Interview with Simona Petkovska Ilievska – Innovation lies in all of us, we should just pull it out on the surface

The teachers adapted to the new way of work at a distance and continued to support students in organizing initiatives and activities for positive changes in the community. Simona Petkovska Ilievska is one of them. As a Civic Education teacher in PS “Vlado Tasevski” in Skopje, two years in a row she encourages her students to realize their ideas on their own.
Read the interview with her and discover more about her experience with maintaining the students’ motivation and organizing interactive and innovative classes and activities at a distance.

Simona Petkovska Ilievska, a Civic Education teacher

1) Two years in a row you support your students in implementing student initiatives. Last year with physical presence and this year at a distance. Which activities did you implement and what is your experience – how to motivate young people to participate in activities for a positive change in the community?

The fact that the students have organized Open Days for Civic Education for two years already is especially important for gaining real civic competencies. It’s understandable that there is a dose of apathy at the students’ end due to the pandemic but there are always exceptions. This year, a group of young people started an initiative with which they encouraged their peers to be more active. The students realized a project entirely by themselves with my mentorship and with volunteering help by a few experts in different fields (Luka Blazev – a graphic designer from IRL Macedonia, professor Liljana Ignjatova – an expert for drug prevention, Kristina Mihajlovska from the organization Hera, inspectors from the Ministry of Internal Affairs).

D.A.T.A. (Drugs and Аlcohol Тeenage Аddictions) Awareness Сampaign is a project conducted by 11 students, who showed high awareness of student activism on the topic of using alcohol, drugs and medicines by the younger population as well as prevention and education on this matter. They showed their youth engagement through their campaign on Facebook and Instagram where they influence young people through their posts and share relevant knowledge on the topic of addictions. With this project, they decided to participate in the contest organized by the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe aimed at youth activism on the topic of addictions. Recently, they received an answer that their application has been accepted and they are one of the 53 applicants from 28 different countries from Europe that will fight for this prestigious European prize. Whatever the outcome, they are proud of themselves and what they have achieved in the field of youth advocacy on the topic of addictions.

2) According to you, which are the most important competencies that the students should develop during their primary education? How do you implement them in the planning of the Civic Education classes and the extracurricular activities?

The competencies are related to what the student learned and understood, his/her ability to use that knowledge and implement it responsibly. Primary education should prepare children for all dynamic global processes, which we are all involved in. The aim of civic education is to shape active citizens, who will influence the processes in society. I always motivate them to be people that are thinking freely, correct the injustice in the society and fight for their rights and those of other people. That is a contemporary education of the 21st century. I always strive to make them understand that it’s not enough just to know the human rights, the state institutions and political concepts, but they should put all of that knowledge into practice by participating in the school’s activities, the community and acting forward in society.

During planning, I always guide them to wholly perceive the processes. With that, they are able to think critically about all global questions like human rights, forming attitudes, behavior towards the press, forming values and respecting differences. 

3) The COVID-19 pandemic imposed the need of conducting the educational process through distance learning. This includes extracurricular activities and student initiatives, as well. How did you manage to adapt to the situation and to continue to teach regularly, but also to implement additional activities with your students through the National Platform for Distance Education?

The pandemics showed the challenges that lie ahead of us. In the beginning, all of us were scared about how the whole process will go on. However it may sound, I think that the pandemic caused a type of catharsis in all of us and encouraged us, as teachers, to advance our information and digital skills and capacities. The educational authorities should work a lot more on the continuous advancement of these skills of the teachers, which we couldn’t perceive before the pandemic. A modern educational system and serious investments in education are necessary. The future I want is a contemporary educational process, which is immune to all future challenges. Of course, here it’s especially important that we, the teachers, entered the Internet space, which naturally is closer to the students but it’s on us to educate them on the dangers that lurk in that space. The teacher plays a key role in the motivation and he/she should do that with an enormous dose of empathy, providing support and special attention to their mental health and emotions.

The Eduino platform for digital content helped in bringing the teaching materials closer to the students, especially the most vulnerable groups that didn’t have access to computer technology. With great pleasure, I recorded four Civic Education teaching contents for eighth and ninth grade.

4) What classes at a distance you think are interesting and useful for the students? What would you say to other Civic Education teachers in terms of maintaining the motivation and organizing interactive classes at a distance?

This is maybe the biggest challenge for the teachers. The class shouldn’t be a presentation of data that should be memorized. I encourage all teachers to come out of the classical “mainstream” teaching model. The children will be overjoyed if during the class on human rights they hear the speech of Malala upon receiving the Nobel Prize. They will forever remember why the right to education is so important. Innovation lies in all of us, we should just pull it out on the surface and not have prejudices. The Civic Education class shouldn’t cause the students stress but rather a real pleasure. 

5) It’s known that it isn’t enough to learn about democratic behavior from a book. Instead, it’s necessary to practice it daily. What, according to you, is the best way to practice democracy in the classroom and within the whole school?

Democratic behavior should be imperative for every teacher. The students will always remember you by the way you addressed them and how you prepared them for life. To plant real values in the students you should understand the ethical values, which are universal, on the highest level. The teacher should act with love, care, understanding and eternal empathy toward all of the students. They feel that and will respond like that. Only that way, your, at the moment virtual, classroom will be a place with the highest level of democracy and philanthropy.