Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

School's Out In Kosovo

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

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


process.


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


priority."


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


Europe".


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