Posted: 6. September 2018

700 teaching assistants for education of schoolchildren with special needs

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s speech at meeting with teachers, special needs teaching assistants most recently hired to help in the education of pupils and students with special needs: 

 

Thank you very much for the hospitality!

We are here today to talk about a very specific and a very significant topic on the special needs classroom assistants. You usually call them “children with special needs” but I dislike this term and prefer to call them “children with special skills” instead. And I believe, although the total number of 3700 schoolchildren with special skills is relatively low, in terms of what they represent and given the society’s obligation towards these children, there is no doubt they are a strong reason to tighten the belt making available a funding that was not provided previously.

When we took office, the country’s education system was in a dramatic situation and I believe you are the most trusted witnesses to this. No teaching assistants were hired. So, these children not only they lacked the help of a teaching assistant, but they also went through a path that made their journey of life harder, being in classroom along with other schoolchildren and the teachers were unable to deal specifically with them and where they and their parents experienced dramatic situations.

We took the first step by initially employing a group of 300 teaching assistants. We are now ready to take another bigger step by hiring 700 other teachers. One may ask, why 700 and not 3700 teaching assistants? They are right because after all what is gone is gone. What matters is what is going to happen in the future.

This is of course the reason we have taken up this job, not to match with the past but to handle the future. But, on the other hand, whoever prejudices what the government is doing and what more could have been done, it would be better for them to consider first their own selves and their own home. Nobody succeeds in doing everything he wishes for his own family and home, but of course everyone around the world deserves to have everything he or she wants for his own family and kids. This is the reason why everyone works and sacrifices, why we all make plans and endeavour every single day so that in the future we live better than we are living today or we used to live in the past. That’s exactly how our common house works.

Today we can afford to do more than we used to do in the past, because we embarked on the path of painful reforms for some, but yet indispensable to everyone and indispensable to our children above all. Should the reforms we have launched were undertaken many years ago, we wouldn’t be discussing today about the initiative to provide textbooks to schoolchildren for free. We wouldn’t be discussing about the teaching assistants today. Instead we would have been discussing a lot of other issues. But the long-delayed reforms, turning a blind eye to the reality and playing politics with the idea of putting off until tomorrow what you can do today caused the whole generation of the’90s to lose endless chances and the country waste indefinite time.

Albania would have been completely different by now if all of these were to be done on time and Albania cannot afford to continue being what it is today. This is the reason why when we do things, first and foremost we think about Albania of the children of tomorrow.

Employment of the special needs teaching assistants is part of the most recent government initiatives and decisions that are the result of the new opportunities we have now created to give back to people a small share of the huge investment people have made by supporting our reforms and by sometimes enduring the hardship of reform efforts.

Those who acknowledge that a lot have been done, but not so quickly, not all at once, they make a big mistake. It is the same as saying cancer should be fought, but not immediately. It is impossible, it is difficult to treat. But as you can see for yourselves the reforms are yielding initial effects and have already begun to provide us the opportunity to give back to the people through investments and improved services in their favour. The same goes for the textbooks.

We have provided textbooks for free to over 108 000 schoolchildren in first to ninth grade and they mostly come from low income families and families benefiting under the social welfare program, children of police officers killed in the line of duty and so on and so for.

However, this is insufficient.

Today we have been given the opportunity to provide textbooks for free to around 190 schoolchildren. The fifth graders will benefit textbooks for free next year and all schoolchildren in the country’s primary education system will get their books for free within our second term in office. There is nothing extraordinary about this initiative, but it is something necessary. The initiative is necessary for the families to save money, but also indispensable to the society because it is not all about money, but an aspect of care the whole society should place to children and their education. It is not only about providing textbooks for free, but what kind of textbooks we are providing them. The new textbooks are completely different to those sold 2, 3, or 4 years ago. This because the textbooks reform, the revolution we launched in education takes several stages and it will complete next year. We started initially by providing books for free to first to fourth-grade pupils, but this revolution will allow schoolchildren across Albania to receive Oxford, Cambridge and Pearson textbooks. These are textbooks from international leading publishing houses and ones that tormented our children.

Teachers and parents alike turned down more than 600 previous textbooks. The rest were improved or were replaced with high-quality textbooks that certainly cost a little more because they are real products. But yet they are provided for free in a whole cycle that will complete by the end of our second term in office. Of course we don’t feel comfortable that a part of parents will continue buying textbooks for their children. However, around 2/3 of primary school children receive them for free, including fifth to ninth-grade schoolchildren from the aforementioned vulnerable social categories. The parents will no longer by their children’s textbooks hoping to receive a compensation later. They will be immediately provided these books for free and you know that since you are personally involved in their distribution.

The teachers’ part is also a very important aspect. We have done what previously seemed totally impossible. Schools have been freed from politics. None of you here, or even those who are not attending this meeting – and I don’t mean you because you are attending this meeting on your free will – but there are many other teachers who refuse or are not willing to participate in a meeting with the prime minister since they trust another thing. However, there is no school principal here in Elbasan or other schools in Elbasan region to ask and hold them responsible why they didn’t attend this gathering. That time is over.

Teachers are now hired and recruited through a competitive examination. Testing is a law today and it is no longer merely a regulation and a guideline issued from the minister for education.

Few months ago, the parliament adopted a law providing for the “Teachers for Albania” to be protected under the law. There are over 5000 teachers have joined the education system. I have personally met teachers with seven, eight, 11 years of teaching experience who could not open the education’s gate. How I happened to meet them? – you may ask. I met them during the meetings with teachers who had scored high on the test. The teacher who ranked first in Tirana after sitting a maths exam is now working as a teacher after seven years of joblessness. She ranked first and was immediately appointed as teacher. I have no idea and I’m not interested at all to know whom she votes for.

Likewise, the new school for the head teachers is set to start during this school year.

A special school for head teachers will open. We can’t keep pretending for more if we are to maintain the current school management level, despite the respect for the school principals. We have sacked 300 school principals, not on political grounds. We have replaced them with the 300 teachers who have scored high in the exams. But this is not enough since being a good teacher doesn’t necessarily mean you are also a very good head teacher. Therefore, the new school will ensure continued training and education for head teachers and we believe it will change and improve a lot of things in school management terms. The same goes over the teachers’ training. You all know better than me that the teachers’ training system has fundamentally changed from what it used to be. We are now provided more opportunities to seek for more since we have already, or better say, together with you we have laid the basis to give back to families all the fruits of our efforts.

We’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of energy, and above all, we have consumed a lot of your and citizens’ nerves, attaching a lot of attention to the everyday politics. But this will change fundamentally. Of course, we cannot completely neglect everything that is related to the other parties, but our attention will focus on you and the people to jointly do the utmost.

To conclude, I would like to add something else. I was impressed that the school’s sports corner is still there just like it used to be. It should no longer be like this. And not only the sports corner here, but others in many other schools too. By this I mean that we have created the co-governance platform, which focuses on the volume of complaints and requests made by the citizens, but the platform also includes a special section entitled “My school.” This section is specifically dedicated to teachers, students and their parents, either to file their complaints or to propose various projects.

I am convinced that if teachers, students and their parents join their forces – and I’m pretty sure there are teachers and parents who know quite well how to design a sports corner –  to turn the project into a joint program to transform this sports corner in order to fit the Oxford textbooks the children in this school will use.

These basketball nets are fit for those chanting on the street. Only they can play with these nets, although they can’t play basketball since stone throwing is their game.

However, I would like to encourage all teachers to consider this aspect too. In the context of our goal to turn schools into community centres, we are seeking to establish cooperation channels with schools to jointly develop school, libraries, sports corners projects, as well as artistic and cultural activities of schools.

Many thanks for the hospitality!

Thank you very much!