Devpro Resource Centre

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Dynamics of child-friendly school (CFS) theory in practice

© UNICEF Skopje/2009
Well-equipped and inviting environments that encourage learning and support healthy and attentive minds are hallmarks of child-friendly schools.

Context and challenge: Poverty and marginalization create barriers to equitable access to quality education

Mountainous and landlocked, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (hereafter referred to as ‘FYR Macedonia’) declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. A decade later, ethnic tension erupted in a brief war between the country’s Macedonian majority and Albanian minority. Later that year, the Ohrid Framework Agreement sought to establish a stable political settlement that recognized the civil rights of minority groups, but tensions remain.

Despite its relatively well-educated population, FYR Macedonia is challenged by high rates of unemployment and child poverty. The Roma people, who have experienced a long history of discrimination, are among the poorest and most marginalized members of Macedonian society.

FYR Macedonia is on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Ninety-five per cent of its children attend primary school, and there are no significant disparities by gender, rural and urban location, or geographical region. Marked differences do exist, however, for poor and marginalized children. Only 63 per cent of 7-year-old Roma children, for example, attend primary school. Only 10.7 per cent of the country’s children access early childhood education, and as many as 40 per cent of its teenagers do not finish secondary school.

The country also struggles with the quality of its education system as a whole. National scores on international assessments suggest that expected learning outcomes are not being met. FYR Macedonia ranks among the lowest in the Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States region in terms of average achievement and within-country differences. Girls perform better than boys, and students whose language of instruction is Macedonian achieve higher results than those who study in Albanian.

Despite the fact that the number of hours a child spends in school has been linked to education quality, FYR Macedonia has the shortest instructional day of any education system in the region. Other challenges include maintaining safe school environments; promoting multiculturalism and an awareness of children’s rights; engaging students, parents and community members in the school system; and providing sufficient educational materials and access to information technology.

Administrative inefficiencies and frequent changes in political leadership have hindered FYR Macedonia’s ability to implement wide-reaching reforms. The country’s Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) , however, has taken significant steps towards improving access to and quality of education.

Its Education and Modernization Project aims to develop an efficient and decentralized education system. And in an effort to achieve these goals, the MoES and UNICEF agreed in 2006 to move towards a child-friendly school (CFS) approach within the national education system.

© UNICEF Skopje/2009
Child-friendly schools are rights-based and thus ensure inclusion of all children in school regardless of their background and abilities.

Action: Developing a child-friendly education system

UNICEF identified individuals from the MoES and area universities to be part of a national CFS team. The team included experts in child rights and child-centred pedagogy, and built upon the experiences of other countries while developing the Macedonian CFS initiative.

In FYR Macedonia, child-friendliness was defined by:

  • Inclusiveness
  • Effectiveness
  • Health, safety and protection in school environments
  • Gender responsiveness 
  • Involvement of students, parents and community members 
  • Respect for children’s rights and multiculturalism

Researchers conducted a baseline study in 21 schools, interviewing key stakeholders, reviewing school documents and observing classrooms. The national CFS team and UNICEF then worked with the MoES to formulate a strategy that included CFS initiatives on both national and local levels.

At the national level, the team advocated for legislative change and curriculum development. At the school level, team members worked alongside students, teachers, personnel and parents to find concrete techniques to implement the CFS concept in five pilot schools.

These techniques included setting classroom ground rules to promote mutual respect between teachers and students and motivate children to learn. Teachers received training to identify different learning styles; textbooks and physical education classes were evaluated for gender bias. And children were asked to identify areas they felt were unsafe and to monitor violence during their breaks.

After one year, five more pilot schools were added to the initiative. Since its inception, more than 11,000 individuals – including students, teachers, school personnel, parents and community members – have benefited from the CFS pilot school project.

© UNICEF Skopje/2009
Child-friendly schools help children learn what they need to know and teaching them how to learn, it is about learning relevant skills as opposed to just facts.

Impact and opportunities: Strengthened policy and curriculum; a more holistic approach to education; increasing movement towards reform

Beyond impacting individual schools, the CFS concept has infused the national education system at large. In 2007, the second year of the CFS initiative, the Parliament of FYR Macedonia adopted the revised Primary Education Law to extend compulsory primary education from eight to nine years. The law was followed by a revision of existing curriculum and the addition of new subjects to ensure consistency with CFS principles such as multiculturalism, gender responsiveness and life skills-based education.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that CFS is having a positive impact on children, teachers and the community. Children are learning about their rights and are more fully participating in classroom activities. Schools are increasingly promoting awareness of multiculturalism. Teachers report positive change in their schools, and life skills-based education is steadily being introduced into the curriculum. In addition, the holistic nature of the CFS framework has allowed various stakeholders – including donors – to build upon existing strengths and bring their different agendas to the table.

Going forward, UNICEF will support CFS pilot schools to increase participation and learning, and ensure that the lessons learned are shared and implemented across the country. FYR Macedonia’s education system must put mechanisms in place to measure the impact of this change over time.

Although comprehensive change will happen overnight, the former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia is slowly seeing the fruit of its efforts to create a child-friendly education system. For the country’s poor and marginalized children, it can’t come a moment too soon.

29 May 2009



A focus on

Child-Friendly Schools Manual, Chapter 2, ‘Dynamics of theory in practice' 2009 | PDF English

To learn more

UNICEF, Child-Friendly Schools Manual, 2009 | PDF English

UNICEF, Developing Child-Friendly Schools in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: A case study, 2009 | PDF English

Programme trains Macedonian teachers in effective, child-friendly education methods | related story

UNICEF, Global Capacity Development Programme on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, Resources on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, 'Quality education and child friendly schools,' Actions for Children Issue 5, March 2009 | PDF English | French | Spanish

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