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School's Out In Kosovo

The present situation in Kosovo makes learning impossible: there are no

pre-conflict 'parallel system' crumbled so quickly?

By Lulzim Mjeku in Pristina (BCR No. 96, 26-Nov-99)

With 70 percent of the total population in Kosovo below the age of 30,

education should be every administration in the province's priority.

Re-establishing the education system is not easy in this, the first school

year in free Kosovo, however. When 90 percent of schools reopened for the

new school year on October 25, not only were there no textbooks, no English

teachers and no salaries for staff, but there weren't that many pupils

willing to attend.

A donors' consortium has been established as part of the international

efforts to restore education in Kosovo, under the patronage of the UN

Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). This consortium has received funding to print

3.2 million copies of more than 200 different text books in Albanian, as

well as text books in Serbian, Bosnian and Turkish.

According to UNMIK, the books are already being printed, and they will soon

be distributed to the students, free of charge. This project is vital:

almost all Kosovo's libraries were ruined during the recent war and more

than 263,322 books were destroyed by the fire.

When the books turn up, however, they may not be any teachers. A week ago

there was a general teachers' strike, organised by the Unions of Education,

Science and Culture. The strike was prompted by the question of teachers'

unpaid salaries - staff have not been paid for a long time, and nobody

knows who is going to pay for their work.

Will the Bukoshi government in exile, which was well known for its skill in

collecting money from the diaspora, pay up? Or do the provisional Kosovo

government, the Provisional Council of Kosovo or the UNMIK have the funds?

The teachers' strike is nothing new. Several local strikes were also

organised in Podujevo, Gjilan, and Malisheve. Mark Richmond, the official

in charge of education for UNMIK and Halim Hyseni, director of the

elementary education department, went to visit Malishevo Commune.

They said that UNMIK and the ministry of education of the Thaci led

provisional government of Kosovo understood the reasons for the protest,

but could not justify the strike since it was undermining the teaching


Teachers are demanding the payment of their salaries on time. They also

want the delayed payments owed them by the Bukoshi government to be made as

soon as possible and to be paid proper salaries and not stipends (which

they consider social assistance).

Hyseni has said that the money will be paid, starting from January 1, 2000.

He told IWPR that "we should change the methods of teaching. The quality of

teaching and better opportunities for talented youngsters should be a


And it is not just a question of unpaid salaries. Less than a year ago,

finding a job as an English language teacher in an elementary or high

school in Pristina was really difficult. Nowadays, there are many vacancies

but no one applies for them.

Foreign language teachers are working for international organisations, and

the international administration in Kosovo. The English department of the

Philology Faculty cannot even provide diplomas for their students, since

the professors themselves are doing other jobs, sometimes as interpreters

with international organisations.

Every other job can provide a better living than teaching. Those teachers

who still go to their schools work under conditions which are unimaginable

for their colleagues in the west. The situation is worse in the hilly and

mountainous villages.

Hyseni, who has worked for many years in education, regrets that Kosovo

youngsters cannot have high quality education, not even in high school.

They fall victim to their oppressive environment: abandoning school and

one's talents is all too common in Kosovo. Even university students do not

really want to go back to their lecture halls.

Worse than this, it is financially difficult for children to return to

school. Kosovo families nowadays need more income and they need their

children to work. Former KLA members have returned to their destroyed

houses, but many do not intend to go back to their schools.

The Austrian NGO World University Service (WUS) and the International

Organisation for Migration have planned some support for 300 students who

had joined the KLA and now want to go back to their studies.

They hoped to be able to provide the students with 200 marks a month for a

six month period, but "until now the funds have been secured only for the

first month", said Reinhard Sterlicka, WUS Austria's Pristina office head.

Even though this project is supposed to provide 360,000 marks, only 60,000

marks has been secured.

The parallel education system in Kosovo was the pride of the Albanian

peaceful resistance in Kosovo. Human rights activists from all over the

world visited the house-schools and shared their philosophies and

experiences of peaceful resistance with the students and teachers.

Today, teachers from Kosovo need to exchange experiences with their western

colleagues. The first step in educational reform, says Hyseni, should be

"the organisation of training courses from our colleagues from western


Lulzim Mjeku is an editor at Blue Sky Radio in Pristina.

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