Author: Stefan Alievikj
Nowadays the society is hungry for innovation. Innovations are needed in each field and circle of the society and they are crucial for our movement towards smarter and sustainable future. At the university St Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia, two teachers had come up with few ideas how to bring innovations in the educational system.
Elena Oncevska-Ager and Rumena Buzarovska, teachers at the Department of English Language and Literature had come up with innovation at the verge, combining social networking with the usual curriculum. They have opened up Google groups for each group which they lecture and the Google groups have become a platform where students can post information, news or book reviews. The students are able to discuss about world issues and problems, stereotypes and prejudges or simply share their favourite bits of music on this platform. Of course, all the activities on these social network groups can bring the students additional points. This sparkling idea is much promising, since it has the potential to grow into a platform where stereotypes for instance can be disregarded.
Additional activities which are made are the Otstapka sessions, meaning something “out of the norm”. On these sessions, the two teachers are hosting the students in another out of classroom activity with a special guest. The sessions are again thought provoking and give insight in many contemporary issues, thus a true discussion is enabled.
The last Otstapka session was held just few weeks ago and the special guest was an Englishman who had been teaching inMongolia for almost thirty year, so the students were able to have insight and compare two different educational systems in the world.
For these activities of fun and meaning, here are some questions answered by Elena and Rumena.
How did you come up with the idea to open a Google Group/to start Otstapka? What motivated you?
Elena: The Google Group was designed as a forum for students to express their interests and talents, as well as to share important (i.e. relevant to them) news with their colleagues. Class time is always too little to promote real (-life) learning, so our Google Group was a way to take the learning outside of the classroom, where it naturally belongs. Our series of talks entitled Otstapka were inspired by a similar lack of time to discuss a variety of topics (from a variety of perspectives) in class. We believed that bringing in a person who stands out in society in this way or another could supply a fresh perspective on things. The students get to interact with our guests, who help them to challenge what they take for granted and/or co-construct new understandings. It doesn’t come as a surprise to find that our guests always leave the talks complimenting our students on their ideas, initiative, creativity, etc.
Rumena: Elena and I have always had a wonderful rapport as colleagues due to the fact that we share similar ideas about what teaching and education should actually be. The idea for Otstapka was something that came out of our mutual enthusiasm for such events, as well as the fact that we felt that such open and alternative modes of communication and education are missing in our environment. It was Elena’s idea to start the Google group (and it is her project). She is much more professionally involved in new teaching methodologies (this is her academic interest), and thankfully she is willing to share new ideas about teaching, which I readily use. For example, she told me that last year she started Facebook groups for her students; this year I started mine for my American short story class and it has turned out to be a wonderful mode of communication; not only do we share things related to class, but we also discuss other issues related to culture and music; we have also formed a very strong bond as a group and I believe the more informal aspects of our communication through the FB group have contributed to this.
Do you have a vision of where your little, and yet so meaningful, innovations can take us in the future?
Elena: I’m hoping the opportunities provided for academic (and not only academic) learning will help students to develop their personality and not only their intellect. To me, education is about bringing the two together, rather than just focusing on the latter. Its aim should be to help individuals become competent, (intellectually) creative and daring professionals, not well-rehearsed “regurgitators” of knowledge.
Rumena: Motivated students motivate me; interest, curiosity, critical thinking, and laughter.
What is your opinion about the development of the critical thinking among the youth in Macedonia? Do they like all these “out-of-class” activities?
Elena: I think they like the opportunities for critical thinking. At least those who care about their professional/personal development do. Those few motivated students wholeheartedly embrace the activities geared towards student autonomous learning and passionately bring their own personal touch to them. It may be true that Macedonian students give an impression of apathy, but don’t we all as a society? Rather than labelling students as lethargic, I try to focus on demonstrating activity in what I’m passionate about. Coming to terms with things is numbing; questioning things is fun. I try to stay on the fun side of things.
Rumena: I am not sure because things differ with each generation. Typically and generally our youth tends to be indolent and subdued, as if all curiosity and enthusiasm had been surgically removed from them. But I believe that this is partly a result of elementary and high school education, which can be reversed to an extent. Of course, there are very strong individuals in each generation who are very strong thinkers and tend to challenge norms. Thankfully the current second year generation has many such individuals, which actually raises the overall level of critical thinking in the entire generation. My students have so far loved out of class activities and have begun to initiate them themselves – without waiting for me to make a recommendation.