In-depth | Elections2021

2021 Elections: A different perspective on our education

By - 09.02.2021

With elections happening almost every two years, K2.0 listens to ideas on solutions amid dubious promises.

Although elections have become a common occurrence in Kosovo, discussing what is genuinely important for the lives of constituents is rare.

In political party rallies, televised debates and what is written and said by and about political parties, there is a lot of talk on party calculations and maneuvers, polls, slogans and individuals; and less about practical issues that would basically inform voters of what to expect after the electoral campaigns. In principle, the electoral campaigns themselves should serve this purpose — so that voters know what they are voting for.

Amid all of this and, above all, to challenge this context, we at K2.0 spoke with experts in various fields. Through their answers we have endeavored to list some of the issues that are not discussed but will be important for voters when they head to the polls on February 14.

Through the series “Elections 2021, a different perspective” that comprises eight articles, each focused on one specific field, we elaborate on what exactly is not receiving due attention, what is the current situation and what should be done to change things in favor of the citizens. We also try to inform voters and make their well-being the focus of discussion by providing forward looking solutions.

A different perspective on the future of students, the future of the state

Almost in every social sphere issue, education is one of the main problems — perhaps the most crucial one. Political parties agree with this diagnosis — at least this is what they write in their political programs. They agree that Kosovo stands badly regarding the achievements in the education field, continuously promising that “one day” they will change for good “the most important sector for the Kosovar society.”

Nearly all the political parties that will run in the February 14 elections have led the Ministry of Education. Nevertheless, they continue to insist that their government’s priority will be reforming this sector. For many years, media and organizations that work in the education field have raised concerns that the situation is really bad.

After many years filled with promises and disappointment, the 2015 PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) showed with concrete data how bad things are: 77% of Kosovar pupils have problems with reading. Political parties’ programs articulate the concerns about these figures but do not provide concrete policies and a timeframe on when they can resolve the problems of Kosovo’s education system.

In its education program, LDK lists nine pillars — education in the pandemic, curriculums, education for minority communities, science, higher education and public universities profiling, to mention just a few. Government support toward municipalities for building preschool institutions and retraining of teachers to be 100% ready for preschool institutions are also part of LDK’s program. Another point is a longer daily stay in schools that have the necessary infrastructure.

Vetëvendosje (VV) plans a larger inclusion of children in 2 to 4-year-old in preschool education, complete inclusion of children in pre-primary education, building new kindergartens and adapting existing objects as pre-primary institutions. For families in need and those who benefit from social schemes, Vetëvendosje promises exemption from fees in private preschool pre-primary institutions as well. Another focus of their program is pilot projects for all day stay at schools until this becomes a standard. They also promise to initiate an evaluation process for teachers.

PDK has oriented its program more toward needs in the pandemic, planning to implement an online learning program, teachers training for distance learning, and the initiation of hybrid classes – half physically and half virtually with periodic rotation. Beyond these, PDK also promises to increase support staff in schools such as, information technology experts, more psychologists, and financial support for families with children in education subsidizing them with 50/100/200 euro.   

AAK plans to build new vocational schools to adequately prepare professionals for the labor market, the revision of the Law on Higher Education as well as the revision and evaluation of textbooks and curricula.

A considerable part of these promises is not new and has been recycled from other elections.  

Therefore, to understand in more detail the problems inherited over the years in this sector we talked with three experts in the field: Agnesa Qerimi, pre-university education expert, Gramos Buçinca, deputy director of the Organization for Quality Enhancement in Education (ORCA), and Rinor Qehaja, director of the EdGuard Institute for Research and Advocacy in Youth Education. This is how they answered our questions about what we lack, what objectives should guide us and how change can happen.

What do we lack?

Agnesa Qerimi, pre-university education expert:

Within the educational chain I will focus on pre-university education, which is based on the models and best practices of regional and European countries. However, we are used to hearing the phrase “We have good laws on paper, but lack implementation in practice” — let me say that its implementation is not satisfactory in relation to our reality, needs and situation as a state.

"We should begin by fulfilling legal obligations and adopting them to the concrete needs of education stakeholders."

For example, the Law on Pre-University Education entered into force in 2011, repealing the 2006 Law. From then until now we count around 61 bylaws deriving from it with the aim of regulating the implementation of its articles. Throughout the six legislatures, this law and its bylaws have not reached a satisfactory level of implementation. If we analyze only this law, it can clearly be noted how much we lack in the implementation of all its elements and provisions without even analyzing the strategic plans, curricula, other bylaws, budget formulas, vocational education, parallel education and beyond. Therefore, we should begin by fulfilling legal obligations and adopting them to the concrete needs of education stakeholders.

Gramos Buçinca, ORCA:

Education in Kosovo is designed to serve more the teachers than students or pupils. The lack of study programs that enable Kosovar youth to be productive citizens in society has led to slow socio-economic development. A diploma that does not bring money has made many young people to not consider building their future in Kosovo.

Public education in Kosovo is one of the biggest employers in Kosovo, and as a consequence, it continues to remain among the most exploited sectors from the political parties. On the one hand, different parties make use of teachers’ sentiment about the difficult times when they carried the burden of national education, and on the other hand, they exploit poverty and unemployment by promising new jobs and salary increases in education.

Kosovar education suffers mostly from the lack of a system that would regulate teachers’ salary levels based on the evaluation of their performance. 

Rinor Qehaja, EdGuard:

Education in Kosovo lacks many things in order to achieve something. Many reforms are needed to initiate a small change, hoping that someday that small change will multiply. The lack of quality means a lost future for many young people. It seems that nobody takes seriously the impact that education has on society, and more time will be needed for everyone to understand that state-building depends on the education of society, not on its politicization.   

Our education system does not lack good laws and strategies, but it lacks their implementation; it does not lack school buildings, but it lacks technology and equipment in those schools; it does not lack good teachers, but it lacks teachers who are praised for their good work; it does not lack a qualitative curriculum, but it lacks good textbooks to fulfill that curriculum. But above all, education lacks accountability, and that is the starting point of all problems. 

What objectives should guide us?

Agnesa: In Kosovo, education quality improvement should start from zero. The logic of bandaging, of ad-hoc and fast processes without concrete long-term results will continue to annihilate the quality. For education we should decide unanimously and share a vision that is ours, that fits our mentality, community and our needs — we should by no means rent this vision from other countries.

Another aspiration for education should be the engagement for capacity building. We should invest in qualified people to conceptualize community organizing strategies. It is impossible to achieve this through a two-hour training or a theoretical methodology unified for every municipality and school. Because every municipality and every school as well as their interests differ from each other. To achieve a general success we need to inspire, use innovation and collective responsibility.

Education is the basis, the imperative of a state-building where knowledge, skills and social welfare prevail for a better future.

Gramos: Kosovar society should demand more from the government regarding education. The whole socio-economic system of a state is completely dependent on the knowledge and skills level of its citizens.

Education for knowledge — Kosovars should have an education system that equips them with knowledge at a European level. A college student should be able to understand their field of study. A Kosovar professor should be oriented on research and science in order to have thorough and updated knowledge and thorough teaching to transmit that knowledge to the students. Some of those students will become teachers at schools, ensuring quality at all levels of education.     

Education for the economy — Kosovar government should have a short, middle and long-term action plan for intertwining the market with education. Only in the last few years have universities in Kosovo begun to design study programs based on industry. The government should learn from businesses and industry what concrete skills the workers need and how to secure an optimal wage that reflects the taxpayers’ investment for the education of workers.

Education for the economy — art and culture teachers are the least supervised teachers among their colleagues. This has led to a Kosovar cultural scene dominated by artists who have not finished art school. Kosovo should have art schools that produce artists who on the one hand have technical skills for esthetical representation and on the other hand know how to criticize social injustices through artistic creation.

Education for governance — “Evil is the result of ignorance” said Socrates. Every wrongdoing of the government could be avoided if those in power had the right knowledge. Kosovars should expect to be ruled by competent people – as a consequence society should aspire to have schools that produce such leaders.

"Change happens when learning means more than a grade or diploma."

Rinor: The aspiration for education is the aspiration for the future of youth; this is the meaning of our struggle for a better education. The starting point should be a strong political will translated in a budget and public politics that aim to reform the system beyond electoral interest — a fundamental education system reform diminishes interests but triggers development. 

Politics has limited the debate for a better education on the economic conditions of teachers, and not on the mechanisms that would provide quality increase in education. This gives the impression that aspiration for improvement is monetary, but it’s not even this — if it were, change would have come years earlier.

Change happens when learning means more than a grade or diploma. It is a false aspiration that young people have, leading them into illusionary thinking believing that they are knowledgeable because they have a title — and over time turning them into unemployed with a title.

What changes do we need to get there?

Agnesa: There is a quote that says “If we all think the same, then probably none of us think much” — this is the basis for change. In order to achieve the implementation of policies and the legislation, we should start asking ourselves as a state about each policy, reform or law, whether they will be good and appropriate for the children and teachers. The answer should derive from research and concrete analyses carried out by the municipalities, involving both the pupils and the staff of their schools. So, education needs to be completely decentralized and not unified. Each municipality should be free to decide on the education reform for its population and pupils. A municipality can echo vocational education, while on the other scientific education.

Another issue that needs to change is the approach toward education — we should aim to have high quality, not good quality. This can be achieved by creating better academic qualifications for teaching.

We need teachers who choose their profession led by the responsibility to develop the social vision, with full autonomy as well as unconditional and continuous support in any form they need it; professional support to improve teaching materials and textbooks; more resources and qualitative, advanced training. Short-term training is not the solution; teachers’ endeavors for continuous development and the mastering of the profession with love, passion and dignity are the solution.  

Gramos: Study programs in all education levels should aim to shape young Kosovar people. Until now, to some extent, these programs have been designed to fulfill the working norm of teachers who receive among the highest salaries in the region, without any condition on their performance or quality. In cooperation with all the stakeholders in education, the government should finance study programs and support teachers who equip Kosovar citizens with both professional technical skills and contemporary knowledge, enabling them to understand how the state functions and to articulate critical thinking. 

"The government should increase the fund for scientific research."

Scholarship programs such as the “Young Cell Scheme,”  where the government finances studies abroad for young Kosovar people in top European universities, with the condition that after finishing their studies they come back and work for the state administration — should be increased as much as possible.

The government should increase the fund for scientific research. The reason why organizations such as ORCA insist that professors should have scientific publications is because to publish a paper in a scientific journal, they need to do a thorough literature review and use scientific tools that prove their papers’ results. Then, through the teaching process, they transmit this knowledge to their students, equipping them with the latest scientific and practical information and methods.

Rinor: The aspirations for a better education should be based on the value of knowledge, not on the value of money or diploma — this then spontaneously calls for responsibility and accountability. I do not believe much in a big and immediate change, but more in small changes that substantially affect the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms: A good textbook is essential for the students and does not take years but well-defined responsibilities that result in a good textbook. So, having small aspirations for our education system means having big aspirations that lead to effective changes for everyone in the education system.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mula / K2.0