Kosovo: Serb Schools in Doldrums

Serbian schools in Kosovo suffering from a lack properly qualified teachers.

Kosovo: Serb Schools in Doldrums

Serbian schools in Kosovo suffering from a lack properly qualified teachers.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

"Well, you don't have to know everything!" said an English teacher to a curious student at a Kosovo Serb school who only asked how to say "shoelace" in English.

It's not the most professional reply, but, then, the teacher and his colleagues are not the most professional group of educators. They don't know very much and, it seems, they're not expected to know very much.

The teacher in question - let us call him VD - wasn't being rude necessarily, and it is not as if he didn't want to answer the question during his English language class. He simply didn't know the answer.

Like many teachers in Serb schools in Kosovo, VD is not qualified. A civil engineering student, he started teaching English in Kosovo simply because there was no one else to do it.

VD's case is a typical example of the quality of local education for Serb children, who are frequently taught by the likes of locksmiths, shoemakers and other craftsmen.

The system is simply short of people willing teach in the region - and this despite above-average salaries for those willing to do so.

Out of 1303 primary and high schools in Kosovo, currently 20,000 pupils in 108 schools have classes in Serbian language.

After the province became an international protectorate in 1999, the local education ministry was officially placed in charge of schooling in Kosovo - its work overseen by the international community.

However, Kosovo's primary and secondary schools using Serbian as the language of instruction are still within the jurisdiction of the Serbia's education ministry in Belgrade, to the annoyance of its Pristina counterpart.

The two authorities tussle over control of the Serbian schools, often leaving the poorly qualified teachers confused over how and what they should teach. It's no surprise that children's education is suffering.

Belgrade officials are unlikely to cede responsibility for the schools to Pristina because their involvement scores important political points with the Serbian electorate, by creating the impression they are looking after the Kosovo Serbs.

Indeed, Belgrade pays teachers prepared to work in Kosovo double what they would earn in Serbia proper. The latter also get a separate salary from the internationally-supported Pristina education ministry, which is keen to show that it's long term plan is to integrate what it regards as a "parallel" school system.

For Serbs, the strong pay package should be a very alluring reason to seek employment in the protectorate, but it doesn't seem to be enough to attract qualified teachers.

Smiljka Milosavljevic, the Serbian official in charge of primary and secondary education in Kosovo, told IWPR about their recruiting difficulties.

"If no qualified applicants apply for the job when applications are invited, whoever applies gets the job, regardless of whether the applicant is qualified for the position," she said.

Many are frightened off by the security problems facing Serbs in Kosovo. Some teachers travel over 20 kilometres to their workplace each day, escorted by Kosovo Protection Forces, KFOR.

As a result of the poor quality of education, the expectations of Serbian children are very low. It is sadly common that fifth grade pupils still cannot read.

The situation is slightly better in the far north of Kosovo, in the Leposavic municipality, which was largely unaffected by the convulsions of 1999. Here, the teaching staff remains more or less unchanged. But this is the exception.

For many Serb teachers in Kosovo, the extra salary is certainly welcome, but the attraction is fleeting.

Slobodanka Bulajic, an English language teacher who comes from Pristina, lived in Serbia for two years after the clashes, without a chance of getting a job in her profession. She currently works in Kosovo, but has no intentions of staying there.

Like most Serbs employed in local education, she will leave once the job is no longer profitable. "I am primarily here in order to provide for myself and my children," she said.

Tatjana Matic is an IWPR contributor. Olivera Stojanovic is a freelance journalist based in northern Mitrovica.

Serbia, Kosovo
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