View from here - Ethnic split for pupils in Macedonia

17th September 2010 at 01:00
Albanian children still segregated in the former Yugoslav republic are to receive specialist help in conflict resolution, reports Colin Graham

You can imagine the outcry, should it happen in the UK. Pupils from different ethnic groups attend the same school, but do so in "shifts" based on their national origin. They might pass in the corridor as they leave or arrive, but that's where the contact between the groups ends.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, this is often the way schools operate when the pupil population includes significant numbers of ethnic Albanian children.

Questions of identity in Macedonia are problematic, to say the least. The country's very right to call itself by its name has been angrily disputed by neighbouring Greece, and Macedonia has been prone to responding in kind in its own defence.

The country has been less riven by ethnic spite than other former Yugoslavian republics, but the divide in local schools is a salient reminder of the tensions which remain. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is trying to improve the situation. Much of its work in Macedonia has been devoted to closing the ethnic gaps that persist in education.

The OSCE's ambassador, Jose Luis Herrero, has called upon the authorities in the town of Struga (near the border with Albania) to work harder to end the current system, which sees Albanian and Macedonian pupils attend separate lessons and which he wants to see abolished during the next academic year.

He told The TES: "We all want there to be more integration with children learning together in the same physical space, though in accordance with their specific needs. This will be challenging, but some activities can be taught to both groups at the same time."

A study of 4,000 students from 40 secondary schools, commissioned by the OSCE and published in February this year, found that around half had had their ethnic origin commented on by teachers. A third said their schools did not do enough to foster relations between the different ethnicities.

However, a more encouraging finding was that 80 per cent of the pupils expressed a desire to participate in extra-curricular activities with children of other national identities. Left to the pupils, the goal of greater integration might yet become a reality.

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