08 NOVEMBER 2021

Equal Education For All!

Author: Pande Eftimov, Programme Assistant, Youth Activism – MOF

The right to education of children with disabilities is covered and regulated under numerous international documents, and is specifically addressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989); the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN International Human Rights Treaty ~ into force since 2008); the Law on Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“Official Gazette“, no.172/11.); the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia (Article 9, Article 35, Article 44 and others); and in all specific documents and texts about human rights and freedoms. However, despite all the above, the general image in this society points to the fact that there is room for improving the access to education, educational content, equal rights and opportunities for all students and inclusion of persons with disabilities in social life. This is further reinforced by the fact that legal regulations and international documents do not correspond to the actual situation in which we exist.

An exceptionally important problem that is overlooked is the lack of adequate plans and programmes suited to persons with disabilities, inadequate educational methods, techniques, principles, and methods of realization of classes within the education and upbringing system in the Republic of North Macedonia. All these issues further reinforce inequality in education. This runs through many aspects of organization of the entire educational process in the country.  Including persons with disabilities is a key factor. This is of particular importance for all persons with disabilities, particularly for deaf and hard of hearing students in the country.

A significant aspect permeating through these issues is also the raising of collective awareness in the Republic of North Macedonia. It is recommended that we stay away from the corruption-filled everyday life present all around us! This is of utmost importance to the future of our upbringing and education. As minor as it may seem, we must stay aware that it is very difficult to remove something so deep-rooted in the society, also bearing in mind the fact that it has been existing for a very long time. But we definitely can.

An additional problem in the Republic of North Macedonia is the sign language status. Notably, the only initiative to standardize the Macedonian sign language was raised in 2009, during preparation of the Law on the Use of Sign Language spoken on our territory, covering approximately 1400 signs. That is 20% less than the standard Macedonian language. Not all are aware that in the informal day-to-day communication, deaf and hard of hearing persons use many more signs. To this day, a major conflict is ongoing at institutional level and matters have not changed. The conflicts stem from individual, non-professional, partisan and corruption reasons.

Moreover, approximately 30 certified interpreters operate within the entire state. This is yet another burden to standard communication, contacts with institutions, equal rights and opportunities and, most importantly, equal education for all persons with full and partial hearing impairments.

Has the question been raised of what is the end goal of all these measures, steps, legal norms, improvements and efforts made within our educational and upbringing system? Do processes led by institutions point to stable grounds for perceiving and understanding all aspects of the learning and knowledge transfer process? Are all students equally involved?

Initially, to ensure equal education for all, the professional integration itself should be brought to higher level. Inter-institutional cooperation and collegiality should undoubtedly be applied at every educational level. Adopting decisions on implementation of new strategies, methods, didactic approaches and literature in the educational and upbringing plans and programmes is a multidirectional process that should involve multiple stakeholders. The current state-of-affairs in North Macedonia points to lack of involvement of differing opinions and arguments of all parties. This particularly concerns problems of deaf and hard of hearing students in our country. Persons with disabilities did not have equal access to education amidst the pandemic. What is more, students with full and partial hearing impairments were completely neglected. They were not equally involved in the educational processes that underwent constant reforms amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in North Macedonia.

There is no doubt that this pandemic, which we are still facing, has shifted the borders of traditional education. The overall formal and informal education and upbringing process turned to Internet platforms for audio and video communication. This step toward online-teaching and complete digitalization of educational and upbringing processes amidst COVID-19 poses a major challenge for persons with disabilities, particularly for persons with full and partial hearing impairments. Nobody was prepared for this instant change. The institutions fail to take responsibility and do not take any specific measures to improve the general inclusiveness and equal access to education for all students in our country. It is truly unfortunate that these actions primarily harm the educational and upbringing process, and directly cause harm to students, who should be the priority. Due consideration should be given to the individual opportunities, requests, affinities, inclinations of all students, regardless of their disabilities.

Taking into account the aforementioned, we have worked and advocated before many institutions to create a comprehensive, available, inclusive and improved education for this marginalized group. Together with students from SSER “Partenija Zografski”, we also prepared several letters of recommendation to MES, BDE and MTV. The objectives of our initiatives were aimed at:

  • Critical review of the lack and incorrect perception of inclusivity currently in place;
  • Raising awareness about the Macedonian sign language;
  • Engaging youth with full and partial hearing impairments for change via creative activism;
  • Increasing the educational and upbringing content aired on the National Television (MRT) for students with full and partial hearing impairments;
  • Ensuring interpretation of content available on the “EDUINO” platform;
  • Directed and mutual action of institutions and young deaf persons;

I consider MES the competent institution for this matter. Thus, they should raise the initiative and, together with the National Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing, certified interpreters and MLSP should take resolution measures. MES has informed that activities are underway to translate and subtitle all content available on EDUINO (Collective Portal of Digital Educational Programmes), including shows, series, and videos. However, our remark highlighted that, despite the subtitles, the deaf and hard of hearing students will still face issues in accessing this content. Thus, sign interpretation should also be provided thereof.

The educational and upbringing system is the starting point for improvement of the quality of the world’s civilization. Institutions in charge of the educational and upbringing system should take a fundamental step towards improving the future and humanity overall. Thus, there is a need to employ specific changes in the organization and structure of the educational process in the Republic of North Macedonia. It would be most suitable to ensure equal education for all. Only this would meet the individual affinities, inclinations, requests, and qualities of every child.

The teaching profession is undeniably more tangible, complex and requires more attention than ever before. The present has already carved the future’s path, and we are still unaware of societal changes. The industrialization filter, which still works today, is a rather outdated model that neglects the complexity of the human mind. The traditional educational system hinders individuality, creativity, communication, progress and development of all variations of human abilities. The teachers are improperly educated, resulting in the inability to provide their students with adequate education that would promote their individual skills.

Finally, a conclusion can be drawn that, perhaps, we are lacking resources. However, with adequate inter-institutional cooperation, some goodwill and collective awareness, the problem can be easily solved, and requests of deaf and hard of hearing students can be met. There is a major need to use research cases, comparative analyses, differing opinions, cooperation, evidence, to fully change and adapt plans and programmes, to ensure an active selection filter for quality international projects in educational and upbringing system, to employ innovative inclusive methods, to use specific didactic tools, to employ certain alternative education approaches (e.g. Waldorf, Montessori…), among other matters. Institutions should take active action to address these issues. Let’s take action to live in a state with equal education and upbringing opportunities for all students!

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