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Poorer results and lack of knowledge, lowered concentration, anxiety, and stress among both students and teachers. Students are suffering the consequences of the false bomb threats which interrupted the educational process almost daily for months. In the past few weeks, there have been no reports, after the school management started applying the new instruction from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), but the previous frequent interruptions of classes already took their toll.

How did the bomb reports affect students and teachers and how did they affect education? We discussed this with Ana Pop Rizova, a school psychologist at the “Orce Nikolov” high school in Skopje, which was most affected by the threats, as well as with the representatives of high school organizations, Luka Pavikjevikj and Anisija Ugrinovska.

“In terms of the quality of teaching, it is not the same. It happened over a period of evaluation, tests, and assessments. It was very frustrating for everyone, both students and teachers. They would arrange a test, then a report would arrive and classes would have to be interrupted. We started changing the shifts, but the reports kept coming. We are now trying to get back on track with the new measures. We perform checks before classes, between shifts, and after classes”, says Pop-Rizova.


Just as teaching was finally normalized, reports started appearing

At first, the reports were shocking to everyone, both the teaching staff and the students, because they happened in the middle of class. This school had arranged to have a special ringing system when receiving such a report, that is, they received a signal that they should leave the school at a precisely determined sound of the bell.

“Mentally, this was an additional burden for the students. After the coronavirus pandemic, we began to approach a normalization of school life. But this was a burden for the children. However, our children are more afraid of canceling a test than failing it. There were cases when they themselves proposed to take their tests in the schoolyard. They were stressed. They wanted to fix their grades, but they had no way. “Professors have now become much more sensitive and cooperative following these developments”, says Pop Rizova.

According to her, even if the students in “Orce Nikolov” had gaps in their knowledge, they would overcome them considering that they are learning, but at the national level, it is certain that there will be a decline in the acquired knowledge of many.

“Anxiety and depression among students have increased due to the reports. They come to me to ask for help, usually very upset, not knowing what to do. The pandemic brought us such uncertainty, and with the bomb threats, all the capacities of children to handle stress were totally exhausted – which causes anxiety, and concentration issues. Every second person reports to me that they cannot sit down to study and that they have trouble memorizing. There is also a group exhibiting a depressed mood,” adds Pop Rizova.

She provides them with self-help techniques in order to help them feel better. For the benefit of students, she also cooperates with parents.

As a generation, we haven’t had a full school year without interruptions

According to Luka Pavikjevikj, president of the High School Union, the impact of bomb threats on high school students and students, in general, affected both the security and educational aspects.

“During the first round of bomb threats last fall, students experienced significant levels of stress and anxiety as they grappled with the possibility of an actual bomb in their school and feared for their safety. The initial reports had a negative impact on the mental health of high school students, but also on the teaching staff in schools. But as the reports of bombs became more frequent, the fear subsided and students became desensitized to the reports. The daily disruptions to their classes and schedules caused nervousness among high school students, as their carefully planned routines were repeatedly upended” says Pavikjevikj.

According to him, it is good that the new protocols have finally enabled a solution to this problem.

“Nevertheless, it must seriously be considered how we are going to make up, that is, supplement the missed teaching hours”, he emphasized.

Anisija Ugrinovska from the Organization for Dialogue and Affirmation of High School Students (ODAS), says that the bomb alerts greatly affected the academic results of students and, of course, their mental health.

“The daily evacuations were very unpleasant, however much it may have been known that the report was false. They affected the daily life of students. On the other hand, we missed a lot of classes and deepened the gaps in knowledge that had already been caused by online teaching anyway, so, as a generation that did not have a full uninterrupted school year, it is good that we achieved changes in the manner of taking the state matriculation exam, starting with the ODAS initiative,” she says.

However, in the last few weeks, the schools have been quiet. The director of the “Orce Nikolov” high school, Mitko Dimovski, says that the new rules are being followed and there have been no new reports so far.

“With the new instructions from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the school is secured. Checks are being performed, there are no reports because the addresses have been changed, and classes are finally being held regularly, without interruptions”, says Dimovski.

The first false report was received by five high schools on October 26 last year. The email was sent by a certain “Nova Era”. The content was disturbing and claimed that a bomb had been planted in the school.

There were many false reports of bombs in Serbia last year as well, when hundreds of schools, public buildings, and the airport in Nish were evacuated in the center of Belgrade on May 16. There was also a series of false reports of explosives placed at several addresses at the beginning of June this year in Republika Srpska, and the Clinical Center in Banja Luka was also targeted, after which the patients were immediately evacuated with the help of medical personnel.

False bomb alerts have resurfaced in schools and universities across Bulgaria over the past two days, constituting a form of hybrid attack. Dozens of schools and universities in Bulgaria have received reports of bombs in the past two days, which have been found to be false after extensive checks. Bulgarian Minister of Internal Affairs Ivan Demerdzhiev, stated yesterday that there is a suspected Russian connection to a large number of bomb threats, whereas the Central Election Commission has requested clarification from the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs on the security procedures in light of the false reports of bombs, considering the fact that early parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 2nd in Bulgaria.

Link to the original article: “The alerts made high school students anxious and created gaps in their learning” – News Agency

This research story was prepared as part of the project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA”, co-financed by the European Union and implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), the e-Governance Academy (Estonia), the Mjaft! Movement (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change Serbia (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro), and “Open Data Kosovo” (Kosovo).

This research story was prepared with the financial support of the European Union. The content of this research story is the sole responsibility of the Metamorphosis Foundation and the author and in no way reflects the views of the European Union.