Monday, October 25, 2021

Everyone learnes about integrating

As a direct and major supporter of the Strategy for integrated education, what are your specific activities / obligations for the purpose of its implementation in the educational system?

The U.S. Government strongly supports integrated education in Macedonia.  Integrated education will help to ensure that all the children of this country, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or cultural and social background, receive a quality education that promotes respect for diversity and a stable environment of tolerance.  These are the goals of the U.S. Government’s Interethnic Integration in Education Project (IEEP).  This project will work primarily at the local and municipal levels, but in close partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat for the Implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.  As with any program focused on children and education, a vital part of promoting integrated education will be working at the local level to explain to parents, educators, and other community leaders the goals of the program, how we intend to meet them, and how they will benefit their children and the country as a whole.

The IEEP is just the latest example of how important we believe education is to building a stronger, more prosperous and more tolerant society here in Macedonia.  The U.S. Embassy in Skopje, including USAID and the Office for Defense Cooperation, has provided millions of dollars in support of numerous projects over the years to renovate schools, enhance curricula on a variety of subjects, train teachers and school administrators, and provide exchange opportunities for students and scholars to and from the United States. Building on these ongoing efforts, U.S. Mission Skopje launched this new four-year $5.2 million project last year on Interethnic Integration in Education. This project, co-financed by USAID and the U.S. European Command, has four components:

Community Outreach – Raise awareness of the importance of interethnic integration and its crucial role in the future stability of Macedonia and its full integration into the Euro-Atlantic Community.

  • Capacity Building of School Management and Teachers – Provide teachers, school managers and school boards with the skills they need to work positively and successfully in a multiethnic environment, to help prevent divisions along ethnic lines in their schools and communities, and to create conditions that promote an inclusive and tolerant school environment.
  • Demonstration Schools – Identify a few specific schools in which to implement a more comprehensive and targeted application of the program’s components.  These model schools will provide examples of best practices and lessons learned and will help contribute to a deeper understanding on various approaches to integrated education.
  • Provision of Incentives to Schools and Communities – Provide school refurbishments as an incentive for schools to participate in integration activities.

 Currently, how do you evaluate the success of the work done so far? Is there and what are the positive effects of the realized activities?

During the first year of our project, we have worked extensively on community outreach such as conducting public discussion forums, and in piloting various activities. Listening to parents, teachers, and members of communities around Macedonia has helped us to better understand their views and concerns, to deal with misunderstandings surrounding integrated education, and to build trust in those municipalities. These activities have been vital in building a solid foundation for the program before expanding it across the country. We also conducted a country-wide base-line study to assess the perceptions of people in schools and communities related to interethnic integration.  And we trained a team of master trainers who will train teachers, school directors, school-board members, as well as parent counsels. These master trainers come from the Bureau for Development of Education, State Education Inspectorate, Vocational Education and Training Center, as well as from the NGO sector.

In addition to the IEEP, USAID continues to collaborate with the Ministry of Education and Science to build renewed donor interest in integrated education, and to launch new activities led by donors or managed directly by the Ministry. Much remains to be done in this area, but we believe that the notable increase in activities is a positive step forward.

Recently, a few events occurred that tackle the issue about amalgamation of students from various ethnic communities. Do you think that the Strategy will truly contribute to reduce the tensions will curtail the division that is currently present in the education process?

The Government of Macedonia’s Strategy toward Integrated Education was an important first step in addressing some of the challenges facing communities around this country. The Strategy demonstrated the Government’s commitment to tackling this subject, and provided the motivation to donors to work more broadly on this critically important issue.  The Strategy can serve as a roadmap and a catalyst, but it is the citizens of each community, rather than organizations or institutions, that will make the real difference in reducing tensions between different groups.

The young people of Macedonia have a key role in building their own future and that of their country, and they are far more likely to achieve greater success by leveraging the diversity of their society and working together.   Schools offer the most natural place for students and teachers to meet, share their experiences, and learn to respect and appreciate others, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or social background.

Promoting a positive and productive environment of harmony amongst citizens of all backgrounds remains a top priority for the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, because its absence can have a profoundly negative impact on so many crucial aspects of a society.  Thus, in addition to our efforts to expand integrated education opportunities in Macedonia, we also continue to support projects in a number of other areas, such as public awareness campaigns, media programs, cultural heritage preservation, art and sports activities, and youth exchanges, to promote inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance and respect.

What are the biggest mistakes that ever made in terms of the introduction of integrated education? Don’t you think that it is a little bit late for such initiative?

It is never too late to work on respect and tolerance. Indeed, these are topics that need constant attention in every society, including in the United States of America. Unfamiliar cultures, traditions and languages can seem intimidating at times, but differences are a gift, and Macedonia’s rich cultural heritage and abundant diversity is a wonderful resource and singular benefit.  The young people of this country, their parents, teachers and communities can lead the way towards a stronger, more prosperous and harmonious society by demonstrating that, by working and studying together, they can more effectively build a thriving, cohesive culture of success.

Set of training for teachers, school’s directors, psychologist and pedagogue, and parents are planned for the next period. How will be conducted these courses and what they actually need to learn about integrated education?

The base-line survey results will help to identify the specific needs of various audiences and partners. We intend to work country-wide with both multi- and mono-lingual schools, so  training topics will include what is integrated education and why it is important; how to recognize our own stereotypes and prejudices; what types of school activities can promote ethnic cohesion; and how to partner with other schools to maximize the use of best  practices. Our experience thus far confirms that the best ideas come from teachers and students, so we will work with students to select their school representatives. This will give them the opportunity to see democracy at work first-hand, and to learn about their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a multi-ethnic society.

What are the future plans in terms of the strategy for integrated education? Do you intend to continue the cooperation with the Ministry as supporters for implementation of the Strategy?

Our integrated education project will run for three more years. We look forward to ongoing collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Secretariat for the Implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, municipal and local partners, and most importantly with parents, teachers and students throughout Macedonia.

And finally, how much money was invested in education in order to realize the activities covered by the Strategy. As donors, what is the percentage of your financial participation in the total budget?

Numerous donors have invested in education in Macedonia.  In terms of USAID’s education budget, $5.2 Million is the projected cost for the four year Inter-Ethnic Integration in Education project. But the current overall USAID budget for education activities is over $16 Million, and includes activities that promote the inclusion of students with disabilities, improve educational access for Roma students, strengthen the teacher career and professional development system, and build the employability skills of youth. Since 1993, the U.S. Embassy in Skopje – through our Public Affairs Section and the Office of Defense Cooperation – has invested millions of dollars to support numerous education projects, each designed to strengthen the educational system in Macedonia and better prepare its young people to meet the challenges of the future.