BIRN Hosts Serbian School Textbooks Debate

The complex procedure for selecting textbooks in Serbian schools must be made simpler and stricter, as currently the risk of corruption is high, a BIRN Serbia debate heard on August 31 in Belgrade.

Aleksandar Pavlovic from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University in Belgrade pointed out that the extremely complex procedure of selecting textbooks, which should prevent corruption, gets more complicated each time a new law is adopted.

When it comes to selecting textbooks, everyone involved is dissatisfied, he argued.

“Parents, schools, ministries, private publishers, the Institute for Textbooks… all of them want better and more efficient procedure,” he said.

Irena Fiket, one of the authors of an analysis about the risk of corruption in the process of approval and publication of textbooks in Serbia explained that the complexity of the system can generate corruption.

“One of the analysis’s recommendations is to draw up a separate document in which the entire procedure for the selection and approval of textbooks, with the responsibilities of all actors, would be described in a clear and precise way,” said Fiket.

The current procedures do not solve the problem of corruption, said Eleonora Vlahovic, head of the Centre for Programme and Textbook Development.

Vlahovic added that the issue of conflict of interest is not sufficiently outlined in the Law on Textbooks.

Sinisa Jesic from the Associations of Textbook Publishers said he thinks that the procedures for selecting textbooks must be very simple, but strict.

“When the new law was adopted and when publishers were faced with the fact that not all textbooks would pass, their efforts to show textbooks in schools could have been seen in various ways and interpreted as corruption,” Jesic explained.

Milovan Suvakov, a former assistant minister at the Ministry of Education, said he doesn’t think that everyone is dissatisfied with the current system, however.

“We have actors who are pretending that they are dissatisfied because they are in a perfectly good position, which they managed to preserve in the coming period, and I am primarily referring to publishers,” explained Suvakov.

He argued that one of the biggest problems is lobbying by publishers when new documents are being adopted.

The debate was organised as part of a BIRN Serbia programme supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy.

Going Public About Corruption: Investigating Abuses of Funds and Positions

BIRN Serbia

Summary

The high level of corruption in Serbia is hampering implementation of necessary social reforms while traditional media are failing to adequately report about it, especially about corruption coming from the centers of political power.

In response to this situation, BIRN Serbia is conducting a project that contributes to anti-corruption efforts in Serbian society and reaffirming the role of media in putting limitations on corruption by exposing and opening up a wide-ranging public debate about the misuse of public funds or positions.

Donor: National Endowment for Democracy

Information Sheet

Main Objective:

To contribute to anti-corruption efforts by publicly exposing cases of corruption, abuse of public funds or posts, obstacles to access to justice which distort the application of the rule of law.

Specific Objectives:

  • The project will make an impact on current state of affairs by addressing the deficit of quality reporting about corruption, and at the same time broaden public support for investigative reporting.
  • The project will rely mostly on Internet-based resources as this is one of the forums for public debate and social interaction that is not strictly controlled by the government in power. Internet platforms are also convenient for presentation of large data sets, as BIRN investigations rely on vast research and numerous pieces of data and documents that validate the stories.
  • The project will apply a cross-sector approach, concentrating primarily on issues related to public spending and management of public resources in the judiciary system and in large state infrastructure projects. In this way the project will increase transparency and tackle some of the most opaque state-run sectors which show the least potential for reform and the largest potential for corruption.
  • The judiciary system is going through various reforms and is still largely influenced by executive powers, while national infrastructure projects are one of the most expensive endeavors to be implemented without any public insight. The project will demonstrate the practical application of data-driven journalism, which helps present complex stories based on numerous documents, pieces of data and sources to a large audience in a comprehensive way, utilizing online data visualization tools and a multimedia approach.

Main Activities:

  • journalistic production
  • creation/update of databases
  • promotion and raising awareness

Target Groups:

  • public administration
  • media, journalists, media organizations
  • the broader public

Highlights:

4 investigative stories, 2 databases

Main implementer:

BIRN Serbia