Education of Islamic-minority children in the Balkans. Overcoming the Cultural Gap


The cultural discrepancies, which make problematic the school education of children from Islamic minorities, contribute substantially to the difficulties in the integration of these minorities into the modern societies of the Balkan countries. It is both necessary and dangerous to seek a common denominator in the problems of Turks, Pomaks, Albanians and Moslem-Roma in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece (countries where people from these groups live in narrow cohabitation with the respective Christian majorities). The danger is to explain all antagonisms in this cohabitation as ensuing from a "clash of civilizations". The difference in religion, bearing here far more cultural implications than in many other cases, is not the only factor, which accounts for the apparent tensions. And if its importance is exaggerated, it is possible that a Pygmalion effect might catalyze the contradictions, and bring about a development of Islamic fundamentalism in places where it has no genuine roots.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to ignore the substantial common features in the relations between the mentioned minorities and society as a whole in the three countries. It seems promising to conceptualize these relations as shaped by the same complex of factors, which have different relative importance in the different cases. And it seems realistic to start testing this hypothesis in the sphere of education, where the cultural gap exhibits itself unquestionably, and it is possible to make empirical research in a suitable, self-reflective social environment. Besides, there exist more or less efficient mechanisms for "translating" the results of research into pedagogical practice, which in this case would amount to changes in educational policy.


To identify the relative importance of the main factors, which alienate the children, belonging to Islamic minorities, from the standard school education in Balkan countries.


The main activities to be conducted within the project are a documentary research and a sociological survey with Islamic minorities' students and their teachers, followed by a differential analysis of its results, concerning the relative importance for cultural tensions at school of: religion, ethnicity, language, contrast between traditional and modern mentality, nationalistic antagonisms.

The target groups are primary school students (VII - VIII grade) from the Turkish, Pomak, Albanian and Moslem-Roma minorities, as well as their teachers, in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece. The criterion for the selection of the target groups is the narrow cohabitation between the mentioned minorities and the najority population in the respective countries - a situation, which used to be, but is no more the case in Kosovo, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A full-scale sociological survey is to be conducted only in Bulgaria, and a documentary research and non-standardized interviews with teachers, concerning the problems of minority education, are to be carried out in Greece and Macedonia. The difference in method follows from the political sensitivity of the issues, and from organizational reasons.

The research is designed as a pilot one, with the task to test the advantages and shortcomings of an analytical approach towards the intercultural relations between Islamic minorities and society in Balkan states.


? A study visit to the CEU, Budapest, for consultations with experts from the Political Science Department and the Nationalism Program, and study of the most up-to-date relevant literature available.
? A visit to the Democritus University in Komotiny, Northern Greece, for study of the experience of the Education Department in work with teachers in regions with a considerable presence of Turkish and Pomak minorities.
? A visit to Skopje University for study of the problems in the education of children from the Albanian, Turkish and Moslem-Roma minorities on the basis of the experience of the Education Department.
? A preparatory visit to the districts of Shumen (compact Turkish minority population), Kurdjali (same), Smolian (Pomak minority population) and Plovdiv (Moslem-Roma minority population) in Bulgaria in order to specify the schools where the survey is to be carried out, to arrange technical support, etc.
? Preparation of the sample and the questionnaire for the survey.
? Carrying out the survey in the regions of Shumen, Kurdjali, Smolian and Plovdiv.
? Technical processing of the data from the survey
? Differential analysis of the results of the survey. Preparation of the final report of the research on the basis of comparing the results of the survey in Bulgaria and the documentary research and interviews in Greece and Macedonia. Formulation of conclusions about the relative importance of religion, ethnicity, language, contrast between traditional and modern mentality, nationalistic antagonisms for the intercultural difficulties in the education of Islamic-minority children in Balkan countries.
? Publications in specialized journals in Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia of the results of the research with the task to initiate an academic discussion on the prospects of applying the tested method for large scale research in the field of minority education and on the possible elaboration of the educational policies in the three countries, concerning Islamic minorities.
? Preparation of a report for the Ministry of Education and Science of Bulgaria with specific recommendations on future research and changes in educational policy, concerning the education of children from the Turkish, Pomak and Moslem-Roma minorities.


If the research is successful, an individualized "profile" of the educational needs of each Islamic-minority group in each country would be outlined. The research being a small-scale one, it is envisaged to use its results to provoke academic interest in its methodology, and to provide for its multiplication with the aim of achieving results convincing enough as to motivate a substantial elaboration of the educational policies in the region.

As far as Bulgaria and Macedonia are concerned, the current educational reform in these countries, especially the introduction of civic education to school curricula, make realistic the prospect of achieving a direct influence on educational policies of this research. More specifically, it can be claimed that, depending on the established needs-profile, one or another method from the "arsenals" of multicultural and intercultural education can be assigned a leading role among the curriculum's optional subjects in the respective case.
If, for example, it is found out that religion is the key source of tension between the target group and school, a course in religion studies, with emphasis on inter-religious tolerance and the relations between religion and modern society, could be offered as an optional subject among the ones, associated with civic education.
If ethnicity is the key issue, elements of intercultural communication can be included into the courses in literature, history, geography, and civilizational studies (which are introduced e.g. in Bulgaria).
If traditional mentality is the obstacle, additional work with the teachers will be necessary, especially training them how to cope with specific attitudes of the children as far as the individualism-collectivism issue, power distance, sensitivity to cultural context, etc. are concerned.
If it is found out that nationalistic attitudes or linguistic incompetence is a source of tension, more resources should be assigned to elaboration of teaching of history, resp. to additional classes in the national language and in the mother tongue (recently a very interesting initiative has been developed in the Shumen region for coordination between the classes in these two subjects).
It goes without saying that the listed possible reactions in terms of educational policy to the findings of the proposed research are not mutually exclusive, and the recommendations will be concerning shifting of balances, and not miraculous solutions.