It may take only a few minutes to snap a photograph to commemorate the beginning of the school year, but the experiences and skills acquired during school days — which inadvertently become part of those shots — have a crucial impact throughout life.
In Kosovo, during those formative years in the primary and secondary education systems, teachers in most cases encourage learning things by heart, students drown in theoretical lessons and critical thinking, and human rights and civic education are almost completely cast to the sidelines. Examination-related stress is systematic and frequent curricular changes only add fuel to the fire. Moreover, students are under constant pressure to get high grades in every subject with the promise that they will become “distinguished students.”
These pieces of education foster the career decisions that every young person needs to make. At first glance, these decisions ideally may seem to be based on a pursuit of affinity, listening to one’s inner voice and, ordinarily, the needs of the market — it is a similar situation even in countries much more developed than Kosovo. But how much do schools and social circumstances allow for listening to this voice and tapping into individual potential?
To illustrate the answer to this, we need to consider the pieces that the educational system in Kosovo traditionally administers to their students.
The standard of being a “distinguished student” with the highest possible grades marks the beginning of the inanity of career guidance. The atmosphere of this unwritten rule is noticeable in the praise of teachers, the pride of parents, the inadequacy felt by other students and the neutralization of tendencies and desires to study certain subjects. by the “distinguished student.” Although this may not seem meaningful in the fourth or fifth grade, it has the potential to produce significant chain reactions as a consequence.
The same is true of the transition from primary to middle school (grades six through nine). The change from having one teacher to many can be traumatic for students in the sixth grade, who among other things begin to enter adolescence, know themselves and build self-regard and aspirations for life.
The lack of systematic career education during this period is extremely significant. I call it systematic because the selection of students who have a passion for writing and decide to read poems for the School Day (an annual celebratory event to mark the founding anniversary of a school), or are skilled at math and participate in municipal competitions, is only a motivating and temporal phase of the support that teachers should offer in students’ career orientation.
Unfortunately, this is followed by other obstacles, such as the infrequent organization of the aforementioned activities, unequal chances of students to participate in these contests and nonattendance of students in order to have time to prepare for tests and get satisfactory grades for parents.
This culminates in the ninth grade, when students select secondary education schools. For most of them this is done in an unhealthy way. Because of the lack of career orientation, many students do not know what they want to do, and this has created the dominant perception that “successful” students go to gymnasiums while “unsuccessful” students go to vocational schools. Consequently, students often choose to continue schooling based on their parents’ or society’s expectations.
A similar rhythm continues in high school, beginning with the transition into a new environment with different teachers and social circles and ending with stress over points earned in the State Matura Exam, which are decisive for opening, or not, the path toward the desired study program.
This way of organizing the educational process and building of skills, along with the lack of consultatory career centers, psychologists and school programs that would invest in students’ potential and talents, leaves high school graduates totally unprepared to decide their future.
Trying to understand my peers’ thoughts on this, I started skimming through the UNICEF U-Report platform in Kosovo, which provides a space for the youth to express their opinions on topics that interest them.
Regarding professional career counselling, the survey — conducted in February of this year — shows that 39% of 1,937 respondents did not undergo any assessment of their skills, 35% of them performed a self-assessment, 14% did the assessment with the support of their employers, and only 12% with the support of a trainer or mentor.
Nevertheless, following one’s talents seems not to be enough for a career choice; students are also forced not to follow their affinities and desires because of fear of unemployment and poverty. This is the next consequence of the lack of career education, which exposes the disconnect between the education system and the labor market demands and leads to underdevelopment of in-demand job skills.
This stagnation is also reflected by youth answers in the U-Report platform, declaring that they feel less prepared to find employment opportunities (37%), determine what kind of jobs they are looking for (15%), write their CVs (10%) and succeed in the interviewing phase (8%). Only 30% of U-Reporters declare that they are confident when applying for a job.
When asked what the biggest barrier is to getting the job they want, 31% of them answer the lack of necessary connections or networks, 20% the process of searching and applying for jobs, 14% knowing what skills are needed, and another 14% the development of required skills.
The youth is part of the solution
For those who do not know the realities for youth in Kosovo, it might be unpleasant to read U-Reporters’ answers. It can only be imagined how many thousands of young people share the same opinions. Differently from U-Reporters, even if they want to express their concerns, they might be discouraged by thinking that it would be impossible to address them, or they would not be addressed in a way that would produce the necessary changes.
Many students are forced to make the wrong choice — being silent instead of raising their voice, following conventional traditions of career disorientation that make them feel unhappy about what they do. In addition, because of the pandemic — which besides forcing schooling to move online, has increased uncertainty about the future — young people who need to choose their careers have found themselves at a complex crossroads.
Thus, career orientation is important for saving young people not only from studying something they are not interested in but also from difficult economic conditions as a result of unemployment. The harmonious functioning of societal links is necessary in order to enable young people to shine in their talents without being afraid of unemployment or unaware of their potential.
One of the steps that would help solve the enigma of career orientation is listening to and accounting for youth voices. This is equally important for any other process that affects the youth because they are the best experts on the challenges they face everyday. We must provide them with a space for expression and take institutional measures to address their concerns.
U-Report is one of the few platforms that systematically listens to youth voices. This article, inspired by the responses of U-Reporters, is an example that shows how youth voices can be amplified when we come together.
So if you also feel that your voice needs to be heard, that it is not echoing in the right place, join the community of 7,000 U-Reporters by registering via Viber or Messenger. Let’s provide solutions to issues concerning our future.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.