Interview with George Nikolov: The process of developing a Strategy for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement in each municipality is a positive story

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Through the Strategies for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement, the municipalities encourage and support proactivity among the young people from different ethnic communities to improve the situation in the society. By the end of the year, the USAID Youth Ethnic Integration Project, implemented by the Macedonian Civic Education Center (MCEC), will have supported 45 out of a total of 81 municipalities in the country in the adoption of such strategies that systematically initiate the implementation of the activities provided for in the Laws on Primary and Secondary Education.  

In the period 2019-2020, with the support of MCEC, municipal strategies were adopted in 30 municipalities: City of Skopje, Kumanovo, Gostivar, Butel, Strumica, Tetovo, Sveti Nikole, Kavadarci, Struga, Prilep, Veles, Dolneni, Vrapciste, Probistip, Gevgelija, Ohrid, Resen, Bogovinje, Staro Nagoricane, Negotino, Aerodrom, Center, Cair Gazi Baba, Saraj, Gjorce Petrov, Kocani, Bosilovo, Berovo and Vinica.

In 2021, MCEC continued to work with 15 new municipalities: Dojran, Radovish, Caska, Stip, Zelino, Kicevo, Vasilevo, Bogdanci, Kisela Voda, Karpos, Bitola, Suto Orizari, Mavrovo and Rostuse, Debar and Studenicani on developing municipal strategies that are expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

Read the interview with George Nikolov, associate for education, and find out more about what do the Strategies for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement represent and how they are developed and adopted by the municipalities across the country.


George Nikolov, associate for education

MCEC: What does the Strategy for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement represent?

Nikolov: The education system has gone through serious challenges during the processes of reforms and democratization. Some of them improved the education system as a whole and at the same time initiated parallel processes that led to the spatial separation of students according to their language of instruction, work in shifts, on different floors, even in different buildings with the explanation that it will be easier to organize and implement the educational activity. Such developments were not followed by suitable education policies needed to overcome the negative consequences of the spatial separation of students and are the result of the inability of students from different languages of instruction to actively contact and communicate with each other.

Recognizing the negative consequences, it has become inevitable to create an education policy that will directly address this issue and on a long-term basis will enable interaction through contacts and communications between students from different languages of instruction. Hence, in 2010, with the support of the OSCE Mission, the strategic document “Steps towards integrated education in the education system in the Republic of Macedonia” was adopted, which sets forth the basic education policies for overcoming the consequences of the separation of students by language of instruction.

The implementation of the Strategy was supported by several partner organizations of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Government, with a dominant role and assistance by the USAID and MCEC, which have been investing in the implementation of the Strategy for many years now, with support of the schools in the implementation of activities for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement.

On the other hand, the long-term implementation of these activities has pointed to the fact that in order to achieve better results, greater involvement of the municipality and the local community is needed to support schools in the implementation of activities for interethnic integration in education, and the good experience from the central level taught us that there is a need at the municipal level to develop education policy to support activities that allow interaction between students from different languages of instruction.  

Hence, the municipal Strategies for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement involve support, encouragement and care of the municipality for the implementation of the activities for interethnic integration and youth engagement. At the same time, they open opportunities for more partner organizations to be involved in the support of the implementation of such local education policy.

MCEC: Is this strategy developed on the basis of a legal framework, which would include international laws and laws and strategies of our country related to education?

Nikolov: From a global perspective, the municipal strategy is in line with the education policies aimed at strengthening human rights, rights of the child and civil rights.

With this in mind, the Strategy for interethnic integration and youth engagement is in line with a number of international documents that are postulates of human rights, rights of the child and civil rights.  Several key international documents have specific implementation in municipal strategies, such as: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education, the Council of Europe’s Social Cohesion Platform, the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, etc.

The implementation of the National Strategy for Integrated Education so far has significantly contributed to the improvement of the conditions in the education system stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia and the concept of nine-year primary education, and as a result of its implementation, the Law on Primary Education and the Law on Secondary Education were improved. This established a strong link between the Laws on primary and secondary education and the municipal strategies, because the strategies imply involvement of the municipality and the partners at local level in the implementation of the legal regulation pertaining to the implementation of activities for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement.

MCEC: How is its development, implementation and monitoring organized?

Nikolov: The initiative for developing municipal strategies was introduced thanks to the MCEC and its implementation of the USAID Youth Ethnic Integration Project, which in recent years (including the period 2012-2017 when it implemented the Interethnic Integration in Education Project (IIEP) provides strong support to municipalities for the development of municipal education policies for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement.

The partnership of MCEC and the municipalities allowed the municipalities to engage in developing municipal strategies. Of course, the whole process goes through procedures regulating the work of the local self-government, which means that the process begins with the establishment of a Commission for the Strategy for interethnic integration and youth engagement, which further works on the document. So far, the composition of the Commissions consists of appointed members of the municipal administration, as well as teachers, expert associates and school directors, and at the same time adequate representation has been ensured according to the languages of instruction in which the teaching process is implemented in the municipality.

The Strategy development process is monitored and mentored by MCEC associates with many years of experience in the implementation, monitoring and promotion of educational policies of the Ministry of Education and Science for interethnic integration and youth engagement. The implementation is entrusted to the municipal Commission for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement, and the monitoring is continuous, in accordance with the municipal plan for measuring the achievements. Based on the plan for measuring the achievements on an annual basis, the Commission informs the Municipal Council and proposes activities for future improvements.

MCEC: What is the general goal of this strategy and what competencies does it improve in students?

Nikolov: The National Strategy for Integrated Education aims through systemic activities in the educational process to contribute to greater cohesion in society, and above all greater cohesion in the education system itself. The systemic activities are widely set from national through local to school level and refer to all those affected by the educational process and the resources necessary for implementation.

Developing municipal strategies strengthens the role of local government in the implementation of activities for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement. On the other hand, each municipality has its own specifics in terms of the structure of the population, the structure of the teaching staff and students in schools, and accordingly each municipal Strategy sets a specific goal in accordance with the circumstances in the municipality, which leads to achieving a common national goal.

What they all have in common is that through a wide range of creative activities they provide interaction among students who attend classes in different languages, in order to promote similarities and acceptance of diversity, interculturalism and multiculturalism, while striving to strengthen the students’ competences for democratic culture and civic notion and prepare them for successful inclusion in our multicultural society.

MCEC: What principles are embedded in the Strategy for IIE and Youth Engagement?

Nikolov: Of course, the bodies of each municipality expect a successful implementation of the strategy. To ensure this, the strategy places the municipality in a partnership with the school and the carriers of the processes in the school, especially the School Integration Team as a key stakeholder in the implementation of IIE activities and youth engagement at the school level. For the purposes of greater involvement of all stakeholders in the implementation process, the partnership of the municipality, mutual trust and responsibility has been extended to the local business community, civil society organizations working in the field of strengthening social cohesion, citizens of the municipality and of course the Ministry of Education and Science and international organizations.

The Strategy envisages several opportunities for involvement of all stakeholders in the implementation through the enhanced promotion of opportunities for cooperation and transparency as a key element for increased interest of the partners in the implementation. The Strategy envisages the inclusion of all possible municipal and school resources for the promotion and presentation of activities, using modern means of communication and organizing specific events for that purpose.

MCEC: What would you share from your long-term mentoring in the municipalities that have developed and are in the process of developing the Strategy for IIE and Youth Engagement? Are there any challenges and success stories in your rich experience?

Nikolov: In the Ministry of Education and Science I worked on the development of the Strategy “Steps towards integrated education in the education system in the Republic of Macedonia”, its implementation and further activities in the Ministry of Education and Science related to the preparation of documents for monitoring and informing the Government and the Minister of the achievements. I am certainly happy about every new result related to the activities for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement. Mentoring in the course of the development of municipal strategies is my continuous contribution to the strengthening of social cohesion and gives me a personal sense of satisfaction. Working with several Commissions with members from the municipality, primary and secondary education is a new positive experience. I admire their enthusiasm, competence to work on the strategy, understanding of the expectations that the municipality has of them and readiness for teamwork.

A special challenge is to develop a strategy by working remotely on electronic platforms. At the beginning, working remotely made me sceptical that the planned work dynamics would slow down, but after the initial problems, primarily of a technical nature, many opportunities opened up for exchange of information, working materials and more efficient cooperation and work.

The process of developing the strategy in each municipality so far has been and still is a positive story, each in its own way with a lot of positive energy and commitment of the team to the work. The implementation of the strategy in all municipalities in which it was adopted a year ago, gives us the right to say that we will have specific and successful stories in the forthcoming years.

On this occasion, I am pleased to express my gratitude to all members of the Commissions in all municipalities for their commitment to developing strategies, even at times when their loved ones were facing problems caused by the COVID-19.

Furthermore, to the mutual satisfaction of all of us, the Municipal Councils have recognized the positive benefits of the adoption of the Strategies for interethnic integration in education and youth engagement, and they have been adopted with great understanding.