Željana Radojičić Lukić is a multi-award-winning teacher from Serbia, who went a long way from a teacher to an assistant minister of her country, before finally returning to her students. She is a leader in education in the Balkans who strives to inspire and motivate teachers in the Balkans with her work, ideas and projects. Thanks to the creation of the “Magic Village” project, which was funded by UNICEF during 2012, she was named one of the best teachers in the world, not once, but two world awards, the Global Teacher Prize and the Global Teachers Award. The Magic Village project, which brought her the biggest national awards, is based on a holistic approach to learning in the open air. Aware of the great advantages of this model of learning, it strives to promote a comprehensive approach to learning through various projects, to create conditions for it to be recognized by decision-makers in the entire Balkans and to become an integral part of most national curricula of Balkan countries.
I learned as a child, and I teach this to my students, that failure does not exist and that every attempt is actually a success worthy of attention, and every effort brings victory; it is nice to be first in something, but we should not forget that it is worthy of respect to be the last. My friends know that my career is a set of successes and great deeds, but only I know how many attempts I have made to build everything that is now visible.
My students are my biggest inspiration and motivation and I have always tried to involve them in various projects I have worked on. Several generations of my students grew up with the educational festival “Creative Magic”, which arose from the need to bring the world to our small place. We have been realizing this recognizable regional event together for 15 years, where they and their families host children from all over Europe. In addition to being given the opportunity to strengthen their competencies in children’s creativity, they have the opportunity to learn tolerance early, to break down prejudices and stereotypes about other nations and to grow into citizens of the world.
The turning point in my career was certainly marked by the creation of the concept of holistic learning called the Magic Village, and after that the doors of both national and international educational circles opened on their own. I did not keep that door only for myself, but all this time I open it to other good teachers in the region. The Magic Village is a concept of learning immersed in a fairy tale, based on a holistic approach to learning in the open air. It incorporates all the experiences, both mine and my team’s, over decades of teaching practice.
This experience is special, great and significant, because we have managed to gather different teams of experts around it over the years and to produce many new projects together. In fact, everything we have created together over the years has grown or is based on experience from the Magic Village. I can freely say that our latest project called EduBalkan also grew out of the idea of integrity established in the concept of learning in the Magic Village.
Education erases boundaries, but really!
Education has a great capacity to erase boundaries, to build bridges of love and tolerance, and to be the balance of establishing lasting peace in any seismic area like the Balkan region. The fact that we were given a chance and an incredible opportunity to form a “Balkan Teachers’ Network” through networking is just another in a series of actions that we are focused on. Projects, such as the Association of the Best Teachers of the Former Yugoslavia, the Magic Intercultural Friendship Network, the Balkan Teacher’s Café Office and now the Balkan Teachers’ Network, are contained in a single project called EduBalkan, which already has a strong influence in this part of the world.
I am sure that this network has the capacity to pave a safe path to better education, which would facilitate, motivate, direct all actors in the educational process to better cooperate, understand each other, exchange knowledge and ideas, network. The experience from 6 countries, which have a common history, similar educational systems, cultures, traditions, with their richness in diversity, proves to be a good recipe for achieving the mission of the EduBalkan education platform community. The history of this part of the world is very complex.
At the beginning of the nineties, a civil war took place here. It lasted for many years and left a big mark in our lives. Many of us have lost our homes. We changed our place of residence. We became refugees. We are now connecting broken links through the EduBalkan community. We try to overcome the differences, to find common ground and to make opportunities out of it. Our point of connection is a positive experience from the period of our personal education. Most of us were educated in the same educational system of a common state called Yugoslavia. This perspective gives us the opportunity to compare the former educational system in which we were students and the current ones in which we work. We all agree that the former common education system was good, but that one was modified in 6 new worse versions.
We, the members of the EduBalkan community, now face the challenge of improving our education systems by restoring the confirmed strengths of our old educationsystem, and on the other hand, successfully responding to the challenge of the present time when teaching has completely jumped out of the established framework. Given that it is not yet known whether teaching will continue to take place only in the online environment or whether it will be a hybrid model, we certainly suggest that line ministries realize that they have outdated education, start examining and monitoring the needs of the modern child and start to find solutions to reset the system.
EduBalkan, the education platform community, proposes resetting education in Balkan countries
Education before and after the pandemic will not be the same. Changes are inevitable. Those who are not ready to change, they will disappear, we can witness that from the history. The countries of the Balkan countries have national curricula that are several decades old, in which only the details have changed, the essence has remained the same. Networked teachers in the Balkans are aware of the seriousness of the situation and the fact that change will happen very slowly. However, our regional network of teachers needs to point out some shortcomings of our systems.
Although the developed world has long rejected the teacher in the role of instructor and gave way to the teacher-coach, someone who accompanies and guides the student from the side, who empowers him how to learn independently and find knowledge, Balkan schools are full of teacher lecturers. By our standards, there are up to 30 students in Balkan classrooms, and in some even more than that number. In such classes, it is impossible to organize group work, and teachers can only dream of individual work. In our schools, the school lesson lasts 45 minutes, and there are about 7 of them on a daily basis, the mother tongue, mathematics, chemistry, physics, history, geography, English language.
It is hard to imagine that it is possible for one child during the day to focus on seven different scientific disciplines and to follow each discipline with equal attention and store it separately in one drawer. What we are proposing is to reduce the number of classes through system integration based on correlation. We believe that the list should include mother tongue, English, mathematics, integrated social sciences, integrated natural sciences, art and life skills. This is a framework of subjects sufficient for the age of children from 12 to 15 years, i.e. from 5-8 grades of primary school. In the younger elementary school age, i.e. the age of 1-4th grade, it would be enough to study five subjects.
We advocate that schools become laboratories for research and experimentation through a comprehensive approach to learning, i.e. the complete integration of teaching content, because the school, which directs content into children’s heads, is outdated. The teacher, who does not critically assess whether all student’s heads are capable of accepting all the planned program contents, must leave our classrooms and give way to a teacher capable of educating children with functional knowledge and critical thinking. Therefore, we want to affirm a holistic approach to learning as the need of the Z-generation is to acquire functional knowledge through experiential learning, problem solving, life skills development, entrepreneurship, project creation.
Our proposals for reform steps are aimed at abolishing the class-hour system, reducing the number of students in classes to 20, abolishing the numerical method of assessment up to 13 years. We are committed to changing the paradigm of education as we know it. We cannot educate the adult generation with smartphones and tablets in the same way as the adult generations were educated with black and white TVs! This is simply not sustainable and that is why it is necessary for the education systems to be reset in the Balkans. It is not easy at all, but if we realize the fact that classical education is dead, then we must react quickly to establish new education systems relieved of traces of rotten systems, which create frustrations, dissatisfaction and the need for new generations to use various applications, which they use in their free time.
Our obligation is to create a school in which children will come with joy, who will feel happy in it and who will come out of it. If that does not happen, the classical state school, as we know it in the Balkans, will disappear forever. This will create space for the emergence of private classical and online schools that will offer programs tailored to the needs of the Z-generation and that will be adapted to the student, not the student to the school, as is currently the case.