Una rassegna su come viene gestito il sistema scolastico in Macedonia, quali sono le difficoltà date dalla presenza di una popolazione multietnica e alcuni cenni storici sul sitema educativo e universitario macedone. (testo in inglese)
Three weeks ago, there was a strange sight in front of the Ministry of Education and Science building in the center of Skopje. Approximately 2,000 Roma citizens were apparently having a street party, complete with a brass orchestra and break-dancing. Actually, they were protesting the decision of Nenad Novkovski, Minister of Education, to fire the headmaster of the elementary school in the Shuto Orizari borough of Skopje, predominantly Roma populated. They finally won, but the victory was only partial. The school got a Roma headmaster, but not the one the Roma community wanted - the candidate of the Mayor of Shuto Orizari, Faik Mustafa - but a candidate supported by his opposition led by the Member of Parliament, Amdi Bajram.
Break-dancing is a fitting metaphor for the education system in general. It too changes directions rapidly, has been known to fall down on its hands, and sometimes one can spin on top of his head and still fail to understand what's going on.
To save time and patience, having in mind that the Macedonian education system was, to a great extent, inherited from the former Yugoslavia and it has the same problems as, for instance, the education system of Serbia, we shall refer you to the similar excellent text by Mihailo Antovic on the Yugoslavia page at Osservatorio Sui Balcani, entitled Education System in Serbia in the Past Decade. We shall aim to primarily cover the issue of multi ethnicity and the influence it has on the education system in Macedonia.
Give 'em Schools!
The first problem is coverage provided by each level of education. While primary education is mandatory for all children, and covers approximately 96% of the entire population, the coverage with secondary education is lingering around 90%. That is an astonishing rise from the 69% registered in 1991. The rise may be attributed primarily to better conditions and new schools in Albanian language that opened since 1991. The 10% missing at the moment are mostly Roma students, only 20% of which decide to enroll in high school after completion of primary school.
The Ministry of Education plans to make up for that discrepancy by building a high school in Shuto Orizari that would be primarily oriented towards attracting Roma children to enroll in high school and continue with their education. In addition, there are several NGOs around Macedonia that prepare programs designed to attract Roma children to continue their education. The fact that most of them come from families that live in extreme poverty does not help that cause, since they sometimes have to start to work at a very early age in order to earn extra income for the family. They also have to deal with the racism of some teachers, who consider the Roma children inferior, and incapable of learning anything. The teachers also tend to disregard the fact that Macedonian is not the mother tongue of the Roma children, which creates problems for them in the early grades, so they routinely flunk them or send them to classes for handicapped children.
The other minorities are in a much better position, primarily because of their greater integration in Macedonian society. Turks, for instance, have primary and secondary education in the Turkish language. Affirmative action - confirmed failure
That brings us to the Albanian national minority, which is a completely different story. But, before the story, some history. Albanians had the guaranteed constitutional right to primary and secondary education in the Albanian language. Higher education was not a problem before 1990, because they mostly went to Prishtina, Kosovo, for their university and college degrees. However, Milosevic's hard-line policies in Kosovo, resulting in the elimination of the Albanian language at Prishtina University, together with the fact that it was now another state and the tuition was much higher for foreign students, changed all that. Increasingly greater numbers of Albanians voiced the demand for guaranteed free higher education in the Albanian language. Also, thanks to the fact that your average Albanian family tended to be traditional, patriarchal, and Muslim community oriented, girls of high school age were generally expected to drop out, get married and raise children. It was only the inevitable modernization of the society in general that contributed to the break up of the traditional family which contributed to greater high school attendance among Albanian girls.
The problem resulted from the fact that many members of the Macedonian academic community considered higher education to be the best chance for the integration of the Albanian community in Macedonian - largely divided - society. They sat and talked, and thought it over, and came up with the idea of affirmative action - Macedonian version. Guaranteed quotas were reserved at the Universities in Macedonia for the minorities, primarily directed at the Albanian students. The whole quota program soon turned into a farce.
First of all, that was not quite what the Albanians wanted. They did not envision a solution that would get them into a university where they would study in Macedonian. They wanted a state university in the Albanian language. Secondly, Macedonian students used the quotas to cheat on the University Entry Examination. A system of entry exams was designed by the Universities in Macedonia to protect themselves against badly prepared high school graduates. Sub par students used the guaranteed quotas, mostly reserved for the Vlach or Roma students, to enroll with lower scores than those generally required. Third, education was seen as one step on the road to meritocracy, which the quotas outright negated. Many protests expressed the fact that minority students can enroll with much lower average grades and entry exam results.
The minority quotas were a failure primarily due to the reason we already mentioned, it was not what the Albanians wanted. It did contribute to some increase in the percentage of Albanians attending university (from 3% to approximately 10%) but that was still far from representative for the Albanian population that makes up between 23 (official figure) and 40 percent (as claimed by Albanian politicians) of the total population of Macedonia. Also, raised in a situation of unofficial apartheid, Albanian students were not too eager to mingle with the other minorities. We may look for reasons in many places. Was it a result of fanatic nationalism, of the fact that they are culturally different from all the other communities living in Macedonia...? We may guess endlessly, but the fact is that the situation was untenable.
So the trouble started. In 1994, a group of former professors at the Prishtina University, led by Fadil Sulejmani, proclaimed Tetovo University open, which was to provide higher education for the Albanians. Macedonian authorities acted rashly and stupidly. Riot police were sent to Mala Recica, a suburb of Tetovo, where they clashed with the Albanians that gathered to "protect the University from the Macedonian oppressors," as the appeal by Sulejmani stated. Two lives were lost, and with them any hope to recognize the "Tetovo University." It wasn't officially recognized because of the insistence of the Albanians to get it recognized as a state university, financed by the Budget. The Government answered that they may register it only as a private university, with the students paying for their education.
That uncertain state could have lasted forever, everybody thought, as long as no one stirred things up. Both Macedonians and Albanians were quite happy that the school kids of either nationality never mixed with each other. They went to same schools, but in different shifts. In those places where they were in a same shift, they tended to use separate entrances, and in the extreme cases, there were school halls divided in two by walls so that they could not mix and mingle. They did, however, mix quite often. Every once in a while the media will be stormed with reports of huge fist fights (sometimes knives were involved) between the children of the two nationalities. Police frequently patrolled the school playgrounds, and things would settle for a while, that is, until the next fight.
On the university level, Macedonians studied in Skopje and Bitola, while rising numbers of their Albanian colleagues dismissed the minority quotas and enrolled in the illegal "Tetovo University." Albanian students would get low quality education (Tetovo University professors and lecturers did not always comply with the legal requirements needed in order to get a tenured professorship), and after three years of study in Tetovo, they would transfer to the University of Tirana and get a diploma there. There were attempts to integrate those students in the University system of Macedonia, where they would pass a qualification exam, and based on the results, would be allocated to the appropriate year of study. That didn't work, either.
Macedonian nationalism did not stay put, either. In 1997, when the Ministry of Education adopted a lex specialis for the Faculty of Pedagogy (teacher producing school) that would allow the teachers in the languages of the minorities to receive lectures in their respective languages, Macedonian students (led by Filip Petrovski, currently Member of Parliament for the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE) started huge demonstrations. They accused the Minister Sofija Todorova of high treason, cited some phantom danger for the Macedonian people, and the most extreme of them went on a hunger strike in the small park across the street from the Parliament. The Government folded and abolished the law.
Enter Max Van Der Stoel. The seasoned (some would say too old) Dutch diplomat came to Macedonia in his capacity as OSCE Commissioner for Human Rights and worked out a solution. The international community will help in the establishment of a Southeast European University in Tetovo (popularly known as Stoel's University) that would provide studies in public administration, business administration, languages, teaching and computer sciences. The deal was that the international donors would provide the funding for the first four years of its operation, and then it would become completely self-sustainable. The lectures were to be given in Albanian, Macedonian and English.
A rather plausible idea, but yet again, no one was quite happy. Macedonians feared, as they still do, that after those four years, they would be stuck with a university that they would have to finance from the State Budget, while Albanians wanted state funded education. The radical elements in the Albanian community declared the SEE University (it finally opened this past November) as an instrument of appeasement of the International community that doesn't solve anything, and rightly pointed out that if "Tetovo University" was at odds in finding professors, what would the SEE do?
When it opened in November 2001, the SEE University declared that it had approximately 800 students, one percent of which were non-Albanians. That seemed to confirm the fears of the Macedonians that this would be an exclusively Albanian institution, with restricted access to the other communities. On the other hand, the majority of teachers at the SEE Universtity are Macedonians from the Skopje and Bitola University who speak no Albanian, and don't have sufficient English for teaching purposes. That means that they will have to either improve their English immensely, or lecture in Macedonian. Let's just hope it will all get figured out.
Like all other aspects of Macedonian daily life, it is impossible not to mention the recent security crisis (hopefully over now). It didn't only widen the already existing gap between the two communities, but it made things impossible in several social activities, including education. First of all, huge numbers of school days were lost. The fate of the school kids from the internally displaced families is uncertain. They can't return home, and anyway, many of the schools they used to attend were damaged in the military activities. Several hundred students at the "Tetovo University" and SEE University wait to be amnestied (abolished from persecution actually, but that is another story). There are demands and requests addressed to the Ministry of Education for the construction of new primary and secondary school buildings, because now children of different ethnic background refuse to use same buildings, regardless of the fact that they may go in shifts or use separate entrances.
Macedonia is a country with a millennium long tradition in education, so states the first sentence of the Education Development Strategy 2001-2002. The Strategy was based on a study completed in 1998-99, and the result is quite an ambitious paper that lists as priorities in education the reconstruction of old, ruined schools and the construction of new school buildings, including one in the heavily Roma populated Municipality of Shuto Orizari. The number of new buildings will have to be higher than planned, having in mind the war and the demands that resulted from it.
The Strategy also envisions improvement in the technical base of the education system, with every primary and secondary school getting at least one fully equipped computer classroom by 2002. It also plans to establish a computer and information network operated by the Ministry.
Some of the other problems, like ideology in the school books are being worked over and gradually solved. The only problem remaining is with History books, which will have to be updated to include the latest crisis. What they will make of it remains to be seen. Who will be the heroes there? The National Liberation Army fighters or the Macedonian Security Forces?
Also, the teachers will have to be better compensated, or we won't succeed in anything. A lot has to be done to get the mostly disinterested, unmotivated teachers and lecturers to start loving their job again, including better social standing, improved working conditions and, of course, more money in the pay check.
The biggest problem faced by the Strategy is, as you may have guessed, the money needed for its implementation. The Strategy plans for State Budget involvement in only 20% of the overall costs. The rest will have to be provided by foreign donors. They do seem eager to help and promise a lot, but we are all too familiar with unfulfilled promises.
Nevertheless, if only 20% of the Strategy is actually implemented, it would be a good start. After all, you cannot hope to solve all the problems at once. As one representative of the NGO sector in Macedonia said - insisting on anonymity in order not to jeopardize the good relations with the Ministry of Education:
"You ask me about the problems and possible solutions? To tell you the truth, I am afraid to even begin."