“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm Forbes
“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner
The council of Europe defines non-formal education in relation with the traditional forms of education, as complementary to the formal, however outside its frameworks, and designed to develop a wide spectre of skills and competences in young people. Non-formal education gained such huge significance due to the acknowledgment that formal education failed to entirely satisfy young people’s needs for personal and professional development. Non-formal education promotes the process of lifelong learning and development of the human capital. As a concept, non-formal education for the first time appeared in the 1980s, as a result of the realization that formal education does not lead towards development of society and cannot respond to the needs for the development of the labour market. Non-formal education offers a broad spectre of opportunities, from development of personal and life skills and competences to specific professional skills and knowledge.
Non-formal education for working with marginalized communities implies education of the margins. Just as marginalized communities are excluded from society, so issues related to working with them, their rights, policies created for them etc. are also excluded from the formal educational process.
It was this exclusion of topics related to working with marginalized communities from the formal educational process that prompted the initiatives for developing non-formal educational programs. In the Republic of Macedonia, the youth work programs, concept of human rights, rights of marginalized communities, humane policies for dependences, HIV/AIDS prevention and other topics not included in formal education developed in the 2000s. The programs commenced with transitory youth workshops, which later extended to the implementation of tailored modules and schools, to introducing some of them in the formal educational process such as youth work education at the Southeast European University. This emphasized the youth’s needs for acquiring knowledge and skills in specific fields.
Being on the topic of education on working with marginalized communities, among them people who use drugs, none of the institutions in Macedonia provides education for staff willing to work with such issues. Education on drug dependence related issues, complex ones, should provide multidisciplinary approach in learning how to work in this field. Hence the need to analyze this subject from more aspects and include it in the curricula of different fields, such as: social work, psychology, pedagogy, security and police, law, judiciary, medicine etc.
One of the topics entirely overlooked in formal vocational education in Macedonia is drug use. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), drug use is a considerable health issue influencing society on several levels. The term encompasses all legal and illegal psychotropic substances, tobacco and alcohol. Such definition of drug use allows for a broad area of action. According to the World Health Organization, treating drug use as a public health problem may lead to de-stigmatizing these issues, and thus create the environment necessary to provide a wide spectre of services for people who use drugs with a broad support system.
During my studies as a social worker I encountered the term drug use only in a subject on socio-pathological occurrences in society. To me, framing this topic within the subject social pathology indicated to marginalization of a certain community in relation to other social communities. In my understanding, social work is a profession based on practices, an academic discipline which promotes development and social changes, social cohesion, as well as strengthening and liberating people. The principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for the differences are central in social work. Supported by the theories in social work, social policy and the humanities, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and provide improvement of the social well-being. So, in my opinion, social workers have the responsibility to represent the rights of all marginalized communities, including people who use drugs.
Why education on drug use?
In his work, “The Subject and Power,” Michel Foucault speaks of the constant struggle against authorities, for instance the power men have over women, parents over children, the administration over people’s life styles, etc. It is with these struggles that he illustrates the meaning of knowledge, skills and qualifications. Today, there is a struggle against the privileges of how available knowledge is in life and society. The question how knowledge circulates and functions is what is important when speaking of the power of knowledge. In order to provide comprehensive knowledge for social policies, all social processes need to be studied. The topic of drug use and dependence is part of these processes, hence the importance of a suitable education to encompass all its segments.
When professionals working in the field of dependence (social workers, psychologists, pedagogists, doctors, psychiatrists, legal counsellors, lawyers, police officers, inspectors, decision-makers) collect comprehensive data related to the definition of drug use, drug dependence, types of drugs, treatment of people dependent on drugs, reduction of drug related harms, psycho-social services for people who use drugs, drug issues in prisons, gender aspects in the development of programs for working with people who use drugs, the human rights concept of people who use drugs, social research on drugs, the global state of drugs in the world and Macedonia, they have a clear idea on the position people who use drugs have in society. A more comprehensive study of the needs of people who use drugs allows professionals to build more open views and non-discriminatory attitude, and thus gain the community’s trust.
Acquiring the knowledge and skills for working with people who use drugs leads to understanding the needs and problems they face. This could further result in creating humane policies that incorporate the human rights concept. The implementation of humane drug policies then leads to social inclusion of people who use drugs in the social processes. This helps break the vicious circle of social exclusion and creates opportunities for active involvement of the community in the social development. It is our obligation, as professionals and people, to create a nurturing environment for personal and professional development that would reflect the development of society.
Good practices on drug use in non-formal drug use
In order to fill the void for proper education in addictology, HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje opened the Summer school on addictions in 2012. The Summer School is the first and only educational event in Macedonia where young professionals acquire knowledge on working in the field of drug dependence. The School offers the rare opportunity for multidisciplinary approach for learning about addictology, an approach that considers social, medical, psychological and issues related to drug policies. The curriculum tends to offer a comprehensive overview of drug policy models, evidence-based treatments, reduction of drug related harms, psycho-social support and the human rights concept. The participants were young professionals (students and graduates) in the field of social work, psychology, law, medicine, safety, police and detectives.
According to the experiences, the participants of the Summer School are thrilled with the opportunity to acquire insight in the practical implementation of the Harm reduction program, the Program for dependence treatment and the Program for rehabilitation and re-socialization of drug users, apart from the theoretical knowledge and skills. The visits to the aforementioned programs provide the participants with the opportunity to visualize theory. A large number of participants in the past few years stated that it is of utmost importance for them to see theory lecturers speak of implemented in practice. It is the thread missing in formal education. The opportunity to be once more actively included in the learning process by sharing their experiences, views, dilemmas and questions is one more reason that makes the school attractive for students and professionals working in the field of dependence. Some of the participants stated that the participation in the Summer School prompted them to change their feelings and perceptions, a result of misunderstanding, little information, judgment due to stereotypes and rejection. Most of them were unaware that by stigmatizing, the institutions competent to help people who use drugs contribute to the increasing social stereotypical image.
The topics covered by the School are very significant for the future professionals working in this area. The School complements the knowledge and skills young professionals acquire during their formal education. Although formal education offers partial, inadequate theoretical learning and partial practical experience, it is not sufficient to prepare a young person to face the challenges when working in a complex field such as drug use and drug dependence. Therefore, informal education is necessary to complement formal education when working with marginalized communities, particularly with people who use drugs. Informal education offers the knowledge acquired through the practical experience of theory, provides access and development of the practical skills necessary for comprehensive education. Where formal education fails to provide learning opportunities, informal education steps in.
In order to provide a comprehensive educational system for the future professionals, it is necessary to integrate the formal and informal education.
The author is a social worker. She graduated at the Institute for Social Work and Social Policy at the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje (2002 – 2006), and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at the Faculty of Security within the University St. Kliment Ohridski. She has been working in HOPS since 2009, at the moment she is working on the creation, organization and implementation of educational programs and events as a program assistant at CEDR – Centre for Education, Documentation and Research.