When considering the difficult past, one should acknowledge the achievements made in the years since then, pleads Evzi Hani. Volunteer work and non-formal education programmes are good ways for young people to go on with, as he experienced by himself…
I decided to start this article with a short story that a friend of mine who lived in Germany told me:
“When I was in high school I joined the sport class, and we had to race in 100 meters. I was a sporty guy and able to run very fast. On the other hand, I had a friend who was, compared with me, much slower, because he was not a professional athlete. In the beginning of the year, our professor measured the results of our first race and, of course, I was the first in the class. On our last exam day of the year, we had to race again. I was first again and very happy and proud, but everything changed when I listened to the professor announce the results and grades. My friend who was slower than me received the best grade, while me, I just took a passing grade. I was angry and disappointed and convinced that this was not fair, that I deserved more. I can still remember the best life lesson that the professor gave to me that day: “From your first day until now you have improved slightly, while your friend has improved more than anybody else here, he now runs much faster than he did in the beginning – we all have different starting points, but it is important to be aware of how far we have gone considering where we have started”.
The problem of the current formal education system is that it is trying to grade the “knowledge” of the students. In my view, people have no right to grade others’ knowledge, as this is a personal thing, students should be aware of what they know and how can they improve – because, as in the story, everybody has a different starting point. In an ideal world, the education system would provide possibilities, motivation and support during the learning process.
Dealing with the past is a sensitive topic. It is not at all easy. However, it can give us great “lessons” and inform our decisions about what we do in the present and the future. Human mistakes have brought catastrophic damage to life on Earth. But, on the other hand, life has moved forward in many respects. If we make a comparison with our starting points, in many ways we have managed to move forward. The number of women attending school, as well as the degree to which they stay in school, has been increased; the number of people that dying in catastrophes has been decreased; and in the last 20 years the level of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
Education plays a crucial role in keeping peace and in improving our life on earth. The more we know about one another the more we will be able to understand each other and take wise decisions about the people that will represent us and legislate on our behalf.
The problem is that there have been a lot of changes in our society and formal education has not kept pace with them. The result is a need for new teaching methods the current education system. Voluntary work is a great way of doing this, allowing young people to learn in informal way.
By volunteering, young people can choose the scope of the activities they would like to engage in and learn by doing while becoming a member of a network that shares specific values. These elements play a crucial role in increasing the motivation for learning and getting active.
I suggest that youngsters should be engaged in different international voluntary programs such as the European Voluntary Service (Erasmus+ Program). The international background of this program also brings a new approach and dimension to how youngsters gain knowledge. These programs are usually focused on improving communication in foreign languages, learning to learn, social and civic responsibilities, fostering initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and creativity (these are defined as key competences within the program).
During my life I have done voluntary work for a period of six years, and I volunteered for a period of one year in Vienna. There, the first time in my life, I started to cooperate with a group of people from 15 different states, including countries such as Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were tasked with increasing awareness about prevention and destruction of nuclear weapons, as well as identifying topics and projects dealing with reconciliation in our countries. We established great friendships and successfully implemented a number of activities. I learned a great deal from the process itself: I learned German and improved my English skills, learned how to adapt to a foreign country, how to plan and how to listen. It was a great experience, learning about the culture of people from different continents. This was made possible by my experiencing and being physically and emotionally involved in the process. These activities helped me determine my chosen career path, which I have been in for the last four years. And, for the first time, we have a network of more than 300 partners coming from different EU and non-EU countries. So, in a way, the desire for cooperation and the need to bring about change can overcome issues that linger from the past.
Most people learn from their own personal experiences. They learn through facing obstacles and overcoming them, they learn by listening to others, they learn from mistakes, by doing, they learn how to fail and how to stand up, how to dream big and how to move on. Each culture, and each person in it, has something to offer for the world, and the world today is much better than it was 100 years ago, and much better of what it was 1,000 years ago.
I do believe that the possibility for peace and reconciliation is strongly connected with the ability to provide proper education for new generations.
Evzi Hani is Head of Project Department at the Centre for Economic and Social Development and he has coordinated more than 15 international voluntary projects focused on inclusion and diversity.
Mr. Hani has more than 10 years of experience in non-formal education and informal learning. He is a social worker and is studying for a PhD in Knowledge Management.