Marina Gjorgjioska Kitanoska

Project coordinator at the Centre for Civic Initiative

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

27th April 2016 Skopje, North Macedonia

Testimonials: Improving social cohesion in high schools in Macedonia

Quality and inclusive education is one of the basic principles for the democratization of the society. Macedonian education system has made efforts to give an accent and importance of teaching the youth to recognise differences and value them, to include the youth in their school environment, respect different ethnicities and link students through learning about coexistence and respect.
The British Embassy in Skopje enhanced this process through providing support to a local non – governmental organization – Center for Civic Initiative from Prilep, in the realization of the project Social Cohesion in High Schools. The project goal is to develop and pilot trust building and reconciliation mechanisms for conflict transformation and diversity understanding in 15 high schools in Macedonia.
There are few important approaches that are worth sharing: networking, share of experiences, and inclusion and practice. The networking opened up possibilities for a dialogue between the Ministry of Education and Science, high schools and the Ministry of Labour and Social Work and the Municipal Centers for Social Work.
The baseline for the cooperation was the research that an expert team implemented in 15 high schools with students and expert service within the school. The results showed many highlights in terms of defining the level of conflict in the schools, the type of conflict and recommendations for better school environment.  The major concerns were the bulling, the level of trust between the students and the teachers and silent conflicts, which are not reported to the class masters or the expert service in the school. The research was shared and disused at three round tables with participants from the education institutions and the social care institutions.
“This is the first time that we sit on the same table and discuss the cooperation models. It is very important that we share the concerns and models of cooperation” – said Jovanka Ognjanoska, the director of the High School GOSTIVAR, from Gostivar.
The share of experiences was made through set of trainings for social workers, teachers and expert services from the schools. The project built capacities to total 50 project participants. Together through an inclusive process, there was a methodology designed for Conflict transformation and a Manual in Macedonian and Albanian language was developed with tools for conflict transformation. The trainings were also a unique chance for these two profiles from different institutions to discuss about challenges one faces in the school environment.
“We have the capacity to transfer knowledge on early recognition of violence and this will be an asset to the school services and teachers” – said Ljupco Gacovski, manager of the Child Protection Unit in the Center for Social Work of the town of Skopje.
The inclusion and the practice were focused on implementation of total 45 education seasons with 400 students from the 15 high schools.  The education seasons were implemented in coordination with the trained school staff.
Another motivating and enhancing activity were implementation of 9 school visits including students as guests and hosts. Debates, literary readings, non- violent communication exercises and discussions took place in the schools. The students are hungry for open discussion, share of knowledge and opinions.  Activities of this kind are strongly needed in the schools. For instance, students from Albanian speaking school “DRITA” from Kicevo went to a Macedonian speaking school “Jane Sandanski” from Shtip for the first time. They read poems in Macedonian and Albanian language, discussing about their differences and similarities.

On 30th of March 2016, the Closing conference of the project took place in Skopje with 70 participants. Among the participants from education institutions and centres for social care, we also invited students. This was of particular value for the event.

“We all share the same country” are the words by Sabri Lika, high school student from DRITA, Kicevo.
“Everyone should be given a chance to become a friend” are the words by Angela Miteva, high school student from “Jane Sandanski” from Shtip.

The students actively participated in the conference discussions, while one of the indicators that the project established an effective communication among the institutions are summed up in the words of one psychologist from a high school in Skopje:

“Before the project, our school did not have any communication with the Center for Social Work, now, by the end of the project we work on 10 cases” – said the psychologist of the High School “Dimitar Vlahov”.

Razmena KI
Marina Gjorgjioska-Kitanoska
Project coordinator at the Centre for Civic Initiative