Project “YOUth Ambassadors of Non-Formal Learning”
Country: North Macedonia
Interviewer: Andrijana Tashevska
Interviewee: Dragan Atanasov – Secretary General of Union for Youth Work
The Union for Youth Work is a national network of organizations working in the field of recognition, standardization and professionalization of youth work in North Macedonia, acting as a national association of youth workers. I have previously worked at Peace Corps North Macedonia as a monitoring and evaluation coordinator. Moreover, I work as a trainer, researcher and author in the field of non-formal education and youth work, mostly on activities organized by Erasmus+ National Agencies and SALTO Resources Centres. I am also a member of the external pool of experts of the Council of Europe for their Quality Label program for youth centres. Last but not least, I am also one of the founders of the Youth Organization creACTive.
Date and location: 16.06.2020, ZOOM Platform
List of questions for the interview
- Is the law defining NFE in your country? If yes, please describe what the law says.
– There is no definition of non-formal education in the Law on Youth Participation and Youth Policies. The law mentions non-formal education in the part on youth workers, which the Union for Youth Work worked on. The definition on youth workers states that they support the personal and social development of young people through non-formal and informal learning. I think that unfortunately, a definition does not exist elsewhere, ie in another law.
- Please describe the existing strategies, action plans that define nonformal learning in your country?
– The only strategy that defines something in the field of non-formal learning is the National Youth Strategy (2016-2025). The strategy defines goals for improving non-formal learning. It is a unique document in that sense, and it is good that at least that document covers this topic. As far as I know, non-formal learning does not appear elsewhere. In the past, when I worked in creACTive on various projects with young people, especially with school students, we had to ask permission from the Ministry of Education and Science to implement activities in schools. We often had situations when the Ministry had a problem with the term non-formal education/ non-formal learning because it was not formally defined anywhere as a term.
- Have you been involved in the development of a strategy / action plan / law in excess of the NFE issues?
– I was personally involved on behalf of the Union for Youth Work when both documents were drafted – the Law on Youth Participation and Youth Policies and the National Youth Strategy (2016 – 2025). I was indirectly involved in the preparation of the action plan for the National Youth Strategy, through our representative, and I was able to provide suggestions and recommendations. However, my personal involvement and the involvement of the organizations I was part of was mainly in the area of youth work. Now that I reflect on these issues, I think we should have probably been a little more involved in defining non-formal education because it is the basic methodological approach of youth work.
- Do you work on promoting NFE and how?
– I work every day on promoting non-formal education. Primarily as an individual – professional since I work as a trainer. I use methodology of non-formal education in all trainings, exchanges, and all other events, and in this period аlso in online learning activities. I also work directly with young people in the field because I am still involved in certain projects and activities of creACTive. Right now, as part of the Union for Youth Work, I work more on the promotion of non-formal learning for its greater recognition by society and institutions. In the very definition of youth work and youth workers we refer to non-formal and informal learning. With the current activities and development of several projects, we mostly work on the promotion of non-formal learning – both as a type of learning and as a methodological approach. We are currently implementing a project for certification of an accredited program for youth workers, which should start in the fall. Although the program will be accredited and recognized, which means formalized by the state, it is still based on a non-formal learning methodology.
- For your institution/CSO how young people recognize NFE?
– In my opinion, young people and even organizations confuse the terms non-formal learning, activism, youth work or informal learning. There are no clear boundaries in these terms and often what is essentially youth activism is promoted by organizations as non-formal learning and young people recognize it as such, e.g. volunteering, work actions, etc. It is true that in all those activities there should be elements of non-formal learning, but essentially, we speak of different approaches. Sometimes these terms overlap and intertwine, and the same is true with informal learning. Often in in the youth centre of creACTive in Kavadarci, young people are much more interested in activities that belong more to informal learning (spontaneous learning) than non-formal education. For example, movie nights, various parties that we organize, various events that have no specific learning plan, nor agenda. I personally would not qualify them as non-formal learning because non-formal learning requires a planned learning process. However, they are seen by young people as non-formal learning. I think that if you ask the average young person that is involved in civil society organizations, they will answer that all these activities are part of non-formal learning. And other young people will not know what it is all about.
- What are you doing about NFE in term to make closeness with youth?
– I am trying to start processes through the Union for Youth Work that will lead to greater use of the methodology of non-formal education and more non-formal education programs that will be implemented in a more systematic way. One of the things that the Union for Youth Work is trying to achieve is for North Macedonia to succeed in establishing standardization of the quality of youth work. An example of what this would mean in practice is the following: a process has been started (which is currently paused due to the situation with COVID-19) for opening of new youth centres in North Macedonia and recognition of the existing ones. As part of this process we are working on standardizing their programs, not in terms of the type of activities that would be implemented in those youth centres – this is based on the needs of young people, but standardization in terms of conditions to be achieved, competencies of the people who will work with young people etc. The document we have proposed is called Quality Standards for Youth Centres. I assume that these youth centres will mainly use the methodology of non-formal education, but what we are trying to do is to achieve standardization in their quality – this is a process that will take longer. For example, the same principles and the same criteria of work to be used in MultiКулти in Kumanovo and the new youth center that will be opened in Bitola. We are trying to promote the same through education of youth workers. So yes, we are working on the promotion of non-formal learning but I would say more on the quality of non-formal learning and its standardization. I think that non-formal learning is widely used in our country, but sometimes with dubious quality . And organizations are not to blame for that, sicne the overall situation is problematic – unstable organizations, unstable funding, insufficient staff, insufficient opportunities for education, programming, evaluation of programs, etc. We now know that we can change that. Lately, we have been trying to use digital approaches in non-formal education in order to strengthen the work with young people. One specific project that we are currently working on and is funded by RYCO is for the development of a board game, ie a card game for non-formal learning in the field of intercultural learning with young people. This is an example of how we directly promote non-formal learning through activities.
- Have you involved young people in the process of bringing about things that are relevant to non-formal education?
– We involve young people as one of the actors and we consult them in all processes. I will list a few concrete examples: in 2018 we worked on the development of two key documents: the quality standards in youth work – a document that should be implemented by youth work providers and the portfolio for youth workers – a document that defines competencies that youth workers should possess. In that process, four consultative regional meetings were organized with the youth, where the young people had the opportunity to give ideas about the quality standards that non-formal education and youth work should meet, and the competencies the youth workers should have. Another example is related to the opening of youth centers, a process that we are leading with the Agency for Youth and Sports and four local municipalities. The Union for Youth Work through its member organizations organized three focus groups in Bitola, Kumanovo and Kavadarci with young people – users of the services of the existing youth centres. Young people had the opportunity to express their needs and interests from the non-formal education program. The program that was then created and proposed was based on those focus groups and the data collected from them. Hence, as a Union for Youth Work directly we do not include young people, because our target group is youth workers, but indirectly through our member organizations we involve young people in all consultative processes.
- Should the Government get involved and make an even bigger contribution when it we are speaking about youth and policies about youth?
– Absolutely! The government needs to get involved and make a greater contribution. Especially in the direction of having a more structured approach, because what is being done now is a bit spontaneous and uncoordinated. Sometimes there are finances, sometimes there are not. And for structural support and long-term support at the program level, finances are never found. That is a big issue. The government should provide continuous funding to youth organizations, especially to those that offer youth work and non-formal education, so that they are not constantly under pressure to find funds for salaries, rent, internet access, etc. The Government must be more involved in this because young people have always been neglected. Even now, in this period, the first funds that were cut were those funds that were planned for young people. For example, the funds that should have been used to equip the first four public youth centres were cut immediately when the crisis with Covid-19 started, and now is not known what will happen with the process that’s started a year ago. Another example is the regulation of working with young people, youth work, non-formal education, youth participation, youth policies – because it took us 30 years to pass a law. The question now is how much that law will be implemented. For the most part, the law is ambitious, and we immediately saw that those few things that were supposed to be done within six months – such as a register of youth organizations have not yet begun. We understand that we are in a state of crisis, the institutions are working at half capacity but I am afraid that there will always be an excuse – now is the pandemic, tomorrow will be something else, and the obligations set by the law will not be implemented. The law has ambitious obligations such as opening youth offices, hiring professionals who will work with young people for Youth Councils, youth centres should be opened within five years in all municipalities. We are all witnesses of how many times a law has been passed, and it remained only on paper. There have been previous attempts to establish youth councils, but all those attempts failed. I think that there must be political will and readiness of the state to invest its resources and capacities to implement in practice what was agreed and set as a priority together with the civic sector. This means that necessary financial means need to be allocated, and the agreed measures are implemented properly. For example, those who need to be hired to work in the youth offices need to be professionals in the field. I am afraid that in our country the legal framework will be such that it will not allow employing people who are professionals but rather individuals tailored to the needs of local governments. In that case, the staff who are experts and who have worked in the field for a long time, will remain unemployed, i.e. they will remain in the non-governmental organizations without regular employment and a regular salary. And people will be hired who will still have to be educated and prepared from scratch, if they are hired at all. These are issues that I think are risky, and in which the Government should be more engaged.