President Stevo Pendarovski attended and addressed today the panel discussion titled “Human Rights on Educational Perspectives”, which was organized by the International Balkan University in Skopje.
Respected professors and students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be with you today. I thank the administration of the International Balkan University in Skopje for the invitation to address this event dedicated to inclusive education.
On December 10, we marked International Human Rights Day and also remembered the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Its authors managed to articulate the aspiration of many generations for recognition of inherent human dignity and equal and inalienable rights and freedoms.
One of those fundamental rights is the right to education aimed at overall development of the personality. If the Universal Declaration is, symbolically, the home of human rights, then the right to education is the key that opens the door or the code necessary to understand and enjoy all other rights and freedoms. Without proper education, many rights will only remain declarative. It is no coincidence that education is the field in which some of the most important battles for human rights have been fought and are still being fought.
Even today, education in our country, as well as in many other countries, faces numerous challenges, of which I would like to single out two.
The first challenge is discrimination. Although adopted, the right to education was not everywhere and immediately implemented. Over the years, the accumulated inequalities and stereotypes were gradually removed, starting from racial, national, social, economic, status, ending with political, gender and generational ones. Discrimination in education is one of the most destructive because it undermines human dignity and slows down the human personality development, while most common victims are children and young people.
On December 14, 62 years have passed since the adoption of the Convention against Discrimination in Education. As UNESCO’s oldest legally binding international instrument, this Convention prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status or birth. Although the Convention has contributed to significant progress, new and old forms of discrimination in education still exist.
The latest UNDP Human Development Report confirmed that the inequality gap in the countries is widening, including the digital education gap. The highest price is paid by the poor, who are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. For example, the pandemic is known to have excluded those pupils and students who did not have access to high-speed Internet or an adequate computer to follow online classes.
But, in addition to new ones, we also have old forms of discrimination, such as stereotypes and prejudices that lead to marginalization and peer violence. In February this year, the Macedonian public learned about the case of the 11-year-old girl from Gostivar, who was marginalized in the teaching process due to Down’s syndrome. Last month, I met with the family of a student from a primary school in Gradsko, who was exposed to continuous peer violence by classmates for the last two years. These are just two of the many cases that, unfortunately, leave trauma in the lives of students and their families. These two cases show that children with typical, as well as those with atypical, development can be equally discriminated against.
Inclusion in education is not only formal and legal, it is also our moral obligation. The state must, in cooperation with teaching staff and families, break the spiral of violence. At the same time, everyone should be aware of the consequences of their actions. And that is precisely the function of upbringing and education – to help young people become responsible members of the community.
Inclusive education is much more than the possibility of physical inclusion in every segment of society. It also implies promotion of inclusive values. It is not enough to have accessible ramps in schools and universities for pupils and students with physical disabilities, if they, from the threshold, still do not feel welcome and accepted.
The second major challenge education is facing in North Macedonia is demotivation. The problem of demotivation brings us back to the essence of education. What is its function? Where is education positioned in the society and in the state? How much is invested therein? Is the education adapted to the real needs of the labor market or not?
A brief overview of the situation reveals that we have low investments in education and the widespread perception that it is difficult to advance based on one’s own qualities. Hence the poor results and low ranking at international tests for students. When young people are not convinced that education will help them progress and succeed, then they look for alternative corridors.
Unlike power and money, which diminish when shared, the same logic does not apply to education. No one lost knowledge by sharing it with others. From the scientific revolution in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries to the digital revolution at the end of the 20th and the 21st century, the increasingly massive sharing of knowledge has led to major breakthroughs in science and improving the quality of people’s lives.
Equal human dignity in society is not achieved through equal distribution of wealth or power, but through equal access to and opportunity for quality education. Much more than wealth and power, education is the key to human dignity.
In order to solve the problem of demotivation, it is necessary that education gets a real treatment in society. Systemic efforts are needed to have a comprehensive, quality and digitized education, adapted to modern world trends and the labor market. We must invest far more in every stage of education, strengthen the relationship between educational institutions and companies, raise the functional literacy and readiness of young people for career development.
Modern, quality and inclusive education should be a channel for social mobility, which will help young people have a better quality and more fulfilling life than that of their parents.
At the same time, let us not forget that through education we acquire not only skills needed for the labor market, but also a worldview that should help us orient ourselves in life. Inclusive and quality education is a prerequisite for free exchange of ideas and knowledge that make life worth living.