Wednesday, 13 December 2017 | News today: 13

Prof. Rosoklija: State exam to prevent surge of worthless diplomas

One or three exams cannot solve the problem with higher education quality. I think the state exam will only serve as a temporary dam to prevent the surge of worthless diplomas until we reorganize the entire education system

Academician Gorazd Rosoklija, top scientist in neuropathology and neuroimmunology research, is a professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, USA. The world-renowned professor speaks of the representation of world science in Macedonia, the proposed reform for introduction of a state exam, reasons for resistance of students and professors for it and Universities’ obligation to generate graduates who will be competitive on the global labor market.

How would you assess scientific development level in Macedonia? Do Macedonian educational institutions generate high-quality graduates, appropriate to European standards?

ROSOKLIJA: It is not me or us who should assess that. There are objective criteria for evaluation scientific contribution of a country to European and global science. According to those criteria, Macedonian presence in global science is modest, even insignificant.

Historically speaking, Macedonia had and still has exceptional individual scientists, but has never built a system that will create scientific personnel, nor is the society used to appreciate science and intellectual labor.

When president Bill Clinton visited the scientific laboratory of Los Alamos, he said: “It feels very uncomfortable when the leader of the world’s most powerful nation enters here – among you, and causes for the average IQ to drop”.

Is that dangerous for individuals and the entire Macedonian society?

ROSOKLIJA: Unless a given society stimulates strives for intellectualism and knowledge upgrade, development of that society will lag behind societies which actually do stimulate and value such qualities.

Macedonia has foreseen it will have talented artists and sportsmen, so it has decided to award them by giving them the status of national artists or national sportsmen. Excellent. However, Macedonia has not foreseen it will also have smart people, and it does not have a status of national scientist. If an artists receives an award like “11 October” or “23 October” for significant contribution to art, it a guarantee for pension totaling the maximum pension amount in the state. But, there is no such option for scientists.

USA’s President Barack Obama took over leadership of the nation in the peak of a financial crisis. He stated that science will drag America out of the crisis and has literally spilled money on scientists. We know that the USA are now out of the financial crisis, while Europe is drowning into recession and inefficiently attempts to quench, but not to put down fires in its southern territories. Civilized Europe has a historical relation to the mind, but bureaucratic Europe has some other priorities and has no money to allow for that mind to be creative.

In your opinion, will the state exam solve the problems with higher education?

ROSOKLIJA: No, one or three exams cannot solve the problem with higher education quality. I think the state exam will only serve as a temporary dam to prevent the surge of worthless diplomas until we reorganize the entire education system.

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Who is more annoyed by knowledge level check up – students, educational institutions and professors, or do you believe the problem has political background?

ROSOKLIJA: Everyone is annoyed. Students do not want additional exams after they have been through the golgotha of passing all the other exams they were supposed to, also due to the fact they had to face with different types of professors’ characters and manner of examination, which does not exclude professor’s impartiality.

Those professors who have the capacity to transfer their knowledge to the students, and have not done that by that moment, will have to do that, which would require major efforts on their part, while only a few among us accept additional efforts. On the other hand, professors who do not have any teaching capacity, will position themselves first in the mental barricades for any change of the system which results in a lack of knowledge.

Institutions are not only meant to create programmes – that is the easiest part, but they should also implement it, which would mean for the bureaucrats to disturb their peace.

Doesn’t the state exam violate the autonomy of the educational institution?

ROSOKLIJA: I do not know the legal definition of university autonomy and I can not talk about it?

From what I know, the university is autonomous in selecting the teaching staff, selecting the programs and selecting the methodology. These three elements define the autonomy of the university and determine the quality of the graduates. For its part, the university has a social obligation to produce graduates who can compete with all the others in the global labor market.

A professor that meets the local selection criteria can create a graduate with a local value of knowledge. If universities are not able to implement certain doctoral studies because their professors do not meet the local criteria for mentoring, and such teachers retain their teaching position, you can imagine what kind of graduates they produce.

You say that education needs painful and deep reforms. What should be the most “painful” thing if we want positive change? What reforms are necessary to improve the education system?

ROSOKLIJA: What’s most painful is to create professors according to the selection criteria that the smartest countries have.

Starting from primary and secondary teachers, and ending with university professors. The most important people that determine our environmental future, our teachers, are among the most poorly paid, often subjected to blackmail and threats from powerful parents. My son Gavril, somewhere in the fifth grade, during the certificate awarding ceremony, asked us the question: “Why did you make me study so much, when at the end we all passed with high marks?”

I intentionally repeat myself: society must evaluate the mind for the smart to choose the path to the intellectual.

When I was elected professor at the Columbia University, I asked the head of department, Ron Reeder, a brilliant person, what were my duties. He replied with one sentence: ,,To encourage students, PhD students and trainees to strive for the intellectual.” That’s all!

With teachers and professors who encourage students to strive for the intellectual, any reform will be easily implemented. Positive selection and decent rewarding is a reliable formula for success.

You are part of a team composed of 17 top international scientists working on discovering the causes of autism. At the same time, the team also works on finding a cure for this disease. How is the procedure on finding the cure advancing?

ROSOKLIJA: We still do not know the causes of autism. What we found is the pathological changes in children with autism, which are comprised of surpuls of synapses as a result of a large amount of the mTOR protein in the brain. The mTOr protein regulates the pruning of dendritic spines on which are located the synapses. By giving immunosuppressive rapamycin, we normalized the level of the mTOR protein in the experimental model, which not only led to normalizing the number of synaptic connections, but also to normalizing the behavior of the model. I expect that, soon, within one or two years, we will have at our disposal a non-toxic device, which will regulate the level of the mTOR protein in autistic children, resulting in normalization of the number of synaptic connections in the hope that it will also lead to corrections in their behavior.

Is there any link between the vaccines children receive and the emergence of autism?

ROSOKLIJA: Science and clinical research have never found a link between the vaccines and the emergence of autism.

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By: Nenad Mircevski
Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski