BELGRADE – The Regional Youth Cooperation Office’s (RYCO) – Local Branch Office in Serbia in cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) organized the introductory event “Meet the Superschools of Serbia” in Belgrade on February 1, 2023, in the framework of the Superschools Exchange Programme. The meeting gathered the 30 awarded high schools from Serbia represented by their principals and teachers in charge of coordinating the upcoming regional exchanges, not only to get to meet with each other but also to be part of a significant momentum such as the signing of the Partnership Agreements.
The event was attended by Mr. Branko Ružić, Minister of Education, H.E. Anke Konrad, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Serbia, Ms. Plamena Halacheva, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia, Ms. Snežana Klašnja, Advisor to the Minister of Tourism and Youth of Serbia, and Ms. Marija Bulat, Head of the RYCO Local Branch Office in Serbia.
The opening remarks were delivered by Mr. Ružić who pointed out the importance of programs like “Superschools”, which provide young people the opportunity for mobility and establishing closer connections with their peers in the region. “I am very glad that secondary schools from Serbia showed great interest in this program in the previous two cycles and submitted the largest number of ideas. The “Superschools” program is an opportunity for the teaching staff to strengthen their capacities in the areas of intercultural dialogue, dealing with the past, and building peace. For the progress of the Western Balkans it is very important that young people participate more in social life and this program encourages them to do so,” added Mr. Ružić.
H.E. Ms. Anke Konrad pointed out that the RYCO is one of the most prominent outcomes of the Berlin Process, as well as that RYCO makes a significant contribution to reconciliation in the Western Balkans. Youth exchanges within the “Superschools” program enable young people from the region to get to know and understand each other. “Last year, 800 young people took advantage of this opportunity, and some of them had the opportunity to present their experiences at the Berlin Process summit in November 2022 in Berlin. That is why Germany will continue to attach great importance to the activities of RYCO”, emphasized H.E. Ms. Konrad.
“Recognising challenges that the youth are facing, as one of the most vulnerable populations both in Europe and in the Western Balkans region, the European Union is taking strong action to give young people different opportunities to develop their full potential to shape their future. I am very proud that the European Commission and the German Federal Ministry for International Cooperation are jointly supporting this important regional initiative, promoting reconciliation and cooperation among youth in the Western Balkans, which is implemented with great dedication by the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) with the support of the Government of Serbia” said Ms. Plamena Halacheva. Ms. Halacheva added that she is glad to see that Serbian schools have proven once again to be highly creative and proactive in submitting good project ideas and through them, they are providing their students with opportunities to learn about their peers from neighbouring countries, share their own experiences, widen their horizons and create shared memories that will lay foundations for many years to come.
Ms. Snežana Klašnja added that the progress of the region depends on joint work by acting and promoting the concept of tolerance, solidarity, and cooperation. “Youth, as carriers of development of societies, are precisely those who, by their example and concrete activities, constantly show that cooperation is necessary and that the result will be social, economic, and cultural development of the region”, she said. Mrs. Klašnja emphasized that the “Superschools” project and the direct exchange of students and professors directly support RYCO activities that promote peacebuilding, intercultural dialogue, democratic values, active citizenship, and intercultural education. “That’s why we are proud that in the second exchange cycle, 50 ideas, developed by 100 secondary schools, were selected, of which is 30 from Serbia”, concluded Ms. Klašnja.
Ms. Bulat congratulated the selected secondary schools from Serbia and emphasized that the most important characteristics of this program are inclusiveness, mobility, as well as a positive impact on the wider local community. The “Superschools” program provides all students, regardless of their success in school, background, ethnicity or religion, an opportunity for engagement with their peers from other ethnic, religious or cultural communities, confrontation of opinions, therefore truly affecting the breaking down of stereotypes and barriers. “Impressions of young people who participated in the first cycle are above expectations. Around 90% stated that “Superschools” were unforgettable for them and an invaluable experience, which further strengthened them and gave them more self-confidence, brought them better understanding of different cultures and communities in the Western Balkans”, added Ms. Bulat.
The directors and professors who will coordinate and implement these youth exchanges presented their ideas that will be further developed with the support of RYCO. The meeting served as a space for the participating schools to present their exchange programs in front of several important local and international actors, and also helped them create a clear overview of the next steps of the program. Young people representing the 30 high schools, will have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the unique experience that the Superschools program has to offer.
The implementation of the projects will be divided into two rounds: The first round of exchanges will happen from April to June 2023 and the second round will continue from August to October 2023. Each partner school will organize one exchange visit to the partnering one lasting up to 7 days with a group of up to 12 students and 1 to 2 teachers. Through the exchange scheme, students and teachers will have the chance to travel, present themselves, their schools, and customs to their hosts, and learn new things about local communities all throughout the region.
155 exchange proposals were submitted for the Superschools 2nd Open Call, 161 partnerships were created from which 17 are long-term coming from the 1st cycle, while more than 535 schools from the Western Balkans used the online platform www.superschools.net for networking with other schools. The selection committee had the difficult task of selecting the 50 best projects aiming at supporting the peacebuilding and reconciliation process in the Western Balkans region and intercultural learning and dialogue among schools, students, and their communities.