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Discussing Education, Ethnocentrism and Segregation

Experts in peace education joined efforts towards improvement of the state of peace education in Western Balkans

From 25th to 27th of September 2019, experts in peace education from Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, gathered in Berovo, Macedonia, to discuss the current state of ethnocentrism and segregation in the Western Balkans and ways how peace education addresses that and promotes knowledge, skills and attitudes that help people prevent the occurrence of conflicts, resolve them peacefully, or that creates social conditions conducive to peace.

Education, ethnocentrism and segregation - meeting of experts in peace education from Western Balkans
© forumZFD

During their 2 days meeting, the experts from the formal and non-formal education fields explored what the current state regarding ethnocentricity and segregation is in different countries of the Western Balkans, what the current peace education curricula, programs and plans are, and what educational resources and methodologies are available and used for challenging ethnocentricity and segregation. In the process, they shared challenges they face and inspired each other discussing the good practices they have experienced.  

During the discussion, the experts underlined that besides all the efforts, ethnocentricity and ethnic distance between people in the Western Balkans are still strongly expressed. Ethnically based incidents, bullying, hate speech, that quite often escalate into physical harm, and hate crime, are still part of life in the Western Balkans.  Mixed schools, neighbourhoods, cities and municipalities are still predominantly perceived as arenas with more frequent interethnic conflicts and higher level of stereotypes and prejudice. For the purpose of avoiding conflict situations among people from different ethnic backgrounds, this region, actively or latently, supports segregation in those arenas and in society in general. 

With the support from international foundations, CSOs and educational institutions in this region are making serious efforts to connect people with different ethnic background and to support the development of new narratives and discourses in our diverse societies. Peace education as such is not yet fully introduced to the official school curricula everywhere in Western Balkans. Yet, parts of what peace education is and should contribute to are included in other curricula such as those for civic education, sociology, life skills education, etc. All these subjects should contribute to personal development, development of a cooperative behaviour, competencies for building constructive relationships with others in the society, competencies for active citizenship, environmental responsibility, etc. Unlike formal, non-formal education is more precisely focused on peace education and offers a variety of opportunities for developing mediation related competencies, intercultural awareness and dialogue, conflict management, conflict transformation, acceptance of ethnic diversity, etc. However, these efforts are not always synchronized, well organized, available to all and long-lasting; quality assurance and sustainability often lack due to limited resources and dependence on donors and their priorities. In addition to that, only a limited number of teachers and non-formal educators are trained for peace education and are aware of and/or have the skills for applying diverse peace education methodology and for using a variety of different educational resources developed in this area. Mutual cooperation between different peace education experts is still underdeveloped. 

A serious problem was noted with relation to some of the textbooks that contain stereotypes, prejudices, and stigma and in which elements for coexistence, respect for differences, integration, and multiculturalism are lacking. History was identified as subject that supports ethnocentrism most prominently. In general, textbooks demonstrate ethnocentric positions and contribute to developing separate ethnic identities, rather than providing grounds for shared civil and national identity. In the formal education, subjects that should prepare young people for living peacefully in a diverse world are often neglected (not valued enough by teachers, students, or the parents), taught by teachers who do not have adequate training, skipped and ignored. The experts further noted that there is also a lack of mechanisms to monitor the quality of the non-formal and informal education provided by various actors such as CSOs, families, religious communities, media, political parties, etc. Last but not least, there is a low level of cooperation between different educational actors working in the field of peace education. 

In line with all this, the experts agreed that further serious efforts should be made so as to strengthen the role of education in transforming the ethnocentric realities in the Western Balkans. To this end, they are currently developing recommendations on how to improve the ways peace education can address social fragmentation/segregation, ethnocentricity and promote knowledge, skills and attitudes that help people of different age prevent the occurrence of conflict, resolve conflicts peacefully, or create social conditions conducive to peace. 
Those recommendations are expected to be finalised by the end of October and to serve as a basis for future work towards improving the state of and contribution by peace education in the Western Balkans. 

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