all students were able to submit their documents electronically.
Regarding the identical question about the progress of digitalization at UKIM, Slavcho Temelkovski, the President of UKIM’s University Student Assembly, at last night’s debate stated that the iKnow and iLearn systems have many advantages, however one of the drawbacks is the reluctance of senior professors to switch to this system.
What troubles the students, said Temelkovski, is that we are one of the few countries where parallel system is being used, i.e. we continue to use paper applications, which is a part of the students’ everyday life.
“In my opinion, only action is required to move to full digitalization,” says Temelkovski, adding that paper documentation should no longer be used.
In regard to the specific examples that need to be digitalized, he stated that an electronic index is not being used at UKIM, and the applications for exams for the subjects, as well as the payments to the faculties cannot be made online.
Temelkovski adds that the issue of digitalization is mostly raised in moments when enrolments at the faculties take place, and this year there were huge queues for student enrolment at the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering, whereby we are specifically talking about a faculty for information technologies. Speed, efficiency and effectiveness are of key importance and that is why paper documentation should no longer be used, stated the President of UKIM’s University Student Assembly.
He also raised the issue of the need for all faculties within UKIM to use the iLearn system, not just seven or eight faculties.
Anisija Ugrinovska, the President of the Organization for Dialogue and Affirmation of Secondary School Students (ODAS), also spoke at yesterday’s debate on the topic of the progress of digitalization in education, but from the perspective of secondary school students.
The President of ODAS indicated that the electronic diary proved to be useful for students and parents to monitor the success of teaching. In addition, online enrolments in schools have proven to be very necessary and useful, said Ugrinovska. According to her, digital learning should be distinguished from digital processes. In the latter, she believes that there is a huge potential for progress.
In relation to the recent issue of the introduction of electronic textbooks in primary and secondary education, which was met with resistance from part of the public, the President of ODAS indicated that they, as students, are willing to use electronic textbooks to the extent that such textbooks do not dominate in the learning process.
“We are ready to use them as aids for the same purpose as paper textbooks, however they should not replace the actual teaching in schools and the contents of paper textbooks,” said Anisija Ugrinovska.
During the debate, several current questions were asked by the secondary school students and the university students to the three speakers.
One of the questions was about the actual necessity of paper applications for taking an exam, as well as about the registration at the Student Affairs Desk. UKIM’s Vice-Rector, Hristina Spasevska, said that there is a law on archival operations, according to which it is mandatory to keep paper documents in this country. There is resistance at the student services at the faculties, says Spasevska, because the applications that students submit online, should be printed and placed in the students’ records by the students services afterwards. At some faculties, such as the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering, where there are over 4,000 students, human resources are needed to print all of these documents.
At the debate, the students were also interested in the availability of electronic textbooks in English, and also why the UKIM system offers access only to textbooks for the subjects they are studying, however not for subjects they are interested in. The indicated example referred to the students at the Faculty of Economics, who sometimes need to consult literature in the field of law, or vice versa, for students who are studying law and need literature in the field of economics.
UKIM’s Vice-Rector explained that electronic publishing is available on the university website to all those interested, while all books from the digital library are available to students through their platforms even after taking a specific exam.
One of the questions that was asked to UKIM’s Vice-Rector referred to the certificates that the students had to obtain so far in order to get health insurance or to use free public transport. Spasevska answered that UKIM already sends the lists of enrolled students to the Health Insurance Fund, and they are working on the same step with the Ministry of Education and Science. They also cooperate with the public transport, however they have technical problems that have not been caused by them, and their intention is to send the online list of enrolled students there as well, so that there is no need to issue paper certificates.
A serious discussion between the audience and the speakers in the debate also developed regarding the question about the required amount of funds to implement digitalization in education. In contrast to UKIM’s Vice-Rector, the President of UKIM’s University Student Assembly said that it has been agreed that the budget for digitalization is high, however the point is that after the initial high investment, many costs that previously existed should no longer be incurred, therefore it is very important to start the process.
On the other hand, Hristina Spasevska, UKIM’s Vice-Rector, insisted on the need to use digital tools by means of which students will be able to visually see the processes in the companies, in order to present the operation within them. Spasevska clarified that this is necessary for a competent workforce in the future. Furthermore, Spasovska emphasized that UKIM also uses modern equipment for laboratory exercises, which is necessary for mastering the processes that today cannot be explained on a blackboard or verbally by the professors.
Yesterday’s youth debate on digitalization in education was organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation, in synergy with the project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA” which is co-financed by the European Union and the project “Reliable News for Empowered Youth” financed by the British Embassy in Skopje.