Yesterday was school report day for Kosovo and the other kids in the Western Balkans. Millions of anxious parents in cities, towns and villages around the region waited on in anticipation of what the EU education system would have to say about their rogue kids this year.
Kosovo, just like the other kids, of course tried to convince its parents back home that the assessment, on the whole, showed plenty of progress, and that the prospect of graduating to the much fetishized big-kids’ gymnasium was well and truly on course. But after all the waiting, when the reports arrived they largely made similar reading to those of previous years — lots and lots of teacher talk, which tends to leave the parents none the wiser about what their kids have actually been up to.
There was also the sneaking suspicion that has long been suggested about this education system: Kosovo and the other kids seem to be more obsessed with the grades than in gaining the knowledge.
In truth though, the opaque grading system still suggested that Kosovo may still be struggling in its education. Its report continually said that it is “at an early stage” in most of the core courses. This year, the teachers utilized the phrase “at an early stage” in relation to progress precisely 34 times in the report card, essentially suggesting that it has the very same grades as in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (the educators decided not to produce report cards in 2017, wanting to change the timings of releasing them from autumn to spring).
If the teachers had been more straightforward in their assessment, they would have admitted that Kosovo has essentially been repeating the same elementary class for many years, while making little noticeable progress in even basic literacy.
However, the teachers have a habit of obscuring the real issue, because continuously bad grades don’t reflect particularly well on the education system itself and may well leave the pupils and their parents somewhat disillusioned. By repeating again and again that the pupil is “at an early stage,” the teachers allow the child and its parents to hold dear the idea that one day it will be able to register at that beloved gymnasium.
That’s what the parents still seem to want, although their faith in the idea that it will ever happen is beginning to waver. That’s what the pupil keeps saying it wants, and keeps insisting to its parents is getting closer and closer. And that’s what the teacher has been telling the pupils for years and years, that they should just do a bit more to earn the right to get there — no matter that the pupils are continuously repeating the same elementary class, over and over.
The reputation of this education system has in fact been somewhat damaged in recent times. But Kosovo’s parents are largely unaware of this, as they have rarely been allowed to actually visit the school in person and have instead ended up isolated and frustrated. This has been particularly frustrating, given that they have seen all of the parents of the other kids in the neighborhood visiting the school freely for years — welcomed with open arms, while they themselves are forced to collect documentation, pay money, and generally put themselves at the mercy of what sort of day the school administrators are having.
In fact, the school generally seems to treat the other kids and their parents better. Sometimes, the other kids refuse to do their homework, or even openly insult their teachers, but they always seem to get away with it — for some, there is always the unspoken threat that the parents may pull the kids out of this school and pursue an alternative means of education. There is no such alternative for Kosovo, which must keep going back to the same school, even if it consecutively fails to get anywhere near the graduation standards.
Back to the report card, the teachers weren’t entirely diplomatic throughout, especially relating to incidents where the pupil is seen to have broken certain strict behavioral rules that are close to the teachers’ hearts. For example, when Kosovo — with much cajoling — completed a piece of homework that the teachers deemed very important, before being caught making a late night attempt to rip the whole thing up just before Christmas. This little incident is said to have “raised serious concerns.” The teachers presumably know exactly how this all came about, although the kid itself is giving little away, while the parents, as usual, have been kept in the dark.
The parents could have demanded answers, let their kid know exactly what standards of behavior are expected. But they have a tendency to think that as long as they make an intervention every four years (or sooner, in extraordinary circumstances) then they can just leave their kid to their own devices. Well, no. Sometimes your child does not know how to behave.
The report card also criticized the kid’s growing obesity problem — from 45kg to 70kg almost overnight last autumn; such a luxury lifestyle was seen as obsessive, especially taking into account the poor conditions of its parents. Thank God, the teachers don’t know about (or don’t want to talk about) the kid firing guns, while indulging in raki and meat in the oda. If only the kid would show as much concern about learning to read and write as it does about bloating itself.
Not every point in the report card is a catastrophe. From time to time Kosovo received a little praise for making the effort to try and start some work, or for simply showing up for class. But the parents can’t help but wonder if offering praise in such circumstances is a little counterproductive, and if the teachers wouldn’t get better results from their kid if they demanded a little more discipline and attention to tasks.
Of course, the parents themselves are not entirely blameless here; they need to ask for more accountability from their kid and to ask more questions of their beloved as to why it appears to be showing such weak commitment to getting into that sparkly gymnasium.
And while it is perfectly legitimate for the parents to want the best for their kid, including the ‘prestige’ of the big-kids’ club, the ends shouldn’t completely eclipse the means; they should demand that their kid shows commitment to improving itself, not just to get the grades, but to be able to walk, read and feed alone.
Otherwise, the teachers will continue with their report cards, and nobody will go anywhere.
Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.