Between 16 and 18 September 2020, the seventh PUBMET conference was held, which presented innovative approaches, best practices and future challenges in the area of scholarly communication and publishing in the context of open science. On 18 September 2020, the Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society organized the session on session “Challenges to Open and Online Education in North Macedonia”.
The session was created and moderated by Mr Bardhyl Jashari, Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society, who possesses extensive experience in the field of new technologies, media, civic activism and e-government. Together with his interlocutors, he gave an overview of the situation in the field of scientific research, the cultural and psychological aspects of online education and the challenges in online teaching in elementary education. Jahsari’s interlocutors were Zoran Janevski, Institute of Economics – Skopje, Professor Sead Džigal, International Balkan University – Skopje and Goce Arsovski, Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society.
Professor Zoran Janevski – Director of the Institute of Economics – Skopje said that there are numerous factors that limit the development of the scientific research area in the Republic of North Macedonia. The fact that only 0.35% of GDP is allocated for scientific research indicates that the potential for development is extremely small. In addition, funding for scientific institutes by the state is low, human resources are limited, and the development of new content and online learning platforms are not budgeted at all. Faced with the challenge of running their own processes and fighting for financial stability, researchers are losing the will to make their research results available for free. The state should seriously conduct reforms in this area, work on developing a plan for actualization and dissemination of research, but also to encourage institutions to create relevant and quality open data that will be available for further learning and research.
The experience of Prof. Sead Džigal – International Balkan University – underlines that most teachers and a dominant number of students had a negative approach to online teaching. As a key factor, he singles out stress from something that is new, to which neither professors nor students were prepared. Another factor in building a negative attitude towards online learning is the age structure of teachers which is directly related to the lack of IT skills, especially because not only basic IT skills are required, but also the full preparation of content and the way it is transmitted is quite important. Many students do not have the proper means to attend online classes smoothly, and those who do, generally understand these tools as tools they use for entertainment rather than learning. It is also a challenge to keep the students’ attention, as their concentration significantly reduces after 20 minutes. According to prof. Džigal, online teaching should become mandatory in a certain number of hours even after the pandemic is over, and teachers should have regular trainings regarding this matter.
Goce Arsovski from Metamorphosis Foundation presented the identified conditions from the research “The conditions and challenges for conducting online teaching in elementary schools”, conducted in recent months with financial support from the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia. According to the obtained results, almost half of the participants (44.5%) reported that they use their own laptop at school for business purposes. 84.9% of the teaching staff use private email addresses for official communication. This is problematic from many aspects, especially from the aspect of protection of personal data of students, who during elementary education are minors. Almost one-third of the teaching staff (31.6%) stated that they have internet access at school only on their mobile phone. Unfortunately, there are also locations where schools do not offer any internet access. Among the numerous recommendations regarding the improvement of the IT infrastructure are the recommendations for the availability of educational materials for all students, especially for the students who attend classes in the languages of the smaller communities as well as the promotion of the use of open educational resources as an alternative to the classic textbooks and teaching aids.
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The Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society through its program – Education for Innovation is committed to achieving the goals of the Digital Agenda of the Western Balkans of the European Commission, increasing the capacity of civil society organizations, activists, entrepreneurs, youth organizations and other stakeholders to competently manage their lifestyles that are closely linked to the Internet, as well as their participation in decision-making and policy-making processes on issues of public interest, through the use of innovative digital tools.