Mapping (Non)Discrimination Discourse in Military Education

Non-discrimination of the vulnerable groups (women, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT population) and the attitude towards them are practically absent in the teaching process in the Military Academy and Military High School show the results of the most recent research project of the Public Policy Research Centre. The research represents the first and so far unique analysis done by a non-governmental organization regarding the (non)discriminatory contents in military schooling in Serbia. Furthermore, the Centre’s research indicates that teaching materials used in these institutions were not modernized, while some of the textbooks are outdated, and in some cases they apparently contain discriminatory statement.

Research findings are presented in a publication 'Mapping non-discrimination discourse in military education in the Republic of Serbia'.

The normative framework regarding the discrimination in the Republic of Serbia is formally clearly set and practically rounded up, but the actual changes in the education material especially in the secondary schools are slow. As for the military education, some reforms have been carried out among which the enrolment of women as students in the MilitaryAcademy represents the one which is the most significant. However, this research shows that there was no appropriate adjustment of teaching materials, or the discourse that would mark these changes. The process of textbooks and teaching materials’ modernization is very slow, and even some of recently published textbooks contain inappropriate statements from the standpoint of human rights protection. Centre’s research demonstrates that discrimination is usually mentioned as a term without reference to concrete examples and situations. Albeit there are certain good examples that indicate positive interpretation – especially in some recently issued textbooks for the MilitaryAcademy, as well as in training material for future participants in multinational operations - none of the analysed teaching materials contains positive antidiscrimination examples for all of the observed vulnerable groups.

At the same time, MilitaryHigh School students and MilitaryAcademy cadets who participated in the research think that discrimination issue is unduly overrepresented in public. They don’t recognize it in the military educational system and consider there is no discrimination in that system. Furthermore, the participants in this educational process do not consider the possibility that failure to recognize may be due to their ignorance about the types of direct and indirect discrimination, and fail to see the need to promote positive examples of non-discrimination.

Obtained findings are in accordance with the current trends in general, civic education, which are already noticed and criticized by the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Ombudsperson and a part of the experts’ community. Likewise, although the majority of legal acts concerning educational system contain specific anti-discriminatory standards, and the Law on Textbooks and Other Teaching Aids requires the entire content not to be discriminatory on any grounds, textbooks that are currently in use in Serbian educational system, especially those used in secondary education, are full with stereotypes and outdated formulations.

It seems obvious that the integration of anti-discriminatory norms into educational system might have the key role in internalisation of anti-discriminatory politics. That would lead to adoption of value system that promotes tolerance and human rights. Therefore, Centre’s team believes that military schooling system does not have to wait for positive changes in the civic education, but to take the lead in textbooks’ harmonization with the norms related to non-discrimination. There are two main reasons for this standpoint: on one hand, defence system permanently stays in touch with the updated laws and regulations, and on the other hand, military schooling system is smaller and thereby more flexible in reforming processes. Hence, there is a great opportunity for making necessary adjustments in the treatment of these issues quickly. This primarily refers to the MilitaryAcademy, since the teaching programme in the MilitaryHigh School is identical to the teaching programme in civic high schools in Serbia.

The Public Policy Research Centre has offered recommendations for the decision makers within the Ministry of Defence in order to support positive practices in the field of human rights protection and promotion, that have already been promoted by this institution with decisions such as admission of women to the Military Academy and its leadership in the formulation of the National Action Plan on UN Resolution 1325 implementation in Serbia. Likewise, non-discriminatory attitude towards vulnerable groups has to be more integrated into overall education system, and on the forefront of the state and non-state actors involved in monitoring of anti-discrimination laws and strategies’ implementation.

During the project implementation, Centre’s team have established cooperation with the MilitaryAcademy and MilitaryHigh School, and have analysed methodologically selected material. Specifically, research team analysed content of  12 textbooks and handbooks used in the Military Academy, 3 textbooks for general social subjects in the Military High School, 2 handbooks for international humanitarian law that are used in training for soldiers and officers, and material from a basic course for future participants in multinational operations. Additionally, these findings have been deepened by the 4 focus groups discussions with the MilitaryHigh School students, and cadets from the first and fourth study year of MilitaryAcademy, as well as by the interviews with the management and teaching staff of these two institutions. Preliminary research findings were discussed at the round table with the representatives of military educational institutions and representatives of the key institutions dealing with human rights and protection from discrimination. Since this research is not comprehensive analysis of all textbooks and teaching materials, there is a space for further analysis aimed to acquire a definite conclusion on compatibility of military education contents with the positive legal framework.

This research was conducted within the project ‘Mapping non-discrimination discourse in military education in the Republic of Serbia’, supported by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of  Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Fund for an Open Society Serbia.