In this article, we will present the Policy Coalition that was established within the ARISE: Action for Reducing Inequalities in Education project in North Macedonia.
The importance of the policy dimension in the ARISE project has already been presented, as well as the Policy Coalitions (PC) established in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In North Macedonia, ARISE Consortium member, The Foundation for Educational and Cultural Initiatives "Step by Step" - Macedonia (SbS MK), gathered the members of the Policy Coalition through two parallel processes:
- an open call was placed in three news outlets (electronic and printed) that resulted in applications from academia, the practice and civil society
- direct letters were sent to the three main stakeholders responsible for various aspects of education and children’s wellbeing (including poverty), presenting the project and asking for the appointment of representatives which resulted in the membership in the PC of representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science (Deputy Minister), the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Adviser) and Bureau for Development of Education (Director and Head of Curriculum and Teacher Support Department).
All in all, Policy Coalition in North Macedonia gathers about 18 member representatives of the ministries, agency, faculties, schools and kindergartens ready to address the issues of lack of support for students from low socio-economic status (SES) background.
As it was found in the national report that was developed within the ARISE project, the Government in North Macedonia creates policies for improving the situation by addressing poverty and undertaking measures in the areas of the economy, such as strengthening families with low SES through training and employment, and of education, such as increasing the coverage i.e., enrolment of vulnerable groups of children and youth in the education system and providing financial, advisory and professional support for children and youth with low SES. These efforts are enhanced with the contribution of international organisations, donors and a large number of NGOs/CSOs working on empowering children and youth with low SES and improving their access to quality education. The impression remains, however, that all such initiatives suffer from a lack of coordination and fragmentary realisation. Coordination is more than necessary and can be achieved through two approaches: vertical coordination, namely Government – local authority – education institutions – families, and horizontal coordination, namely economic measures – health care measures – education measures.
Moreover, it was discovered that national-level policies aimed at supporting local communities in empowering vulnerable population groups need to be strengthened by mechanisms that improve the flexibility in the implementation of support measures. This would facilitate the efficient inclusion of children and youth with low SES in education and society.
Setting the Goal
During the inaugural meeting of the PC, members identified and discussed the following urgent issues:
Policies and coordination:
- lack of information about poverty in education
- lack of coordination and opportunities for sharing opinions, ideas, best practices
- lack of attention to discrepancies between municipalities, local communities in quality of provision and access to services
- discrepancies in provision among vulnerable groups
- poor quality of provision for Roma impacted schools
- lack of preschool facilities in ethnic and rural communities
- lack of support for transition into secondary education for Roma, girls, rural children
- lack of attention to needs of children with diverse special needs in many schools, lack of teacher competencies
- lack of earmarked special funds in schools to address needs of low SES children
Lack of support of the beneficiaries:
- lack of private funds to support the education process
- lack of family involvement
- lack of programmes and measures for greater awareness and involvement of parents
- persistent discriminatory attitudes among the general public in regard to Roma and children with disabilities in mainstream schools
After the inaugural meeting, representatives of the PC participated at the Regional Policy Lab in Zagreb, where they together with representatives of the Consortium partner and grassroot organisation worked in national teams on the policy goal: Ensure that all children have the necessary school readiness and entry-level competencies, attitudes and habits for school enrolment.
Members of the PC in North Macedonia recognized the relevance and potential of this form of knowledge sharing and advocacy platform and are enthusiastic and ready to get involved and improve the support of students from low SES background in their country. Here are some of their thoughts and impressions:
Kiril Barbareev, Faculty of Education Sciences, Goce Delchev University, Shtip:
“To enhance positive practices for children in education, it is not necessary to develop policies, they need to be operationalised on local level. In this context to ensure all children have access to education and actively participate in it, local communities and authorities need to work on disseminating information and elevating the standard of living of low SES families.”
Lulzim Ademi, Pedagogical Faculty, Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje:
“Policies should not be developed only bearing in mind developed larger municipalities. Less equipped schools should be considered and municipalities with lower access to preschool education, as well; they are often located in rural and ethnic communities.”
Marijana Stojmenovska, Vancho Prke project school, Delchevo:
“A number of activities are conducted in our school aimed at socially vulnerable children in cooperation with the municipality, civil society and local businesses: we provide free snacks for some children, we also organised a theatre performance with the proceeds donated to the Centre for persons with disabilities in the municipality. We would like however, to approach this issue more strategically and long-term.“
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