As our week progressed, we gained a fairly clear picture of the state of the educational system in this new country and there is really only one word to describe it: bad. Schools are unbelievably poor, the teachers are woefully trained, and corruption is widespread. Facilities are so limited that students attend school in three shifts: morning, mid-day, and afternoon. Each class is only 40 minutes long and not every subject is taught every day. One principle explained to us that his school can't test students because they didn't have a copier. Despite his repeated requests to the ministry of education, no copier has been provided for teachers to run off worksheets and tests.
The state of the educational system in Kosovo is not a reflection of the people. The Albanians are wonderfully warm and hospitable. Those who have been educated elsewhere are very intelligent. The teachers that I spent time with had a great desire to reach students. They were hungry to improve their teaching skills. The disarray of the educational system is due to several generations of war and conflict with Serbia. Many years of communism also stripped the older generation of the ability to think critically. Today's teachers were educated in basements and back alleyways because school was outlawed. Today's teen-agers were young children when the Serbians, under their leader Slobodan Milosevic, systematically killed many of the Albanian men. The memory and trauma of the late 1990's has significantly impacted this generation.
Great excitement and hope is building for the new generation, especially for the students who are currently in first grade. These students are known as the "freedom class" because they are the first group of students to be educated after the independence of Kosovo. It is this generation which will make or break Kosovo.
Visiting a foreign country always teaches me something about my own country. Despite our complaints and aggravations about the American education system, we should be very grateful for how good we have it. Educational technology is non-existent in Kosovo; they don't even have a copier! The next time I am tempted to complain about how hard teacher is, I'm going to look at this picture and remember the struggles and challenges of the teachers in Kosovo.
For complete details about my trip to Kosovo including video of Kosovo's first day of independence (Feb. 17) and of the Kosovo schools, please visit my travel blog.