How do we educate for life? - Kosovo 2.0
In-depth | Education

How do we educate for life?

Learners and educators have their say.

By - 31.10.2019

Throwing caps into the air on graduation day can feel like throwing behind you a long life focused on education and learning. Liberated from the pressure of passing exams, from that moment on graduates hastily strive to find a place in the terribly competitive labor market. 

But does the process of learning end with the last page of the final draft of the thesis?

Around the world, many people have started to discuss the idea of education for life — for the necessity to keep adding to your knowledge in a continuous process of learning. 

The concept of education for life recognizes learning that happens beyond formal education: in different environments and situations, from learning at home to learning in offices and the common spaces of the community, not limited to work skills or intellectual information.

In Kosovo, where the education system is just about in ruins, due to the dire need for an intervention of salvation, discussions about the efficiency of curricula, reforms and preparation for the labor market are always prevalent. 

Is there space to add a dimension to the system that while touching upon these issues, simultaneously embeds a belief in the importance of education for life, where people continue to develop and learn new things about the world that surrounds them until they are old?

We don’t have direct answers to what path may lead to such a system. But we’ve spoken to nine people, from the age of 10 to 61 to see what they think. 

Through their perspectives, we attempt to understand the meaning of the idea of education for life. Their answers are a good starting point for reflection.

After almost 15 years of working and studying in the United Kingdom and Denmark, Jehona returned to Kosovo to establish TOKA, an organization that aims to improve Kosovar society through focusing on education and young people. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the London School of Economics in political science.

Jehona says that quick changes in professional and social circumstances make it impossible to know what skills people will need in a few years time. She adds that the objective of education today shouldn’t be to learn by rote, but should rather be focused on critical thought, problem solving, cooperation with others, self-confidence and good work ethics. 

“Formal education in Kosovo fails to develop these skills, thus interactive methods of education are necessary,” she says.

Considering that knowledge is all around us, Lulzim Bucolli says that learning spaces cannot and must not be limited. Practicing what he preaches, the teaching artist uses theater and games to teach various skills, often in some of Kosovo’s most marginalized communities.

Lulzim says that knowledge should be distributed, dissected and analyzed in creative and attractive ways, because when the process of learning becomes boring, then willingness to learn reduces. When imagination is encouraged, students and teachers are motivated.

He describes an ideal learning environment as one in which there is lots of interaction, encouragement of critical thought, analysis, discussion, movement, experimentation, review of objectives, empathy, and deepening of theory and practice.

“It’s not that some of us educate and other are educated, we are all the latter,” he says. “Educators should not set off from a fixated idea, but should implement an approach that can be changed to fit the needs of each student.”

“Education is, or at least it should be, learning to ask questions.”

- Lulzim Bucolli

Merita Shala has a master’s degree in sociology and has worked in education for a decade, firstly as an English teacher and then as a middle school sociology teacher. For Shala, in addition to preparing people for work, the essence of an education that provides equal opportunities should be the development of personality and teaching people to manage different situations.

She says that formal and informal education have a duty to enable creative and critical thought in students, but also to encourage active citizenship, to teach them about issues such as the environment and cultural heritage.

Another way of doing this is through documentary films, she adds. Shala was herself part of DokuFest’s Documentary Film School in 2018, and is now working on a manual that will serve other teachers who want to use documentary films in schools.

“The experience of integrating documentary films in teaching and learning has helped us to expand our sentiments, empathy, solidarity, exposure to issues and innovation, which encourages the development and use of technology,” she says.

Indrit Ferati, a student in the Faculty of Arts, took the initiative to functionalize the cinema hall at the university facilities, seeing that the department lacked funding to implement this idea itself. With a grant acquired from ORCA, he brought together a group of volunteers who completely transformed the previously abandoned space.

“Our objective is to bring students to life and to encourage them to be political, through activities and especially through the use of films,” he says.

For Indrit, voluntary work that is done for the university is not completely voluntary, but is a safe investment that will benefit society in the future.

He says that education cannot be limited within or outside of the institution, rather both of these areas should complement one another.

“The institution cannot be complete if it is not challenged from outside,” he says. “The ability to help the institution from outside should be learnt within the institution itself.”

“University spaces should only be utilized for the purpose of acquiring knowledge.”

- Indrit Ferati

While she was attending primary school in Vushtrri in 1990, Merita Xhema thought that earning A grades meant that she was learning. In 1997, she migrated to the Netherlands and soon realized that there are systems of education, but also cultures — of locals and immigrants — that are different to what she was accustomed to.

In the noughties, she returned to Prishtina where she studied English Language and Literature, but in the years immediately after graduating ended up working in unrelated fields. She later worked as an English language teacher for seven years, holding training in public institutions for people who wanted to migrate abroad, an experience that, coupled with the birth of her first child, made her rethink many of life’s dimensions.

“It was impossible for me to fight the fear of whether or not I would manage to properly educate my daughter, even with all these years of experience,” she says. “Maida and I grew up together, and I realized that I was learning every day along this path.”

In the following years, she attended different trainings, from ones that lasted for one day, to ones that lasted for months. One such training was on social media management, which enabled her to work online as a freelancer. After giving birth to her second daughter, and pausing her work for a year, she decided she wanted to change career path once again.

“Learning means continuing to live.”

- Merita Xhema

Maida Xhema is Merita’s eldest daughter. The 10-year-old fifth grade pupil says that she started her education when she was 13 months old — during her first day of kindergarten.

“I learned from my parents and teacher that education is very important for life,” she says. “But sometimes they ask us, what is education, in fact? Is it waking up early, going to school, doing homework, studying for tests? The word education sounds quite big.”

Maida says that in kindergarten, education for her implied “learning to make friends, to share things, to stay seated even when you want to stand up, to love your teacher.”

Maida’s first hobby was ballet and she went to ballet school for many years. For a short while, she was also interested in acting. Now she likes technology. She learned the basics of programming at the Digital School, often being the only girl in class. Now she is seeking other activities.

“My mom calls it puberty, while I’m just trying to find myself,” she says.

Darsej Riza is one of the co-founders of the Digital School, which provides information technology courses for young children.

Highlighting technological education as a worldwide necessity, as well as the fact that Europe today has over 700,000 vacant “software engineer / programmer” positions, he says that the Digital School was created as a consequence of a global gap for proper technological education for younger generations.

“Limiting an individual’s education in such a way that they are able to learn only from educational institutions is one of the biggest mistakes we can make in today’s world,” he says.

Darsej says that learning should not be a competition for grades, but for knowledge. He believes it is important to absorb the culture of learning, development, critical thought and problem solving. 

“These techniques prepare youths for Industry 4.0, in which automatization is expected to lead a labor revolution in which many new professions will be created, and many will disappear,” he says.

Violeta Smajlaj is 61 years old and has just earned a master’s degree in European Studies, having returned to university studies after more than two decades. She finished her bachelor’s studies in 1987.

In her studies, she made presentations, acquired better computer skills and kept up with others — even though this whole experience was quite different to the work she does at the National Audit Office. Being among much younger students, she was even more encouraged, as she was surrounded by their knowledge and skills.

“The development of society, technology and other conditions around us requires us to keep up, because we must be useful for our society and ourselves,” she says.

“Education must not rest, because all that we’ve learned so far is not sufficient for our whole lives.”

- Violeta Smajlaj

Rinor Qehaja founded Kosovo’s first independent think tank devoted to education research and advocacy in 2015 after seeing how quickly education is developing and fearing that Kosovar students risked being left behind.

He believes that while it is essential that students develop the skills that benefit their career development, it is intellectual flexibility that makes people most attractive to employers, regardless of experience or formal education. To this end, Rinor believes that continuous education needs to be on every young person’s mind and part of everyone’s work, while self- and peer-reflection are essential.

Such continuous education isn’t simply limited to formal learning in classrooms and universities for Rinor, however. “I very much believe in online learning communities, as a great tool for continuous education, where people are exposed to the most updated and advanced content of knowledge,” he says.