Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at meeting with teachers on the government initiative to provide textbooks to schoolchildren for free:
Good day and thank you very much for coming!
The reason to hold this meeting is the beginning of the school year along with several novelties, with over 190 000 first to fourth-grade schoolchildren all over the Republic of Albania entitled to get the textbooks for free being the most important novelty.
We launch this process today because we couldn’t afford it earlier, but we can now thanks to the reforms and progress that have provided us new room for more investment and more efforts in several directions and areas we have been definitely eager to do more, but we had first to settle the inherited government arrears and launch major reforms.
Next year, the program will also include the fifth-grade schoolchildren and our ambition is to provide free of charge textbooks to all schoolchildren in the compulsory education system by the end of the second term in office, helping Albanian families to spare millions of euro in spending for textbooks and make savings for their household budget.
We did whatever we can to date and we are now provided the opportunity to plan a funding of six million dollars to support this operation. So far we have increased the number of schoolchildren entitled to benefit textbooks for free and one should not forget that in the previous 2017-2018 school year we provided compensation to around 108 000 children for their textbooks. The compensation has also been granted a category of families with more than three children, needy families, the families of policemen killed in the line of duty and other vulnerable categories.
At the same time, I am extremely pleased we can now afford to double the number of teachers for children with special needs. They are usually called children with disabilities, but it sounds better and beautiful to call them children with special skills. Back in 2013, there were no teachers for children of this category although there around 3700 children across the country who need special care and you as teachers know quite well how tough it is for parents, how difficult it is for children with special skills to sit in a class without receiving any special attention and how often completely unjustifiable situations occur. We have employed 300 teachers for children with special needs and we will take this number to 700 teachers next year.
People may ask, why only 700 and not 3700 teachers? Because this is what we can afford today and tomorrow may be we will have more opportunities. Others can also claim that all students should get their textbooks for free? Three countries in our region, Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia – a EU member state – do not provide free of charge books. Italy, a nation in the world’s most developed countries, provides free of charge books to the first to fifth-grade schoolchildren. Meanwhile, a number of other developed countries like Switzerland and Finland, and other nations with an incredibly high income per capita rate if compared to Albania, provide textbooks for free to primary education schoolchildren only. We were not provided this opportunity and we could not afford this initiative. But we can now.
You are also witnesses to a fact which was truly distressing, not only in financial terms for the family budget, but also in terms of the quality of textbooks. They were mostly low-quality books, a result of ignorance and corruption. More than 1300 different textbooks, with 600 of them being refused by teachers. Half of them totally useless in terms of didactics, with outrageous blunders, countless distortions and errors identified. While today we complete a cycle launched by the Minister of Education to replace low-quality textbooks with the high-quality texts from Cambridge, Oxford and Pearson. These are all textbooks of indisputable high quality and it is these very books we are providing to first to fourth-grade schoolchildren for free. Many claim the textbooks are expensive. Yes. Several textbooks cost a little more than previously, because they are very high-quality books and there is nothing abnormal if compared to textbook prices in other countries. Our aim is to provide free of charge textbooks to all schoolchildren in the country’s primary education system by the end of our second term in office. And I am fully confident we will succeed as our opportunities keep growing.
I am also pleased to affirm today that more than 10 000 children will learn in newly built and totally reconstructed school premises. There is of course a large number of other school buildings that need to be reconstructed, but what is most important and that is really the pride of our work is the fact that an increasing number of teachers are hired according to a merit-based system each year. This is the most important thing. Schools are ultimately free and independent from politics and a merit-based system is being applied.
However, to get back to this meeting’s main topic, it is crucially important that entire education community, from the Ministry of Education, head teachers – who will also undergo a reforming stage – and teachers should all work to distribute the textbooks for free on time.
It has been really a very complex process, since although many families used to receive compensation for their children’s schoolbooks, these texts were not provided for free and therefore the process led to bureaucracy and caused distress. The same goes for schoolchildren from other social categories. So it is no longer a process stipulating that you should by the textbooks and then provide the due invoice in order to be eligible for compensation. It is a straightforward process. The textbook packages will be sent to children and their parents ahead of the new school year due to start in next days. I believe the Ministry of Education has already made all required arrangements and everyone should now focus on efforts to successfully carry out this pretty massive operation as it is about around 190 000 families and it won’t be nice should a single family is not provided with the textbooks for their children.
I hope you don’t mind if I wish and congratulate you all quite in advance for the new school year, wishing you a successful and a positive school year.
We have not forgotten that even though the teacher wages have grown, yet teachers must have their pay level increased. We have not forgotten this, but every step should be taken in line with the new opportunities and I am confident that new opportunities will be crated in this aspect soon.
Thank you very much! The Minister of Education will now all the necessary instructions and you can also take advantage of this meeting to raise any issue and make different proposals to the Minister.
Thank you very much!