Written by: Vlora Reçica, Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis, Skopje
Civic education in North Macedonia: Discourse, challenges and opportunities
Civic education has not been at the forefront of North Macedonia’s public discourse. The country has not created a general national strategy or action plan focused on civic education or social and civic competences. Despite a lack of focus on civic education, in 2019, the government, at the time led by Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), adopted a national strategy for developing the “One Society for All” Concept and Interculturalism, which envisioned activities to strengthen the processes of communication and cooperation between communities and to develop the concept of interculturalism. Information on the strategy implementation is scarce, and it shows a lack of implementation. The country is characterized by its multi-ethnic and multicultural composition, and the successful implementation of such a strategy could impact social and civic competences and improve coexistence. Long-standing ethnic and linguistic divisions have prevented students from regularly communicating and interacting throughout their education, thus contributing to interethnic divisions, misunderstandings and stereotyping. Furthermore, old civic education curricula in formal education did not promote the values of proactive engagement, civic culture or participation in civic life; thus, youths have become inactive, disillusioned and unsure about their role in society. The gap created by formal education curricula and the lack of government action has been filled by civil society’s activities, projects and programmes.
Formal civic education overview
Formal civic education has been part of the Macedonian education system since 2002; however, the concept of civic education has undergone several changes and reforms. The most recent reform process of the civic education curricula started in 2017 as a joint effort of the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) and the Bureau for Development of Education (BDE), in cooperation with the Macedonian Center for Civic Education (MCCE), an NGO focused on civic education. Implementation of the new curricula started in September 2020; however, the new programme has not been implemented in all years of secondary education. The new concept of civic education is focused mostly on preparing young people to become active in society and to understand newer concepts of civic engagement and competences.
According to this high school curriculum, the main learning objectives are to equip students with social and civic competences, become active and responsible citizens, engage with social and political developments, advocate for and respect human rights, understand and use media critically, identify common European values and so on (European Commisssion, YouthWiki). In elementary schools, civic education is often covered in other subjects, such as society, ethics, elective subjects and free subjects and activities. The topics covered by these subjects include children’s rights, local community, social groups and roles, organizing with others, diversity and cooperation, developing tolerance and non-discrimination, dialogue, acceptance and respect for human behaviour and developing personal and human values.
Teachers do not always get the necessary support for a more active role, despite the legal requirement stemming from the Law on Teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools (article 21), which envisages at least 60 hours over three academic years for personal and professional development. The National Agency for European Educational Programmes and Mobility has organized different seminars and training opportunities for educators. In 2018, the MES, the BDE and the MCCE provided teacher training on civic education following the reforms and the new concept of civic education. The training was aimed at enhancing teachers’ skills for implementing the new civic education curriculum. Similar trainings have been conducted in recent years concerning teacher capacities in civic education. High school organizing is established in school statutes, but only a few high school organizations, unions, and clubs exist. Programmes aimed at school staff and students on civic education, engagement and participation are mainly designed and implemented by CSOs.
Non-formal and informal civic education
Non-formal and informal civic education programmes, schools and training opportunities are generally organized by NGOs, CSOs and civic actors. These programmes are primarily funded by organizations and institutions outside of North Macedonia (including international organizations, embassies of foreign countries and others, such as USAID, UKAID, etc.), with minimal input from national funds and institutions. The available national funding is not transparent, and funding procedures differ between different institutions. The target audience of non-formal and informal civic education programmes is usually young people, while older generations are rarely a target group. The law on youth representation and policies formally recognized the status of youth workers. Still, challenges remain in its implementation, and the general public is not informed about the work of these organizations, which leads to misinformation, especially regarding funding and speculations on ulterior political motives. The collaboration between different national NGOs and CSOs is limited due to rising competition for funding.