Alumni in Macedonia discuss the value of UK education

On 22 November, the Macedonian Chevening Alumni Association (MCAA) held an event titled ‘Memorising or creatively (co)constructing knowledge? Chevening scholars’ Macedonian and UK educational experiences’.

The aim of the event was to encourage reflection among four Chevening Alumni about the educational models they experienced while studying in the UK, compared to their educational experiences in Macedonia. The following four panellists discussed their comparative university experiences: Gjakush Kabashi (MA in International Relationships and Security, University of Westminster), Gordana Vrencoska (MA in Design, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), Visar Ademi (MA in Business Administration, Lancaster University) and Njomza Qerimi (MA in International Development and Education, University College London). The event was moderated by Elena Oncevska Ager (MA in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages, University of Leeds).

The discussion was largely around how knowledge is seen across models, what the purpose of education is, and what information about learners and teachers the educational models communicate. Throughout the discussion, the audience questioned and commented on what had been shared by the panel.

With regard to the treatment of knowledge implicitly suggested by the educational models, the alumni reflected on whether knowledge is predominantly conceived of as a body of facts to be memorised, as opposed to an organic, constantly evolving construct to be discovered and co-created. The Cheveners agreed that the UK models invite students to use the theoretical tools acquired on their courses in order to research their own, often local (and therefore meaningful) contexts. 

The alumni then went on to discuss the purpose of education suggested by the educational models: is the aim of education to enable new generations to fit into the existing social system or to support individuals in reaching their highest potential, thus contributing to the development of the current social setup? To support students in reaching their highest potential, UK education provides opportunities not only for cognitive, but also for social and affective learning. Various group work opportunities were discussed, as well as the freedom that students are given to take part in the decision-making processes on their courses, therefore making the educational experiences for everyone involved more motivational.

The roles of learners and teachers in the educational models were considered and the alumni reflected on how empowering the messages communicated by the two educational models might be. It was highlighted that forsaking the traditional teacher/learner roles, the UK educational model often promotes the teacher as the provider of opportunities for learning—not only content—as a more experienced other who is interested in what learners bring to the learning process. They are also interested in making the learning process more memorable and enjoyable for the learner. Critical thinking also seems to be high on the list of UK educational priorities, with students being openly invited to question the input they receive and bring their own slant to what is being discussed. This foregrounds the centrality of the learner’s background (e.g. experience, attitudes, etc.) in the learning process.

Finally, the impact of the alumni’s UK educational experiences on their further educational and professional endeavours in Macedonia was discussed. Some reported experiencing a ‘professional shock’, while others had opportunities to build on their professional growth by leading structural reforms in their institutions. The importance of their UK knowledge and the benefits of being Chevening Alumni was clear.