Monday, January 17, 2022

School Maintenance Trainings for Sustainable Learning Environments

A classroom with broken windows and cold drafts. A school with asbestos roof and cracked interior walls. Heating system with stoves on wood. Badly maintained building components and negligence of school grounds can result in real problems, which do not foster effective learning. The schools in Macedonia face the growing challenge of maintaining the education facilities at a level that enables our teachers to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

USAID Interethnic Integration in Education project with funds from the United States European Command (EUCOM) recently renovated nine primary and two secondary schools, providing incentives to schools and local communities to become partners in offering better education to their children.

However, the yearlong work with the primary and secondary schools and the numerous site visits around the country demonstrated that school facilities maintenance is one of the main weaknesses in the Macedonia’s education sector. Maintenance challenges arise both in newly renovated and old school facilities alike, although the types of concerns may differ. Because school facilities maintenance affects the physical, educational, and financial foundation of the schools it should be a focus of both its day-to-day operations and long-range management priorities. Yet effective planning requires coordination of resources and commitment at all levels of the school and local community.

This is why, IIEP took the maintenance lessons learned one step further and launched activities designed to address high priority maintenance needs of participating schools to help them provide clean and safe environments for children and create a physical setting that is appropriate and adequate for learning.

The school maintenance training was designed for staff at the school and municipal level, where most facility maintenance is planned, managed, and carried out. This audience included school directors and secretaries, school board members, parents, municipal officers, members of business and local communities, but also school maintenance and custodial staff. Four regional workshops were organized in Skopje, Strumica, Tetovo and Bitola.

The overall goal of the maintenance training was to develop the capacities of School Renovation Teams and to empower maintenance skills of technical staff, thus enabling schools and municipalities to develop proper planning, implement the maintenance activities in their schools and ensure that school facilities are, and will be, cared for appropriately.  With an aim to prepare the annual plans in accordance with their actual maintenance needs, the participants used check lists and performed school facility assessment as part of the practical group work. They also practiced how to draft maintenance budget based on historical maintenance data and volume of current maintenance work so they can properly plan for sufficient amount of money to be able to implement the maintenance work. As the maintenance budget is usually tight, the participants also shared their ideas and activities for raising additional funds that can be used for school maintenance. The technical staff that is substantially involved in the day-to-day assessment, repair, and maintenance of school facilities was encouraged to play an active role in the facilities maintenance planning process.

Every school got an assignment to proactively develop and implement a plan for dealing with routine and unexpected maintenance demands. A development of sound maintenance plan and realistic maintenance budget will help schools to take appropriate care of their buildings and grounds.

Participants took the information and knowledge they were learning in the workshop and in combination with their skills put them to use during the practical assignments. Whether it was defining maintenance standards or planning the maintenance budget for next year, the knowledge and skills of school and municipal staff were critical to achieving workshop objectives.The participants realized that school facility maintenance is a vital task in the responsible school management and many recommendations were shared based on best practices of the participating schools

The four training workshops involved 97 participants, but will benefit over 7,000 children, 600 school staff and 75 maintenance staff in the participating 11 schools.