Chapter 1. The education system in the Republic of North Macedonia

Since the early 2000s, the Republic of North Macedonia has improved access to education and steps have been taken to strengthen inclusiveness. However, educational attainment and performance continue to be strongly influenced by a student’s background. Learning levels remain among the lowest in Europe and the Western Balkans. This reflects systemic challenges of low funding, unstable governance and limited capacity. Placing student learning at the centre of North Macedonia’s evaluation and assessment processes can help to focus the system onto raising standards for all.

    

Introduction

Since the last OECD review of the Republic of North Macedonia’s (hereafter referred to as “North Macedonia”) education system in 2003, significant progress has been made in consolidating democratic government and opening the economy. At the same time, the country has improved access to education, with school and tertiary enrolment now similar to levels in OECD countries. Steps have also been taken to improve inclusiveness – such as introducing instruction in minority languages and establishing higher education quotas for students from ethnic groups. Yet despite these improvements, young citizens of North Macedonia continue to leave education with among the lowest learning outcomes in Europe and the Western Balkans. Major differences in educational outcomes across different ethnic groups also persist. While poverty rates have fallen in recent decades, low educational performance is limiting the employment and life opportunities of many individuals and impeding national development. This review looks at how evaluation and assessment can direct the education system towards higher learning standards for all students.

National context

Socio-economic context

Further progress needed to reduce unemployment and poverty

Despite fluctuations, the overall poverty level in North Macedonia has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades. In 2015, 21% of North Macedonia’s population was living below the national poverty line, compared to 22% in 2000. The poverty rate is higher than in other Western Balkan countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina (16.9%) and Montenegro (8.6% in 2013). The government is aware of the need to reduce poverty, and has made reducing poverty to below 16% by 2020 a key goal in the Programme of Government 2017-20 (Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, 2017[1]).

Unemployment is one reason why poverty levels have remained comparatively high. One in four people over 15 are unemployed, compared to less than one in ten across OECD countries. High levels of informal employment – equivalent to nearly 20% of total employment in 2015 – further exacerbate poverty, inequality and social vulnerability (OECD, 2018[2]). High levels of unemployment and informality partly reflect a skills gap – especially around higher-order, technical and socio-emotional skills – according to national employers (World Bank, 2017[3]). The broader socio-economic trends of demographic decline, a consequence of low birth rates and high migration flows, is symptomatic of the lack of job opportunities but also hinders economic development (World Bank, 2018[4]).

North Macedonia is ethnically and linguistically diverse

Ethnic Albanians represent around 23% of North Macedonia’s population. The ethnic Albanian minority is mostly concentrated in Northwestern regions of the country. Other minority groups include the Vlachs, the Roma, the Serbian and the Turkish, in descending order of population size (OECD, 2003[5]). Inequities across ethnic groups are large – in particular between the Macedonian and Albanian communities. Members of minority groups are less likely to progress in education and to be employed than ethnic Macedonians (OECD, n.d.[6]) (Figure 1.1), contributing to higher poverty rates among minority groups. Among the Roma, the poverty rate is three times the national average (Biljana Petrovska Mitrevska, 2017[7]).

In response to concerns among ethnic groups regarding their political representation, the Ohrid Framework Agreement (2001) provided a framework to devolve power to municipalities (Lyon, 2012[8]). The Agreement led to decentralisation reforms, beginning in 2005 (Macedonia, 2003[9]).

Figure 1.1. Percentage of population from an ethnic minority group
by statistical jurisdiction
Figure 1.1. Percentage of population from an ethnic minority group

Source: Authors calculation based on (MAKStat Database, n.d.[10]), Total population according the ethnic affiliation, Census 2002, http://makstat.stat.gov.mk/PXWeb/pxweb/en/MakStat/?rxid=c63fa1f5-6bc8-4569-a141-853f4c4cc421 (accessed on 24 March 2018).

Table 1.1. Education and development in North Macedonia
Key indicators

 

North Macedonia

OECD Average

GDP per head, USD, constant prices, constant PPPs, 2016*

14 942

38 096

GDP, volume – annual growth rates (%), 2016*

2.4

2.3

Gini coefficient of household disposable income in 2014 (or nearest year)*

36.1

31.3

Population growth (annual %), 2016**

0.1

0.67

Rural population (% of total population), 2016**

43

20

Unemployment rate aged 15-24, all persons (%)*

49.5

16.6

Unemployment rate, aged 15 and above, all persons (%), 2016*

26.1

8.1

% of 18-24 year-olds, NEETS (unemployed or inactive), 2016*

24.7

11.1

% of 18-24 year-olds, NEETS (unemployed or inactive) women, 2016 *****

25.9

16

Human Development Index HDI, 2015***

0.748

0.89

% of 15-year-olds attaining Level 2 or below in science, 2015*****

62.9

21.2

% of 15-year-olds attaining Level 2 or below in mathematics, 2015*****

70.2

23.4

% of 15-year-olds attaining Level 2 or below in reading, 2015*****

70.7

20

Literacy rate (%), 2002 *******

96.1

N/A

Sources: *: (OECD, 2018[2]), Competitiveness in South East Europe: A Policy Outlook 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264298576-en;** (UNESCO-UIS, n.d.[11]), The Republic of North Macedonia, UNESCO UIS, http://uis.unesco.org/country/MK; *** (UNDP, n.d.[12]), Human Development Data (1990-2015), Human Development Reports, http://hdr.undp.org/en/data; **** (OECD, 2016[13]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en; ***** (ILO, n.d.[14]), Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM) 2015, http://www.ilo.org/global/statistics-and-databases/research-and-databases/kilm/lang--en/index.htm; ******* (World Bank Database, n.d.[15]), Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above), Data, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?locations=MK.

Despite recent reforms, lack of transparency and accountability continue to hinder national development

Since its independence in 1991, North Macedonia has made progress in consolidating democratic governance, with regular elections being held following international standards (Transparency International, 2014[16]). Nevertheless, the public sector remains highly politicised. A corruption scandal in 2015 involving senior-level officials brought down the ruling coalition. The ensuing political crisis highlighted North Macedonia’s weak accountability mechanisms and high levels of corruption (European Commission, 2016[17]). Steps have subsequently been taken to establish legal and institutional anti-corruption frameworks, but their implementation remains a major challenge. Regulatory, supervisory and advisory bodies are unable to carry out their functions effectively, and independently of political pressures (Transparency International, 2014[16]).

Strengthening the independence and transparency of public administration is necessary for North Macedonia’s accession to the European Union (EU). It is also important for improving the country’s education system. At present, the appointment of principals, teachers and directors of key agencies frequently reflects political affiliations rather than demonstrated competence and experience. The absence of transparency and accountability mechanisms in the use of education expenditures are also a major reason for the system’s inefficiencies (see Chapter 5).

Governance and funding of the education system

Governance of the education system

The national strategy for education focuses on essential actions, but lacks goals and monitoring mechanisms

The Government’s Comprehensive Education Strategy for 2018-25 and associated Action Plan for 2020 set out key actions to be undertaken in the coming years to improve teaching and learning (Box 1.1). Priorities include developing student-centred instruction, measuring learning in terms of outcomes (rather than focusing solely on knowledge acquisition) and the introduction of a national assessment. The government also aims to reform curricula to make learning more relevant to the labour market (MoES, 2018[18]) However, the strategic documents do not set out any specific goals for the sector. There is a notable absence of targets to raise learning outcomes, despite the country’s low performance in international student assessments. The strategy also lacks an implementation plan or a defined process to monitor progress.

Box 1.1. Comprehensive Strategy for Education 2018-25

In 2018, North Macedonia launched the Comprehensive Strategy for Education for 2018-25. Relevant actions concerning evaluation and assessment and improving education quality include:

  • Significantly increasing the share of children in pre-school and introducing a compulsory year of pre-primary education (ages 5-6);

  • Reforming the curricula and programmes for compulsory education to increase their relevance and attractiveness, better aligning them to children’s stages of development and focus more on learning outcomes;

  • Supporting the development and consistent use of quality textbooks while reducing reliance on textbooks for teaching;

  • Better orienting vocational education programmes towards the needs of the labour market;

  • Strengthening the competence of teaching staff at all educational levels;

  • Strengthening capacities at the central, local and school levels in management, and ensuring harmonised and transparent policies; and

  • Developing a national assessment by 2020, a new concept for the state matura and final examination for secondary vocational school students, and the Macedonian Qualifications Framework.

Source: (MoES, 2018[18]), Comprehensive Education Strategy for 2018-25, Ministry of Education and Science, Skopje.

Lack of professional capacity and unco-ordinated data systems weaken the Ministry’s ability to set and monitor policy goals

The Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) is responsible for developing strategic and legal documents and defining and implementing policies for all levels of education, except pre-primary (MoES, 2018[19]). Pre-primary education is under the shared responsibility of three ministries: the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MTSP) and the MoES. The Ministry of Education and Science lacks technical capacity for evidence-based policy making or monitoring policy implementation. This undermines the development of coherent and consistent policies and strategic planning, as observed in the repeated changes in the curriculum (Chapter 5).

A major factor impeding evidence-based policy making in North Macedonia is underdeveloped and under-used data systems (see Chapter 5). While the ministry developed and implemented an Education Management Information System (EMIS) in 2010, it remains understaffed – there are just two members of staff in the EMIS unit - and under-used both within the ministry and across the education system. Central databases, for example, for school inspection and student examination results are not integrated with EMIS and data are collected multiple times from schools by different parts of the ministry. Data are also not comparable across the sector, for example, the State Statistical Office (SSO) and EMIS use different definitions for key indicators like school drop-out.

Specialised bodies affiliated to the ministry provide technical expertise, but are weakened by lack of strong leadership and insufficient resources

Specialised bodies affiliated to the ministry provide technical expertise and develop policies in specific areas including (see Figure 1.2):

  • The State Education Inspectorate (SEI) conducts the external evaluation of schools, follow-up activities and undertakes ad hoc school inspections in response to written requests from teachers, parents, school principals or the municipality.

  • The Bureau for Development of Education (BDE) develops curricula and associated learning standards for all levels from pre-primary to secondary education (except for vocational education and training [VET] subjects). In addition, the BDE provides teacher training and conducts education research.

  • The National Examination Centre (NEC) was established as an independent body from the BDE. It is responsible for developing and implementing national examinations in collaboration with the BDE for general education and with the Vocational Education and Training Centre (VETC) for vocational education. It is tasked with organising North Macedonia’s participation in international assessments and for undertaking national examinations, including state matura, school matura and VET final examinations. NEC is also responsible for training and licensing school leaders.

  • The VETC produces analysis and research on VET, develops professional standards and standards for vocational qualifications, curriculum and teacher training. It is also responsible for developing the vocational content for the state matura.

  • The National Board for the Macedonian Qualification Framework (MQF) is responsible for developing the qualifications system and providing recommendations on how to align the education system with labour market needs. The members of the National Board for the MQF include representatives from the MoES, the MTSP, the VETC, the BDE and higher education institutions, among others (MoES, 2018[19]).

While the specialised agencies have relatively good technical capacity, they are often understaffed and lack specific skill sets (e.g. psychometric, statistical or information and communication technology skills). Inadequate resources frequently prevent them from fulfilling their functions effectively. For example, the review team’s interviews revealed that the BDE lacks the necessary resources to provide teacher training.

The agencies are separate from the ministry, but they do not have a strong independent voice. Their leadership positions are often subject to political interference or are left open. For example, at the time of the review team’s visit, the NEC had not had a director. There is also no established forum to ensure that the agencies work together to share information, or to systematically and regularly contribute to policy development within the ministry. At present, this is a particular concern for the BDE, which has not been involved in the development of the new curriculum for grades 1-3 or the new national assessment. While the BDE was once an influential body, there are concerns about its declining influence and capacity. This review recommends reforming the BDE as the main organisation for teacher support and policy, complemented by sufficient resources for this role (Chapter 5).

Figure 1.2. System of Education Governance in the Republic of North Macedonia
Figure 1.2. System of Education Governance in the Republic of North Macedonia

Note: The picture provides a broad overview of the governance structure in the country and does not include all governance units and sub-units.

Source: Adapted from (MoES, 2018[19]), Republic of North Macedonia - Country Background Report, Ministry of Education and Science, Skopje.

Recent reforms have decentralised education service delivery, but have not developed capacity to match

The process of decentralisation that began in 2005, following the Ohrid Framework Agreement, has progressively given municipalities the responsibility to fund and run pre-school institutions, and primary and secondary schools in collaboration with central authorities. North Macedonia’s 81 municipalities – of which 10 make up the City of Skopje – are tasked with opening new establishments, distributing central funding, maintaining and auditing schools and appointing principals, and school board members (MoES, 2018[19]).

Following the decentralisation reform, international organisations and donors provided training to develop technical capacity at the local level. However, municipalities still lack capacity and sufficient resources to effectively manage education. The majority of municipalities have only one person in charge of education. While there is an Association of the Units of the Local Self-Government (ZELS), there is little sharing of best practices across municipalities. In addition, the progressive transfer of power to municipalities was not accompanied by the development of oversight mechanisms or a matching reallocation of funds in line with their new responsibilities (OSCE, 2014[20]). As a result, decentralisation led to many municipalities incurring debt, a situation which many are still in. The review team’s interviews also revealed that political interference is widespread in mayors’ choice of school principals or funding allocation decisions.

While schools have significant autonomy, political interference and lack of support prevent them from fully using it

Schools in North Macedonia report comparatively high levels of autonomy over school resource management and student assessment policies. School boards currently play a more influential role in managing school resources in North Macedonia than across most OECD countries (see Figure 1.3) (OECD, 2016[21]). Boards in North Macedonia are responsible for proposing an annual work programme and nominating the school leader who is then approved by the mayor (MoES, 2018[19]). In practice, however, the board members often anticipate the mayor’s preference based on political affiliations thereby limiting the board’s real autonomy. The board’s capacity to influence what happens in schools is further hindered by the lack of capacity of its members who are not provided with training for their role.

Figure 1.3. Distribution across the education system of responsibility for school resources, curriculum and establishing student assessment policies
Assuming the responsibilities of the five actors combined amount to 100%
Figure 1.3. Distribution across the education system of responsibility for school resources, curriculum and establishing student assessment policies

Source: (OECD, 2016[21]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264267510-en.

School principals have considerable responsibility over human resource management, including the selection, firing and evaluation of teachers (OECD, 2016[21]). However, according to stakeholders interviewed by the review team, principals’ autonomy in hiring decisions is limited by pressure to accept teachers based on political affiliations (see Chapter 3).

Teachers in North Macedonia also have considerable responsibility to develop classroom assessment, more so than in many OECD countries (see Figure 1.3). Schools are responsible for carrying out a number of student assessments and have significant space to develop the internal component and the project relating to the state matura (see Chapter 2). However, they receive little national support for this, and there are no national systematic moderating procedures to ensure reliability or quality of school-based assessments that contribute to the matura.

In contrast, North Macedonia’s schools have little autonomy over the curriculum (OECD, 2016[21]) and do not benefit from any subject or time flexibility (European Commission, 2018[22]). North Macedonia’s heavy curriculum load and the lack of school autonomy limits teachers’ ability to plan teaching time in order to be able to check for student understanding and repeat content if necessary. This contributes to a large share of students acquiring significant gaps in basic competencies as they move through school.

Box 1.2. OECD-UNICEF survey of teachers and principals in North Macedonia

The OECD conducted a survey for teachers and principals in North Macedonia in July 2018, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry. The purpose was to collect more comprehensive field data on teacher and school practices, as a complement to information gathered by the review team during school visits. In total, 1 392 teachers and 158 principals from all school education levels participated in the survey, which was anonymous.

The survey for teachers had 23 questions focused on:

  • Background information

  • Teaching practices

  • Curriculum and learning standards

  • Professional development appraisal

The survey for school leaders had 21 questions focused on:

  • Background information

  • Training and teacher support

  • School management and planning

  • School self-evaluation

  • School integral evaluation

The review’s analysis draws, among other things, on information collected in the survey, in particular for Chapters 3 and 4.

Source: (OECD and UNICEF, 2018[23]),”OECD-UNICEF survey of teachers and principals in North Macedonia,” Skopje.

Funding of the education system

Public spending on education has been historically low, and is declining further

At 3.7% of GDP in 2016, public expenditure on education in North Macedonia is much lower than the OECD average (4.2% of GDP) (World Bank, forthcoming[24]) (OECD, 2018[25]) and has declined in recent years. Between 2011 and 2016, North Macedonia’s public spending on education as a percentage of GDP fell from 4.6% to 3.7% (Figure 1.4). The share of total government expenditure allocated to education also declined from 13.3% to 11.6%, which is below the United Nations benchmark of 15-20% (UNESCO, 2014[26]). Low and declining levels of government expenditure suggest that education has not been a national priority since independence.

Data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that, among the countries and economies whose cumulative expenditure per student is under USD 50 000, higher expenditure on education is strongly associated with higher scores. At present, information on cumulative expenditure in North Macedonia is missing, but it is likely to be well below the USD 50 000 threshold, suggesting that additional spending would improve learning outcomes in North Macedonia.

Figure 1.4. Expenditure on education, as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total government expenditure (2011-16)
Figure 1.4. Expenditure on education, as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total government expenditure (2011-16)

Note: For spending as a percentage of total government expenditure only central government expenditure is included.

Source: (World Bank, forthcoming[24]), North Macedonia: Public Finance Review, World Bank, Washington D.C.

North Macedonia’s limited resources could be used more efficiently

Comparative analysis suggests that while increased funding will be important to improve education outcomes, there is also scope for North Macedonia to achieve better results with the resources it invests (OECD, 2016[21]). Neighbouring countries have been able to achieve higher participation rates and better learning outcomes with similar or lower levels of expenditure on education (Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5. PISA 2015 results and government expenditure in lower secondary education
Figure 1.5. PISA 2015 results and government expenditure in lower secondary education

Sources: (UNESCO-UIS, 2018[27]), Education: Initial government funding of education per student as a percentage of GDP per capita, UNESCO-UIS, http://data.uis.unesco.org/ (OECD, 2016[13]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en.

Among the reasons behind the limited positive impact of North Macedonia’s education spending are the inefficient use of the country’s limited resources and the lack of oversight mechanisms. One notable example of the former is the “The Computer for Every Student” initiative (2007-08), which was the equivalent to EUR 60 million, around 19% of the education budget for that school year. This programme does not represent the most effective use of North Macedonia’s limited education funds. There is little international evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better performance (OECD, 2016[21]). In line with these findings, while this programme has resulted in North Macedonia having high computer-per-student ratios (0.63), similar to the average in OECD countries (0.77), there is no evidence that it has improved learning. Furthermore, the computers purchased under this programme are now obsolete.

The large number of small schools and high student-teacher ratios also suggests that there is considerable scope to use resources more efficiently. More than 85% of primary and lower secondary schools enrolled less than 50 students in 2016-17 (State Statistical Office, 2018[28]). While average student-teacher ratios (13.8) are similar to averages in many OECD countries (13.1), there are wide variations across municipalities. In some schools, there are just three students per teacher, while in urban areas this can increase to eighteen students per teacher (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). Low student-teacher ratios partly reflect the need to cater to a multilingual student body, but also indicate considerable scope for North Macedonia to optimise its school network. The teacher workforce could also be more effectively managed to match student numbers. While there has been a 23% decline in school students since 2000, the number of teachers has expanded by 10% and the numbers of classes and teachers remain unchanged (World Bank, forthcoming[24]).

Expenditure levels in the early years of education are comparatively low

North Macedonia spends less in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and primary education, in comparison to EU countries (Figure 1.6). Ensuring adequate investment in early years learning is crucial to tackle disadvantage and poverty (OECD, 2017[29]). Prioritising spending in early childhood education and care (ECEC) education is particularly important in North Macedonia, given the low and uneven coverage of its current pre-primary system. Directing existing resources more towards the early years of education would also be efficient, since high quality pre-primary and primary education has a lasting impact on student outcomes (OECD, 2017[29]) and is less costly than remedial actions later on.

Figure 1.6. Public education expenditure by education level in percentage, 2016
Figure 1.6. Public education expenditure by education level in percentage, 2016

Note: “Not Specified” refers to resources provided to auxiliary services for education, such as scholarships, payments to students’ families, room and board, and infrastructure. EU-17 refers to data from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus,1 Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain.

1. Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: (World Bank, forthcoming[24]) North Macedonia: Public Finance Review, World Bank, Washington D.C.

North Macedonia allocates more resources per student to upper secondary and higher education. With fewer student enrolled at such levels, such an allocation appears to be regressive, especially considering that secondary and tertiary education enrolment is significantly lower among ethnic minorities.

Municipalities have considerable autonomy for resource allocation, but little oversight

Following decentralisation, municipalities are responsible for distributing central education funds to schools. Municipalities are free to determine how to allocate funds to local schools. Certain municipalities, such as Skopje, have developed school funding formulas based on the number of students and the size of the school building, among other factors. Such initiatives foster greater transparency and ensure that schools receive funds commensurate with their needs. However, there is currently no requirement for municipalities to disclose the standards and criteria used in resource allocation (MoES, 2018[19]). Such limited oversight of municipal funding practices, combined with limited central support, means that school funding is largely opaque. It also means that municipalities are under little pressure to ensure that funds are allocated according to need. This situation is exacerbated by the limited direct funding that municipalities provide to schools, which accounts for only 3-4% of school funds (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). In many decentralised contexts, local financing of education is an important lever to encourage municipal or state governments to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and yield the greatest impact.

The lack of oversight for school financing also raises integrity concerns. Interviews with the review team indicated that some municipalities use their funding power to exert influence on principals, by withholding funds. The lack of accountability mechanisms as well as the misuse of resources has also led several municipalities to incur debt.

Many schools lack basic resources

Historically low levels of education spending, and the absence of any explicit national mechanism to target additional resources to disadvantaged schools or students, have resulted in many schools lacking basic resources. Reports indicate that one-third of schools require major repairs (World Bank, forthcoming[24]) and satellite and multiple-shift schools are particularly prone to infrastructure problems. While the large share of multiple-shift schools partly reflects the need to provide multilingual education, in many cases, especially in urban areas, it also reflects inadequate capital spending. Overall, North Macedonia allocates a very small share of its total expenditure to capital expenses (5.2%) (World Bank, forthcoming[24]), compared to 8% on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2018[25]). While there is little evidence that material resources have a strong impact on student outcomes, OECD research suggests that ensuring minimum standards is necessary for high quality education provision (OECD, 2016[21]).

Structure of schooling in North Macedonia

General programmes

Education is compulsory until the end of upper secondary school and predominantly publicly provided

Education in North Macedonia has been compulsory from the start of primary to the end of upper secondary education since 2008 (Figure 1.7). The current Comprehensive Strategy for Education envisages introducing a compulsory year of pre-primary education (age 5-6) (MoES, 2018[18]).This reform should help address wide variations in children’s basic competencies when they enter primary school, which partly reflects low participation in pre-primary institutions.

The vast majority of students attend public institutions. There are no private primary or lower secondary education institutions1 in North Macedonia and virtually all students (97%) attend public schools in upper secondary. Pre-primary is also predominantly public, with 98% of children attending public pre-primary institutions (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). There is greater diversity of providers in tertiary education, where 15% of students attend private institutions, reflecting an expansion of private universities in recent years.

Figure 1.7. North Macedonia Education system
Figure 1.7. North Macedonia Education system

Source: (MoES, 2018[19]), North Macedonia - Country Background Report, Ministry of Education and Science, Skopje.

Satellite schools account for two-thirds of elementary schools

In 2017-18, nearly two-thirds of primary and lower secondary schools were satellite schools, which account for 15% of enrolled students. Satellite schools are subsidiary primary and secondary education facilities managed by a central school. Reports indicate that the conditions in which satellite institutions operate are significantly worse than those of central schools. For example, satellite schools are nearly five times more likely to have unsafe roofs (Herczynski, 2003[30]). Leaders of satellite schools are often responsible for more than one institution and in some cases, multiple schools, which makes it harder to lead and manage each school. Satellite schools can be organised across separate, and sometimes geographically remote sites, which creates further logistical challenges for principals. Gaps in the knowledge and skills of the teaching workforce in satellite schools are also pronounced reflecting, among other things, the common practice of sending inexperienced new teachers to satellite schools, or sometimes sending teachers to these schools as a punishment (Herczynski, 2003[30]).

Students from the main minority groups have the right to education in their mother tongue

Students from the main ethnic groups - Albanian, Turkish and Serbian communities – can receive instruction in their mother tongue language in primary school, and for Albanian and Turkish students, in secondary education as well (Eurydice, n.d.[31]). Students from the latter two groups can also take the state matura in their mother tongue. Students from ethnic minorities are also required to study Macedonian between grades 4 and the end of upper secondary education (Krsteska-Papic et al., 2015[32]). Linguistic diversity of education means that around one-third of schools are bilingual or trilingual. Reports suggest that in multilingual schools, ethnicities operate virtually independently and, frequently, in separate buildings (Krsteska-Papic et al., 2015[32]). This raises concerns regarding minorities not gaining proficiency in the national language (Anger, Van’t Rood and Gestakovska, 2010[33]) and the country’s ability to foster inter-ethnic integration.

Schools struggle to respond to student demand

Nearly half of primary and three-quarters of secondary schools offer double-shift instruction and 5% of institutions offer triple-shifts (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). The large student numbers in big cities in particular in Skopje, and the related lack of sufficient capital investment are one of the main factors behind the high prevalence of multiple-shift schools. Another is the need to cater to different ethnic linguistic groups. The high prevalence of multiple-shift schools is an obstacle to increasing instructional time or after-school study, which are both low in North Macedonia.

Vocational education and training

Students are tracked into VET or general schools at age 15

Students are selected into different education programmes - essentially general education (gymnasium) and vocational education and training - for upper secondary at age 15, which is lower than the most frequent age of selection across OECD countries (16) (OECD, 2016[13]). Students’ choice is guided by their teachers on the basis of their interests and average marks in grades 6-9. Interviews with national stakeholders revealed that teachers are frequently under parental pressure to give students high marks so that they will be able to attend the best schools. This raises concerns regarding the reliability of classroom assessment marks. Upper secondary principals are likewise often subject to parental interference, to accept students whose marks may not be high enough to guarantee them a place at the school.

Upper secondary students are distributed roughly equally across general (44%) and VET tracks (56%). Within VET, there are three different tracks, of two, three or four years. The vast majority of VET students attend the four-year track. In contrast, a very small minority attend the two (2%) and three year tracks (4%), which aim to prepare students to directly enter the labour market, or post-secondary education in the case of the three year track (MoES, 2018[19]). Rather than signalling the high quality and attractiveness of VET tracks, the large share of students in VET tracks reflects the limited number of study places available in general schools. In some cases, students may end up attending a VET high school due to the lack of a general high school in their local area (MoES, 2013[34]).

Both VET and gymnasium students can take the state matura which enables them to access tertiary education

Graduates from gymnasiums and four-year vocational education can both take the national examination, the state matura, which is a requisite to access tertiary education (MoES, 2018[19]). Instead of the state matura, students in these programmes can opt to take a final exam (the school matura or final examination for students in VET schools), that certifies completion of compulsory education for direct entry into the labour market. However, only 2% of gymnasium students take these options.

Vocational graduates are currently more likely to pursue higher education. Some of the reasons for this include the flexibility of schooling and certification in North Macedonia, the limited availability of high quality vocational and technical options at the post-secondary level and the low status of secondary vocational qualifications in North Macedonia’s labour market (MoES, 2013[34]). The lack of professionally and technically-oriented higher education programmes is reflected in the fact that at least around 20% of vocational upper secondary graduates who attend higher education follow general programmes, such as law and management (ETF, 2017[35]).

There are major reforms underway to improve the quality and labour market relevance of VET programmes

The lack of technical skills among vocational school graduates is considered a major bottleneck by firms in North Macedonia. One reason for this is the lack of flexibility that VET schools have in terms of the curriculum and how they plan teaching and learning, which prevents them from adequately responding to labour market demands (World Bank, 2017[3]). While the possibility for VET students to take the state matura and progress to general tertiary education provides important flexibility, the current certification system provides little recognition for vocational and technical skills. The quality of the education and training provided in the VET tracks also need to be improved (MoES, 2013[34]).

North Macedonia is undertaking a reform of the three- and four-year vocational programmes to improve their quality and labour market relevance (see Box 1.3). The aim is to provide students with the broad set of skills required by employers. As they progress in their VET career, students will choose a specific field, which will allow them to develop the specific competencies for their sector. To enable this, VET students will devote fewer hours to general studies in their last years of upper secondary (Spasovski et al., 2018[36]).

Box 1.3. Reform of the three- and four-year VET programme

North Macedonia envisages strengthening work-based learning and promoting a competence-based, modularised approach in vocational education that is focused on the development of broad, transferable skills.

The main features of a revised VET programme are:

  • Modularisation: the replacement of subjects with learning units (“modules”) which are either mandatory or optional. Modules may be taken independently as electives or alongside other modules focused on a particular area to create a coherent programme. This approach aims to provide a more individualised and flexible learning experience, which will reflect students’ different interests and needs. It also allows for greater mobility across programmes.

  • Progressively giving more time to vocational studies: the time that students allocate to vocational education will increase, while general education will be reduced, resulting in 45% of teaching time devoted to general education and 55% to VET.

  • Promoting work-based learning: in the revised syllabus, work-based learning based on work experiences should form an integral part of the VET education.

The reform also aims to introduce a VET-specific matura exam for VET graduates (see Chapter 2).

Source: (Spasovski et al., 2018[36]), Concept Paper On Modernization of The Secondary TVET, Ministry of Education and Science, Project For Skills Development And Innovation Support (Sdisp), https://mk-dizajn.hr/wba4wbl/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/2018/09/Concept_Paper_modernization_of_secondary_TVET_EN-_MK-.pdf.

Main trends in participation, learning and equity

Enrolment has increased significantly across all levels of education in North Macedonia in recent decades, however low learning outcomes indicate that many young adults in North Macedonia leave education without mastering the basic competencies for life and work. Inequities remain large and children from minority communities are still less likely to access quality education and to successfully progress through the system.

Participation

Participation to compulsory education has increased, but a minority of students leave school before completing upper secondary

Increases in primary enrolment over the past decade mean that North Macedonia, like most of its neighbours in the Western Balkans, has now met the benchmark of “full” primary school enrolment. Following a dip in the years following independence, participation at other levels of schooling has expanded steadily. Between 2000 and 2015, gross enrolment rate in upper secondary education increased from 67% to 79%, and from 23% to 41% in higher education (Figure 1.8) (UNESCO-UIS, n.d.[11]).

Figure 1.8. Gross enrolment rate by level of education in North Macedonia (2000-15)
Figure 1.8. Gross enrolment rate by level of education in North Macedonia (2000-15)

Source: (UNESCO-UIS, n.d.[11]), The Republic of North Macedonia, UNESCO-UIS, http://uis.unesco.org/country/MK (accessed on 15 February 2018).

Progress education participation has translated into higher levels of educational attainment in North Macedonia among younger generations, similar to those found in OECD and EU countries. In 2017, while 38.3% of older adults (45-64 years) had left school without upper secondary education, this was the case for just 18% of young adults (25-34 years) (similar to the EU average of 16% of 25-34 year-olds) (Eurostat, n.d.[37]). Similarly, nearly one-third of young adults in North Macedonia have now attained tertiary education (EU average: 40%), compared to only 13.5% of older adults (35-64 years).

Despite improvements, gross enrolment in upper secondary remains more than 10 percentage points lower than other countries in the region, and significantly below the EU average of 119% (Figure 1.9). While net enrolment data provides a more accurate indication of participation, these data are not internationally reported in North Macedonia. However, low levels of completion in upper secondary (47.2%) and high rates of out-of-school children (16.2%) suggest that actual attendance in upper secondary may be significantly lower than gross enrolment data (76%). Enrolment is lowest among students from a lower socio-economic background and in rural areas. Reasons for not attending school at this level relate to poor learning conditions and families’ and students’ low expectations (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). The latter may also be influenced by low educational attainment among older generations. Parents with lower levels of education may have lower expectations for their children’s educational attainment, and be less engaged in their children’s school activities and progress, which has been shown to impact students’ attitudes towards school.

Figure 1.9. Gross enrolment in upper secondary education (2015)
Figure 1.9. Gross enrolment in upper secondary education (2015)

Note: The Western Balkan average excludes data from North Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Source: (World Bank, forthcoming[24]), North Macedonia: Public Finance Review World Bank, Washington D.C.

Despite recent progress, access to pre-primary education remains limited and lower than in other Western Balkan countries

Enrolment in pre-primary school among children aged 3-6 increased from 21.8% in 2007 to 28.3% in 2015 (OECD, 2018[2]). However, participation remains low compared to neighbouring countries ‒ Albania (81%), Montenegro (56%) and Serbia (40%) – and far below the average across OECD countries (95%).

Low levels of pre-primary attendance mean that children enter school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. The envisaged introduction of a compulsory year of pre-primary education (age 5-6) is an opportunity to level the playing field and ensure that children enter school well-prepared (MoES, 2018[18]).

There has been a rapid expansion of higher education, but with limited quality controls

North Macedonia’s higher education system has expanded rapidly in the last two decades. In 2017, there were 22 higher education institutions compared to only five in 2003/2004 (UNESCO-IBE, 2011[38]). The expansion of supply is reflected in increased gross enrolment, from 15% in 1991 to over 40% in 2015. This compares with 66% in Albania, 58% in Serbia and 71% across OECD countries (UNESCO-UIS, 2018[39]), (OECD/CAF/UN ECLAC, 2016[40]).

However, rapid growth has not been accompanied by sufficient quality controls. One factor is that entry into higher education programmes is not very selective, because the quotas for government-funded places are very large. Another factor is that university funding creates little incentive to be selective. Universities are funded on a per student basis, which encourages universities to focus on filling places. Students are required to pass the state matura to enter university, but in 2017, nearly all candidates enrolled in gymnasium education (94.3%) passed the matura. Further selection occurs only when demand exceeds the quota, or for a few programmes such as architecture, that set additional entrance tests. The rapid expansion of higher education also reflects concerns that accreditation has not been sufficiently robust or independent, especially among private providers where a large part of the recent expansion has taken place.

One consequence of the lack of selection into higher education is that some students may be admitted without the pre-requisite knowledge and skills that would be expected for similar programmes internationally. For example, it was reported to the review team that many programmes with substantial quantitative content like mathematics, physics or engineering do not require students to pass quantitative subjects in the matura such as mathematics or physics. Overall, the rapid expansion of higher education during a period when North Macedonia’s performance in international assessment has remained very low suggests that many students are entering higher education with major gaps in basic knowledge and skills and without the types of higher-order competencies required to advance successfully at this level.

Weak selection is also a factor behind North Macedonia’s high drop-out rates and long completion times in higher education. Between 2010 and 2014, North Macedonia’s completion rates in Bachelor programmes of 45% were similar to the regional average, but lower than in OECD countries (68% in 2013) (European Commission, 2016[41]). Concerns about selection into, and the quality of higher education, are also reflected in high unemployment rates among university graduates and firms’ reports that graduates lack key competencies. Given concerns that higher education has not been accompanied by sufficient quality controls, there are now plans to separate the accreditation and evaluation functions for the Board for Accreditation and Evaluation of Higher Education, to ensure more robust and objective evaluation of universities.

Tertiary programmes do not reflect labour market needs

Recent graduates from tertiary education in North Macedonia are far less likely to be employed (55.4%) (Eurostat, 2017[42]) than tertiary graduates in EU countries (83%) (OECD, 2017[43]). One explanation for high unemployment among tertiary graduates are low skills, or skills mismatch. Firms in North Macedonia report difficulties finding workers with technical skills and broader cognitive and social and emotional skills (World Bank, 2017[3]). Among the tertiary graduates who do find employment, a national study found that one-third have a qualification that is not well matched to the requirements of their job, while a further third of graduates are over-educated for their job (ETF, 2017[35]).

One factor leading to the skills mismatch is the limited diversity in the provision of higher education programmes in North Macedonia. The majority of higher education students are following general social studies, such as arts, social sciences and law. Although national data are not available, stakeholders told the review team that many vocational upper secondary graduates pursue academic or general subjects in higher education. While this provides students with significant of flexibility, it also reflects the absence of high quality, technical options in higher education. Many OECD countries provide vocational upper secondary graduates with a range of different tertiary options including short-course technical programmes. In contrast, among the technically-oriented programmes that do exist in North Macedonia, these are typically delivered by universities in the same format as academically-oriented programmes, under the traditional Bologna first-cycle model (3 to 4 year programmes equivalent to 180 to 240 ECTS credits) (MoES, 2018[19]).

Learning outcomes

Most 15-year-olds lack basic science, reading and mathematics

North Macedonia has one of the highest proportions of students (52.2%) failing to demonstrate basic proficiency (Level 2) in all three domains of science, mathematics and reading among PISA-participating countries. Notably in reading, more than three out of five 15-year-olds lack basic reading skills (70.7%) as measured by PISA. This compares to 20% across OECD countries, 50% in Albania and 42% in Montenegro. In addition, while the share of low performers has fallen over time in most of North Macedonia’s neighbours, low performers in North Macedonia increased by nearly 7 percentage points between 2000 and 2015 (Figure 1.10) (OECD, 2016[13]).

Figure 1.10. Change in the share of low performers in reading over PISA cycles
Figure 1.10. Change in the share of low performers in reading over PISA cycles

Source: (OECD, 2016[13]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en

Learning outcomes have stagnated and are among the lowest in the region

In 2015, North Macedonia’s 15-year-olds performed almost four years behind their OECD peers, with an average score of 384 in science compared to 493 in OECD countries. Among neighbouring countries with similar income levels, North Macedonia’s performance was below Albania (427 score points) and Montenegro (411 score points), and slightly above Kosovo (378 score points) (OECD, 2016[13]).

Learning outcomes have stagnated over time, according to North Macedonia’s performance in international assessments. Reading performance in PISA declined by 21 score points between 2000 and 2015 (Figure 1.11). In comparison, neighbouring Albania has succeeded in increasing performance by 56 score points, equivalent to nearly two years of schooling, over the same period. The performance of students in grade 8 in North Macedonia in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) also shows a similarly stagnating pattern between 1999 and 2011 (World Bank, n.d.[44]).

Figure 1.11. Mean reading performance in PISA, 2000 through 2015
Figure 1.11. Mean reading performance in PISA, 2000 through 2015

Note: Albania participated in PISA 2000, 2009, 2012 and 2015. North Macedonia in PISA 2000 and 2015. Montenegro in PISA 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015. Serbia participated in PISA 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Source: (OECD, 2016[13]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en.

Teaching and learning in the early years does not equip students with foundation skills

The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) assessments of student-learning outcomes in the primary grades, the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and the Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA), were conducted in 2016 with a sample of around 8 000 students in the end of grades 2 and 3. Results indicated that students in North Macedonia master elementary reading and mathematics skills, such as naming letters correctly. However, they struggle with essential skills such as oral reading fluency, reading comprehension skills or subtraction. In grade 2, less than 40% of students completed subtasks on reading comprehension, compared to the international benchmark of 80% (USAID, n.d.[45]).

Schools provide limited instruction time

At age 6, grade 1 students in North Macedonia have among the lowest levels of intended instruction time (552 hours) among PISA-participating countries. By the time students are 14 years-old, they will have had nearly 900 hours less instruction than students on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2016[21]). Short learning time in schools limits the breadth and depth of study and the scope to pursue additional subjects or remedial classes. One of the obstacles to increasing instructional time in North Macedonia is the high prevalence of double-shift schools (World Bank, forthcoming[24]).

Moreover, there is evidence that the use of learning time is not well adapted to children’s development stage. In interviews with the review team, school principals said that primary-age children were expected to sit in a classroom for long periods of time with limited breaks. The government is currently considering further reducing learning time. Instead schools might be enabled through the curriculum, and encouraged, to make more effective use of the allocated instruction time, giving students the opportunity to engage in more hands-on activities.

Schools have limited resources to support student learning

While PISA 2015 data indicates that teachers in North Macedonia are usually available to provide students with remedial classes or targeted support for those who are excelling, they often lack the space to do so, especially in multi-shift schools. Only 38% of students are enrolled in schools that provide a room where students can do their homework (OECD average: 73.5%) (OECD, 2016[21]).

Teachers also lack professional pedagogical guidance in how to respond to learning needs. While schools in North Macedonia have well-established support teams that include special education, pedagogical and psychological advisors, these teams lack any practical preparation in the classroom. Their preparation is also based on a concept of special educational needs that emphasises students’ problems and frequently focuses on those students with major learning needs or disabilities, in contrast to a more modern, inclusive approach where all students are supported to do their best.

Initial teacher education does not equip new teachers with minimum teaching competencies

Initial teacher education is provided by universities, and suffers many of the issues associated with lack of selection and low quality as higher education in general. Entry to initial teacher education is not selective, with the vast majority of candidates who apply receiving a place. The lack of robust accreditation, which is not programme specific, also means that there are few mechanisms to ensure that teacher programmes sufficiently prepare teachers, especially in the practical demands of teaching. While teacher candidates have a teaching practicum in a school, this is not always well-integrated in the rest of their initial education and teacher candidates are frequently not coached by experienced teacher mentors during their practicum. The absence of strong mechanisms for initial certification at the end of teacher education means that new teachers enter the profession without any assurance that they have met minimum teaching competencies (see Chapter 3).

Teachers participate in professional development less than in many other countries

Teachers in North Macedonia are expected to participate in at least 60 hours of professional development over three years, but limited funding means that this does not happen in practice. Consequently, teachers report very little participation in professional development compared to other countries (Figure 1.12). Professional development is especially important for teachers in North Macedonia, given the limitation of initial teacher education.

Figure 1.12. Participation in professional development activities (PISA 2015)
Teachers’ attendance in professional development activities as reported by school principalspicture

Source: (OECD, 2016[21]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264267510-en.

Equity

Little variation in education outcomes reflects a high share of low performers overall

Schools in North Macedonia are among the least socio-economically segregated across PISA-participating countries. This means that children of advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to attend the same school than in other countries (OECD, 2017[46]). As a result, student’s socio-economic background is less strongly associated with learning outcomes than in many OECD countries. In PISA 2015, only 6.9% of the difference in science performance across students in North Macedonia was driven by differences in students’ socio-economic status (compared to 12.9% on average across OECD countries).

However, to a large extent this reflects that all students in North Macedonia, regardless of socio-economic background, achieve low levels of learning outcomes. Students with more advantaged backgrounds do not perform as well as their peers from similar backgrounds in other PISA-participating economies. While few of those from disadvantaged backgrounds overcome their background to perform very well. Only 4.1% of students in North Macedonia overcame their low socio-economic background to perform in the top quarter of students in PISA 2015. In contrast, neighbouring countries such as Croatia and Montenegro are more effective at helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds realise their potential with a share of “resilient” students of 24.4% and 9.4% respectively (OECD, 2016[13]).

Disadvantaged students are less likely to participate in pre-primary education and upper secondary education

Less than 1% of children from the poorest quintile attend pre-primary school compared to 55.9% of children from the richest quintile (World Bank, 2015[47]). One reason that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to attend pre-primary education is that places are distributed to the children of working parents and often from double-income families (Ravens, 2010[48]). A World Bank report also found that low attendance is due to lack of demand from families, regardless of their socio-economic background or geographic location. Among 3-5 year-olds who do not attend pre-school, this is frequently because relatives considered them to be too young (World Bank, forthcoming[24]). Pre-primary participation is also low across minority groups - only 2.6% of 4-year-olds from Roma communities attend pre-primary education (World Bank, 2015[47]). Data shows significant gaps in the pre-school attendance rates of 3-4 year-olds from Macedonian (36.5%) and Albanian (2.9%) communities (EFC, 2015[49]).

At the other end of schooling, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are also less likely to be enrolled in upper secondary education (Figure 1.13). In recent years, dedicated programmes like the Secondary Education Conditional Cash Transfers Programme (2009) have helped to boost participation among students from disadvantaged groups. However, in 2011 only 50% of students in the poorest quintile were enrolled in upper secondary education, compared to 83% of those in the richest quintile (World Bank, forthcoming[24]).

Figure 1.13. Net enrolment in upper secondary education, by income quintile (2011)
Figure 1.13. Net enrolment in upper secondary education, by income quintile (2011)

Source: (World Bank, forthcoming[24]), North Macedonia: Public Finance Review, World Bank, Washington D.C.

Disadvantaged students are three times more likely to be enrolled in a pre-vocational or vocational programme than their advantaged peers

PISA 2015 results show that 15-year-olds enrolled in vocational programmes in North Macedonia perform at a lower level than their peers in general programmes by 21 score points, after accounting for socio-economic status, similar to the OECD average (OECD, 2016[13]). Students in vocational programmes also achieve lower results in the state matura. On the other hand, unlike in many OECD countries, VET students – attending four-year programmes – stand an equal chance of progressing to higher education.

Boys are under-achieving in school

On average across OECD countries, boys score slightly higher than girls in science and mathematics. On the other hand, in North Macedonia, as in other PISA-participating Western Balkan countries, girls outperform boys in science (by 20 score points) and in mathematics (by 7 score points). Girls’ advantage in reading is even larger and equivalent to more than one year of schooling (46 score points). Boys are also more likely – by 10 percentage points – to be low performers in science than girls (OECD, 2016[13]). state matura results also show gender gaps in favour of girls.

Disparities between rural and urban regions are still large

North Macedonia has among the largest rural-urban performance gaps of all PISA-participating countries and economies. Fifteen-year-old students in rural areas perform 47 score points behind their peers in urban settings in science (compared to the average difference across OECD countries of 17 score points). This gap is equivalent to nearly 1.5 years of schooling (OECD, 2016[13]). Results from the 2017 matura show a similar pattern. Limited access to education institutions at all levels in rural areas may be one of the factors behind students’ underperformance. At 61%, net enrolment in upper secondary in rural areas is significantly lower than in urban areas (75%) (World Bank, 2015[47]). Children in urban areas are also six times more likely to be enrolled in pre-primary education than those in rural areas. Evidence indicates that learning conditions are poorer in rural settings (e.g. damaged floors, old electrical networks), reflecting the greater concentration of double-shift and satellite schools (World Bank, forthcoming[24]; Herczynski, 2003[30]) (Herczynski, 2003[30]).

Ethnic minorities face important challenges

The government has implemented a number of initiatives to encourage more equitable school outcomes across ethnic groups. At the school level, the MoES formally accepted the Concept for Intercultural Education (2016), a normative document promoting diversity in education, and has partnered with USAID (2017-22) to strengthen inter-ethnic integration, by upgrading curricula and textbooks and renovating schools (USAID, n.d.[50]; Krsteska-Papic et al., 2015[32]). Efforts to improve minorities’ access to higher education include the quota introduced by the MoES for ethnic minorities in 2003, (amounting to 23% of total enrolment), and in 2004, recognising the State University of Tetovo, an Albanian-language university (MoES, 2018[19]).

However, the disparities persist, especially among the ethnic Albanian community. Albanians are less likely than students of Macedonian ethnicity to participate and successfully progress in education. Over half of Macedonian children attended pre-primary education, compared to less than one in five Albanian children. The gap becomes more pronounced as students advance in the system (USAID, n.d.[45]). While Albanians represent nearly 25% of the total population, they account for only 15.6% of secondary students and only 5.5% of tertiary enrolment (World Bank, forthcoming[24]).

Inequities also persist for those who remain in education, in particular for those who do not undertake their education in Macedonian. In PISA 2015, students who took the test in Albanian were more than one year behind in science compared to those who took it in Macedonian, even after accounting for their socio-economic background (Figure 1.14) (World Bank, 2017[51]). Low levels of performance might reflect poor learning conditions, including the level of teacher qualifications ‒ in predominantly Albanian schools and municipalities (World Bank, forthcoming[24]).

Figure 1.14. Differences in science performance, by language of test, before and after accounting for socio-economic background (PISA 2015)
Figure 1.14. Differences in science performance, by language of test, before and after accounting for socio-economic background (PISA 2015)

Source: (OECD, 2016[13]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en.

Other smaller ethnic minorities also face similar challenges in accessing education. Roma are 2.2% of the total population, but represent only 0.5% of secondary school students and 0.1% of university students (OECD, 2003[5]).

Conclusion

While North Macedonia has implemented several initiatives in recent years to orient learning more closely around students’ learning needs, there has not been a consistent approach to raising the educational outcomes of all students. The learning outcomes of students are very low and are not improving. Creating a system so that there is greater awareness and understanding of where students are in their learning (Chapter 2) and how the education system overall is performing (Chapter 5), will need to be matched by greater support to create effective teaching and learning environments (Chapters 3 and 4). This report looks at how the creation of a coherent framework for evaluation and assessment embedded within a long-term strategy for reform could help to improve equity and quality across the system (Box 1.4).

Box 1.4. OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education

OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment look at how evaluation and assessment policy can be used to improve student outcomes. They examine countries’ evaluation and assessment policies and practices for school education, and draw on insights from international practices, to provide actionable recommendations.

The reviews focus on four key components:

  • Student assessment monitors and provides feedback on individual student progress and certifies the achievement of learning goals.

  • Teacher appraisal assesses the performance of teachers in providing quality learning for their students.

  • School evaluation looks at the effectiveness of schools in providing quality education.

  • System evaluation uses educational information to monitor and evaluate the education system against national goals.

The reviews draw on existing OECD work on evaluation and assessment, which included reviews of 18 countries’ evaluation and assessment policies and practices. Each country review is based on national information, provided by the country to the OECD; background research and country visits. During the country visits, a team of OECD staff and international experts meet with key actors across the education system to identify policy strengths and challenges, and discuss the challenges of evaluation and assessment with national actors. The OECD prepares a report for the country, which analyses national practices and policies, and provides policy recommendations to strengthen evaluation and assessment linked to national goals and priorities.

Annex 1.A. Key indicators
Annex Table 1.A.1. Key indicators

#

List of key indicators

The Republic of North Macedonia

OECD countries

Background information

 

 

Economy

 

 

1

GDP per head in USD PPP, 2016

14 942

38 096

2

GDP annual growth rate, 2016,

2.4

2.3

Society

 

3

Population annual growth rate, 2016

0.1

0.7

4

Population aged 14 years or less (%), 2016

16.8

17

5

Fertility rate (children per woman aged 15-49 years), 2015

1.5

1.7

6

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24 years), 2016

49.5

16.7

Total unemployment rate (aged 15 above), 2016

26.1

7.4

Education indicators

 

System

 

7

Usual starting age of early childhood education programmes, 2015

3

3

8

Starting age of compulsory education, 2015

6

6

9

Duration of compulsory education (years), 2015

12

10

Students

 

10

Net enrolment rates (2015)

Pre-primary education (3-4 year-olds)

30.8

72

Primary education (5-14 year-olds)

91.7

97

Secondary education (15-19 year-olds)

78.9

85

11

Tertiary education attainment rate (25-34 year-olds), 2016

43

12

Share of students enrolled in vocational programmes for upper secondary education (15 to 19 year-olds), 2015

59.5

25

Teachers

 

13

Ratio of students to teaching staff (2015)

Primary education

14

15

Lower secondary education

8.1

13

Upper secondary education

11.7

13

14

Share of female teachers (2014)

Pre-primary education

99

97

Primary education

81

82

Lower secondary education

58

68

Upper secondary education

59

58

Learning outcomes

 

23

Mean students' performance in science, PISA 2015

384

493

24

Percentage of students below PISA proficiency Level 2 in science, PISA 2015

62.9

21

25

Percentage of variance in science performance explained by student's socio-economic background, PISA 2015

6.9

13

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Note

← 1. While the Constitution does not allow the establishment of private primary schools in the country, there are currently a small number of experimental private institutions.

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