Macedonia is a multi-ethnic country in which the two largest communities – ethnic Macedonians, who make up roughly 65% of the population, and ethnic Albanians, who make up 25% – lead parallel but segregated lives. They live in separate neighborhoods, worship separately, attend separate cultural events, and vote for political parties that are defined by ethnic affiliation. Even when their children attend the same schools, they sit in different classrooms and study in different languages.
This situation poses risks for the long-term stability and cohesion of the country. Macedonia avoided the violent conflict that afflicted so much of former Yugoslavia, and the rights of different ethnic communities were guaranteed in the Ohrid Framework Agreement that was signed in August 2001. But tensions between Macedonians and Albanians have lingered since then. The separation of the two communities makes it hard to overcome negative stereotypes and prejudices, and the use of quotas to redress ethnic imbalances in the public administration has caused resentment.
Bridging this divide will not be easy, particularly since both communities are keen to cultivate their distinct cultural heritages, this tends to mean focusing on what divides rather than on any shared history or experience. But finding a formula to promote integration is crucial, since working together is the only way to solve such burning social and economic issues as 28% unemployment.
Our initiative aims to apply an experimental approach in the education system to try to bridge the gap between children from different ethnic groups. School attendance is virtually universal, and all schools are obliged to foster inter-ethnic collaboration. Our effort will focus on primary schools, since here we see the greatest chance of interesting children from one ethnic group in the lives of the other, and of building the basic language skills and curiosity that will pave the way to friendships.
All primary schools have teachers tasked to conduct inter-ethnic cohesion activities with pupils but they lack cost-effective tools. Hence, our idea is to use online gaming technology for pupils (parents and teachers) to interact and get to know each other. The online game is familiar format for youngsters and the game’s structure will encourage pupils from different ethnicities to play together as a team. The game will also enable gaining knowledge and mastering the obligatory curricula in and outside the classroom. Nearly all classrooms in in the country are equipped with PC’s and internet connections as well as 62 % of the households. An initial pilot will involve two primary schools from ethnically different rural municipalities (Brvenica and Gradsko) as well as one ethnically mixed primary school from the urban municipality of Kumanovo. If successful, the initiative can easily be scaled up to the entire primary school system and the experience disseminated regionally.
The proposed solution will rely on co-designing (with the kids, parents and teachers) a game application for online playing through Facebook. The office already has experience in designing games for development goals, including the Prespa Lake game for farmers and the Water4Life game for the Strumica River Basin. From this experience we learned that the game must be entertaining for the target group. The game will be in the form of a Treasure Hunt drawing on knowledge from the geography, biology and history curriculum. It will be played by ethnically mixed teams of at least two pupils, with support provided by teachers and parents. It will use a mix of languages (with phrases and tasks written in different languages) so that players will have to seek help from a person who speaks a different language or find the answer using online dictionaries or Google translate. This will promote cooperation across ethnicities and the development of language skills and knowledge.