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Home arrow Education arrow Education Policy and Power-Sharing in Post-Conflict Societies: Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Macedonia


A Proportional Curriculum

In contrast to the Taif Agreement, Macedonia’s Ohrid Agreement impacted history education only indirectly. An Albanian historian explained that with the expansion of education in the language of ethnic communities ‘it was logical to have something about their culture and history’ in the curri- cula.162 Thus, rather than simply recycling old content, the education minister convened a group of experts to fully revise the history curriculum.163

The ten-member curriculum drafting committee included educational specialists, university experts (including four Albanian-speaking academics) and representatives of the main political parties.164 Rapidly, controversy ensued on the number of lessons to be devoted to the history of ethnic Macedonians and of ethnic Albanians in the history curricula. Thus, Mladenovski summarises the process of curriculum drafting as a protracted negotiation over the percentage of the contents devoted to each community, a game of ‘give us 20 percent [of the curriculum], we’ll give you 30 percent [of the curriculum]’.165 Ultimately, ethnic Albanian members of the curriculum drafting committee approved a new curriculum only because, for the first time, it provided for lessons on the history of ethnic Albanians for students in Macedonian-, Turkish- and Serbian-language classes.166

The new history curriculum was introduced in primary schools and in academic secondary schools in 2005. History is part of Nature and

Society up to the fifth grade of primary school, and is taught as an independent subject from sixth grade upwards for 80 minutes a week in academic secondary schools.167 The 2005 curriculum is highly prescriptive: it includes the title, aims and contents of every lesson but the topics are often disjointed.168 Compared with its predecessor, it includes more lessons about non-majority ethnolinguistic communities. However, most of the curriculum focuses on ‘national history’, meaning the history of the territory of historic Macedonia until its partition during the Balkan wars, and the history of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia and its irre- dent lands in Greece and Bulgaria since 1913.169 Similar to the Lebanese 1968-1970 history curriculum, the Macedonian 2005 curriculum ends with Macedonia’s independence in 1991.

The new curriculum and the new history textbooks were criticised on pedagogical grounds in four respects. First, the History Teachers’ Association of Macedonia complained that the curriculum was drafted behind closed doors, without involving primary and secondary school teachers. As a consequence, the language and activities prescribed are often too complex for students and generally require some prior knowledge of historical events.170 Second, the curricula paid little attention to historical skills such as analysis of primary sources, critical thinking, identification of the causes and consequences of events, interpretation of change and continuity and development of empathy.171 Third, history teachers were not offered training, despite the introduction of new contents on ethnic Albanian history in 2005. Thus, teachers, in classes of up to 40 pupils, still adopt a knowledge-based, mnemonic and chronological approach to history teaching, relying fully on the textbook.

Finally, the new history textbooks contained major factual mistakes.172 The inadequacy of teaching resources was exacerbated by teachers’ limited freedom of choice: since 2008 the state has published one history textbook for each language of instruction and distributed it for free in compulsory schools.173 The formal procedure for the adoption of the history textbook is unclear, and most institutions, including the Bureau of Educational Development (BoE), deny any role in their drafting and revision.174 It appears that the education minister issues calls for textbook proposals by independent groups of authors, evaluates them, and selects a proposal for each language of instruction. Author groups then write textbooks in a very short time with very little monitoring. Ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian authors rarely cooperate in drafting books: different authors are tasked with the writing of the Albanian-language and of the Macedonian-language textbook, as books written by Macedonians would be ‘set aside’ in Albanian-language classes and vice versa.175

Local and international observers criticised the potential social impact of the 2005 history curriculum. The proportional approach to curriculum writing, partially rooted in Yugoslav traditions, also reflects the political and administrative proportionality enshrined in the Ohrid Agreement. Thus, in Macedonia’s history curricula the amount of lessons devoted to each ethnic community is generally ‘based on [its] demographic scope’, with ethnic Albanians granted about 20 % of lessons in the Macedonian-language history curriculum.176 Curriculum-sharing according to proportional considerations generally satisfied the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.177 Still, the Macedonian-language curriculum devotes only one lesson to the Vlachs and one to the Jews, but no lessons to the Roma, Turk and Serb communities.178 By minimising the diversity of Macedonia’s population, some argue that history education undermines the self-esteem of children belonging to smaller minorities.179 Indeed, historian Boban Petrovski explains that Romas, because of their disadvantaged socio-economic status, ‘are not in such a position that they can make demands’ on the history curriculum.180 This suggests that, rather than simply reflecting the demographic weight of a community, the history curriculum also mirrors and reproduces the power hierarchies among Macedonia’s ethnolinguistic communities.

Furthermore, observing the lack of lessons about ethnic Turks in the history curriculum, Petrovski explains that Turks are expected to ‘identify’ with the history of the Ottoman Empire.181 The assumption that certain ethnic groups have a historical homeland outside the Macedonian territory also informs the Turkish- and Albanian-language curricula, which include more information about each community’s ‘country of origin’.182 Rather than looking at ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, the Albanian-language curricula focus on the history of ‘Albanian lands’ (primarily Albania and Kosovo).183 This backs Mladenovski’s view that the history curricula portray ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians as if ‘we were talking about two separate states’ and substantiates an international observer’s warning that history books seem to teach that ‘this country is monoethnic’.184 Indeed, the curricula and textbooks do not present past events as common to all the communities in Macedonia and often ignore local history. For example, the curriculum contains a lesson about the Macedonians during World War I and a separate one about the Albanians.185

Thus, history education does not address the entangled history of Macedonia’s mixed populations, and presents the pasts of local ethnic communities as fully separate. In fact, the 2005 curriculum explicitly allows teachers to sidestep Macedonia’s diversity: out of 48 lessons, teachers only have to teach 36 of their choice, making 25 % of the curriculum optional. Because of the limited number of lessons on non-ethnic Macedonian communities, the choice to teach about them is up to individual teachers.186 Macedonian teachers can avoid teaching Albanian history, while Albanian teachers can focus primarily on ‘ethnic Albanian history’.187 No state exam or central monitoring system exists to prevent children being taught the unchallenged historical narratives of Macedonia’s two largest ethnolin- guistic communities.

Indeed, local observers warn that schools may be creating and reproducing two parallel and mutually exclusive histories for these two commu- nities.188 In Macedonian-language textbooks, national history is generally the history of the ethnic Macedonian community, mobilised to convey a glorified and mythical (if often factually debatable) past. It helps define the roots of the Macedonian people, project them onto the past, and establish ownership of Macedonia’s territory.189 Despite recent improvements, some Albanian activists also argue that Macedonian-language textbooks still contain false information and biased and discriminatory attitudes towards local minorities and bordering countries. For example, Xabir Deralla mentioned that all Albanians are presented as fascists in the lessons on World War II.190 For their part, Albanian-language curricula contain very little Macedonian history, and even less about the Albanian community in Macedonia. If Albanian-language textbooks are less derogatory than the Macedonian-language ones, it is probably because they need to be approved by the ethnic Macedonian education minister before being distributed.191 Similar to the Macedonian-language curriculum, the Albanian-language curriculum conveys a sense of victimhood and immemorial ownership of the Macedonian territory, delegitimising visions for a common, interdependent future.192 In sum, through two parallel ‘best stories’, history education in Macedonia’s state schools helps consolidate the internal cohesion of the ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian communities.

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