Foreign language studies in Serbia are in the need of a solid reform given the country’s European Union perspective. At the current state of foreign language studies, lack of policies on horizontal and vertical level, non-existing specific regulating bodies and unified teaching and educational standards in Serbia present a challenging environment for any improvements in country’s own language studies policy and its European developments.
Let’s take a look at the challenge presented by the lack of language policy and standards
. Serbia does not have a national or an institutional body authorized to develop language policy and set standards in language teaching, which represents one of crucial problems. Also, there is no general language policy framework or a defined language policy in education - language teaching is only regulated in the system of formal education. The HE level is broadly regulated by the Law of Higher Education, and as a result, there are various University and Faculty Statutes and Books of regulations.
There are no language teaching standards
(they are often dependent upon an individual teacher’s methodological framework) and consequently there are no defined outputs in this domain. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
has not been fully introduced. The CEFR terminology and its basic concepts were partially implemented when the Ministry carried out the certification of the language level of the teachers within the programme responsible for further training and retraining (mainly for the English language) in several attempts in Niš, Belgrade, and Novi Sad in 2002.
Also, the translation of the European Language Portfolio (ELP)
realized with the help of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Private Language Schools, has not been made available to the public yet.
The translation and interpreting policies, regulations, or standards-setting body for translation and interpreting in Serbia need to be established, too.
Only the Serbian Law on Organization of Courts exists on the basis of which the Ministry of Justice announces an open competition for court interpreters according to its internal criteria. The teaching of translation and interpreting has only been regulated at the HE level and in those cases, only when it is a part and parcel of a subject matter (a course which is a part of the curriculum). Since there is no Centre for Languages existing as a regulating body, there is a lack of vertical and horizontal coordination
among all entities (public or private) offering foreign language teaching, especially among Universities.
The necessary teacher training is not provided by the HE institutions. Teachers can attend some training seminars accredited by the Ministry of Education, as well as courses organized by the cultural centres and the language departments of several embassies.
Publishers and Teacher’s associations occasionally offer training seminars to foreign language teachers. We cannot regard this training system to be a developed one, as there are no cause-and-effect relationships in it, which would explain why teacher training is necessary. Also, countries whose languages are studied sometimes offer grants.
Unfortunately, the lack of mechanisms for internal quality assurance represents an additional problem. Several Universities and/or their Faculties have passed their own Books of Regulations with regard to the quality assurance, stipulating their own strategies.
The situation is similar on all levels of foreign language studies in Serbia.
In primary and secondary education
a comprehensive reform in state schools was initiated in 2002 and stopped in 2004. During that period, general aims and the desirable results have been formulated, but hardly any results of this reform are still in use. At the present moment, new curricula are now being made for primary schools, but without any true reform of education and without serious appreciation of the problems. Our gap here is the fact that there is no long-term strategy for the reform of the primary school curricula.
On higher levels of education
the reform of foreign language studies in Serbia was initiated at the university level after the passing of the Law on High Education in 2005, but the implementation of this Law resulted in failure. The standards of the National Commission for Quality Assurance and Accreditation did not seem to reflect the European standards pertaining to foreign language studies. They also failed to recognize the multilingual and multicultural knowledge and skills, which is a prerequisite for the creation of a European area of higher education, whose effects influence both language teaching and learning of professionals and non-professionals. All Serbian Universities have passed the accreditation process, implemented three levels of study and the ECTS system. However, there's still discrepancy between the programmes of study, due to the lack of framework.
The study programme of Serbian as a foreign language doesn't exist, but the courses of Serbian for foreigners are offered on the universities in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš, and in private language schools in Serbia.
Similar non-formal practice exists in the field of translation and interpreting
, since the trainings are offered by several associations of translators, (such as The Association of Scientific and Technical Translators and Interpreters of Serbia, Multilingua, etc), but there are no specialization studies at HE level. Literary translation is only incorporated in the foreign language programmes of study as an independent segment, while technical translation and interpreting don’t exist in any form.
We are in a situation where there is a general lack of teaching staff.
There's a huge disproportion between the number of enrolled students and teachers, as well as the employment policy and the decision on the enrollment quota at universities in Serbia. Teachers are not in a position to follow modern trends in the field of teaching philology and language science, adopted by their colleagues from the EU. While the quality of teaching and expertise depends upon an individual university teacher and their abilities, the choice of the teaching methods and materials depends also on the ability of the faculty in question to purchase the necessary modern equipment
. Generally speaking, the teaching methods and materials are mostly outdated and the modern technology is not used to a large extent in the foreign language classrooms at the university level in Serbia. Equipment problems can be seen clearly in numbers: inadequate number of PC units for student use (depending on the Faculty, one computer per 50-160 students), insufficient number of multimedia classrooms supplied by modern equipment (0-2 per Faculty) and no development in the field of information systems.
The methods used in the marking system are not objective enough.
Apart from separate guidelines on the assessment which exist in the Rulebook of Evaluation at different Faculties, no comprehensive instructions are offered. To complicate things even more, some university departments use the testing materials provided by the corresponding cultural centres of countries whose language are studied. Also, there is hardly any practical work included in study programmes in Serbia.
Lack of regulations also brings about the unemployment rate of philologists to a very high level.
According to the data presented by the National Employment Bureau in December 2007, 1,669 graduate philologists were unemployed, while, on the other hand, the three Universities taking part in this project are currently educating additional 11,500 students. This situation happens because University entrance policy doesn't take into account quantitative data on the career opportunities of graduate philologists which creates the surplus, or a deficit, of certain educational profiles. Not having contact with the market, study programmes are not fast enough to respond to changes, producing disharmony between the qualifications that are verified by a university degree and the knowledge and skills demanded by the potential employers.
However, there is a solution, and its not just a vague promise of a better future.
Being aware of the situation in the area of foreign language studies in Serbia, gives a good background for a strong and organized step forward.
The need for thorough and organized reforms is not only obvious, but necessary. REFLESS TEMPUS project
, with its 18 partnering institutions
, 150 professionals, its presence on educational, institutional, commercial, governmental and European level and its working plan
is an ambitious, but solid path which would enable us to become equal partners in the European Higher Education Area.