We talked with Stephan about his experience in working with the British Council lately in Macedonia, where he directly participates in shaping up the national education policy in the area of qualifications. This experienced practitioner and trainer helps build local policy-level capacity to implement mechanisms and processes that will enable the functioning of the entire system of the National Qualifications Framework in Macedonia, directly influenced now by the UK experience.
Stephan John, a UK consultant, says that the three MA degrees that he possesses are not as important as the power of an individual to understand the topic and the ability to transfer the solutions to problems to people who want to apply your knowledge. Although he graduated with a degree in Finance, he started out his career as a teacher. He then got his MA degree in Education Pedagogy, and then in Education Management and Leadership.
Stephan John held training sessions on ‘Developing relevant vocational education for the businesses’ at the British Council in Macedonia in 2013 and training on the ‘National Qualifications Framework’ on 17 and 18 July 2014, the aim being to develop the processes and the protocols that will allow cooperation among relevant institutions in the implementation of the Law for the National Qualifications Framework.
What are the reasons for your coming to Macedonia at the British Council? Did you receive a special invitation or is this a routine visit?
This is not a routine visit. I came here to support the implementation of the Law for the National Qualifications Framework and the whole system behind it. As far as I am aware, Macedonia has been working on putting its own framework into place for a number of years and I am here to offer my assistance and training, to pass on my experience from the UK where I have worked for quite a long time on the same systems and processes. My initial steps in the UK were within the creation of the qualifications frameworks, writing them and then putting them into practice. I have also worked in several countries in your region, like Croatia and Montenegro, and I am here to pass on my advice and recommendations and to assist in building the capacity of individuals and organisations that will work on the National Qualifications Framework.
This is my second visit to Macedonia organised by the British Council. Last year I supported the National VET Centre and other public bodies with the methodology for collating information for the labour market so that occupational standards could be created and developed, that would consequently lead to qualifications appropriate for those occupational standards. In order for the qualifications, i.e. the education in general to be in line with the labour market, the specifications for those qualifications should arise from the occupational standards which stem from the employers’ and economy needs. We then understood that we needed to develop a whole new system for Macedonia.
What is the importance of having a Law on National Qualifications Framework in one country and is such a law implemented in the UK?
The National Qualifications Framework has been implemented in the past 20 years in the UK. This is an area that we have worked on for a long time and a lot of my knowledge comes from the developments there. We, too, had a law that was implemented – just as things are like in Macedonia now. The Laws have been passed and things are now in the phase where people are working on the system that will enable the implementation of the National Qualifications Framework. The Qualifications Framework actually allows for qualifications and education to be linked with the economy. That way, the education system will produce cadre with the necessary labour market skills that will easily get them a job. This means that education influences productivity and economy, and the economy in turn influences education.
What is your experience in Macedonia? Which institutions do you work with and is this process seen only as dissemination of knowledge and experience? Or would you say that you will be going back to the UK with some new information that you have learned from the participants?
This is work in progress. We are working with many Macedonian institutions, starting from the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the VET Centre, the Adult Learning Centre, the organisation that represents the Macedonian employers, the Bureau for Development of Education, which means that we are working with all main stakeholders that are part of the process for development of the qualifications and part of the system for the development of the qualifications framework. The way I want to work is to develop the local capacities. This means that I do not only transfer information and knowledge, but I develop the local capacities in a way that I give the participants the opportunity to practically try out things I have talked about. Having held the presentations and the workshops, I now believe that the local capacities are being built and we plan to further develop them. This is my second visit to Macedonia. However, even when I am not here, the dialogue with the institutions continues because we have agreed on actual tasks that they have to complete, as well as samples, models and experience that I have gained in the UK that can be adopted or adapted in your context.
Tell us about your experience with the British Council in general, and your experience with British Council Macedonia.
I work with the British Council in several countries. It is very interesting that the Council focuses on projects connected with the development of skills that are significant for the economic development of each country. This is what we are doing in Macedonia as well. The British Council is influential and manages to bring together all interested parties. It is good that the experience we gain from each of the countries are combined with new ones. Therefore, when you work, you can use the good practices and experience and emphasise them, and avoid the ones that should not be applied. That is the interesting thing about the Council, as it gives you the opportunity to identify the good things and focus your work on developing the skills and capacities of host countries. Therefore, these experiences and good practices can be applied in Macedonia, too.
The communication with British Council Macedonia is very professional, quick and precise. People here are forward thinking. I noticed that British Council is influential and can bring together all stakeholders who work in this area in one place and work with all of them. Very often in other countries, it is not that easy to bring together all interested parties. I can see that British Council Macedonia manages to easily pass the message on about the importance of vocational education and the skills for the economic development of the country. With that message and the continuous communication with the main stakeholders, British Council may become the main partner to the Ministries during the project implementation and in the future.
Interview and photo: Toni Dimkov