Educational challenges in Kosovo

Written by Veronica Grazzi

Located in the center of the Balkans, Kosovo is mostly known for its turbulent historical and political events. With its 1.8 million inhabitants, Kosovo has experienced many conflicts and declarations of independence, including changes in government and policy shifts. After separating from Serbia in 2008, the country faces numerous challenges in education, where a lot of obstacles prevent the creation of a consistent and inclusive system.

Because of the conflict, international intervention and post-conflict funds were channeled through the country through the international UN Interim Mission to Kosovo (UNMIK). Education was perceived as one of the ways to contain the conflict between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian imaginaries of Kosovo’s nationhood, so the international community opted for a divided education system.

Today, Kosovo is experiencing substantial reforms in its higher education system. This transformation includes the establishment and growth of higher education institutions, including nine public and twenty-two private universities. While significant improvements have been made, persistent issues continue to hinder the development of a robust and inclusive educational system.

Ethnic Divides and Integration

One component which is normally not missing from any narrative of a nation’s history is that of a nation’s origin or foundation.”

The discursive construction of National Identity, 2009

This citation very well applies to Kosovo; the basis for the current nationalistic discourse in Serbia and Kosovo lies in the various historical interpretations of the contested area of Kosovo.

The society in Kosovo is divided along ethnic lines, and this is evident also in Kosovo’s education system. Up until 1980, Kosovo’s educational system was a component of the old Yugoslavian system. The 1999 Kosovo War left strong antagonism between Albanian and Serbs communities, hampering the creation of an integrated and harmonious educational environment.

More specifically, to avoid further clashes, while Kosovo Serb pupils are taught in schools overseen by the Serbian government, Kosovo Albanian students and other non-Serb minorities attend state institutions of the Republic of Kosovo. The two groups not only follow two distinct curricula, but also they don’t interact or communicate with one another. This results in an obstacle for collaboration among the younger generations, and more in general for the rebuilding of solid peaceful-coexistence process.

Evidence suggests that the existing national curricula in the education systems of Serbia and Kosovo are motivated by sociopolitical and nationalistic ideologies that legitimize the narrative of contested victimization. Both systems do not objectively address historical events, present only one side of the story, and actively work to promote a positive image of the corresponding ethnic group.

Especially in universities, the division follows the political lines and becomes stronger, with opposite visions over the future policies.

Inclusive education

In the Kosovo Education Strategy Plan 2021-2025 launched by the Ministry of Education, providing access to equal and quality education is not only a priority but also a challenge.

Kosovo is among the Balkan countries where girls and boys aged 0-6 have fewer opportunities to attend pre-school education. According to research published by KOMF – a coalition of 29 NGOs dedicated to child protection – only 4.8 per cent of children between the ages of 0 and 4 attend nurseries or kindergartens. The percentage rises to 90 per cent in the 5-6 age group.

According to UNMIK, in 2019 38,000 children with disabilities were not attending schools. Social norms are the first step in this process, as they have the tendency to stigmatize individuals with disabilities. From there, structural barriers like inadequate transportation, inaccessible classrooms, and a lack of specialized support follow. UNMIK reported interesting data about which are the causes according to the young population; society’s mentality (39%), lack of cash benefits (22%), lack of services (14%), and lack of inclusive legislation and policies (14%).

Across all educational levels, inclusive education in Kosovo faces numerous obstacles. Rural locations have low pre-school attendance because of perceived travel distance and indifference. In an analysis promoted by the Kosovo 2.0 portal, it was revealed that most kindergartens are located in cities and few are located in rural areas. This is also partly related to the lack of coherent and coordinated actions between central and local authorities. There are no public transport services to take girls and boys to the kindergartens closest to their residence.

Increasing parent awareness, increasing the number of pre-school classes offered, and enhancing transportation services are some ways that can be used to increase participation. Even though basic education (grades 1–9) is required, up to 25% of students drop out, especially in villages that have satellite schools. Travel distance, females’ security concerns, and budgetary limitations are obstacles. Enrollment rates for secondary education are lower in rural areas than in metropolitan ones, indicating a preference for gymnasiums over vocational institutions. Vocational education reform is essential, and household finances and travel distance have a role in secondary school selection.

With a few notable exceptions, like the prosperous agricultural school in Lipjan, the rural economy, which has been influenced by previous industrial collapse and conflict, affects interest in agricultural vocational schools. Sustaining interest in hands-on training programs and matching educational offerings to changing rural economic demands are continuing difficulties.

High Dropout Rates and Unemployment

High dropout rates are a problem in Kosovo, especially for secondary school. Youth unemployment is a result of both economic difficulties and a mismatch between the skills taught in schools and those required by the job market. This problem is made worse by the poor options for vocational training, which leaves many young people without the skills needed to find work and feeds the cycle of economic stagnation. Kosovo’s economic problems, such as high jobless rates and a faltering economy, have an impact on the educational system. The availability of educational materials, teacher pay, and the quality of education can all be impacted by a lack of funds and resources.

Adults in rural areas report having less access to education, while non-formal education is mostly concentrated in urban areas and occurs occasionally. In order to close the educational gap that exists for adults and youth who are not in school, lifelong learning programs, government backing, and private sector engagement in capacity building and self-employment promotion in rural areas are required. Continued funding from NGOs is essential to keeping up capacity-building initiatives in these communities.

Public Spending in Education

The state budget dedicated to pre-school education, according to a recent Kosovo 2.0 study, has not changed much in recent years. It increased from €14 million in 2017 to €17 million in 2019 and then, in 2020, it dropped to €16 million. In its annual report on Kosovo in 2020, the European Commission pointed out that the shortcomings of Kosovo’s education system – also highlighted by the PISA tests – were also to be attributed to the low inclusion of children in pre-school education.

The demands of the labor market are not being sufficiently met by the educational system. Compared to middle-income nations with similar age demographics, Kosovo invests 4.7% of its GDP on education; nonetheless, the amount spent on elementary and secondary education per student is comparatively low. This is mostly due to the high student-teacher ratio, which is twice as high as the EU average, and the high cost of teacher wages.

Primary school enrollment rates are high, at 96%, and secondary school enrollment rates are high, at 88.1%. However, low PISA scores and relatively high unemployment rates for postsecondary graduates (19.2% in Q2 2018) when compared to the EU indicate deficiencies in the relevance and caliber of education. In the early stages of reforming the vocational education system, the condition of vocational education training (VET) schools is being examined. Nowadays, research expenditures account for a small 0.1% of GDP. Following the inauguration of a new Ministry of Innovation in 2018, two regional innovation centers were awarded a grant of EUR 1.1 million for specialized labs and equipment.

Possible Government Actions

Some improvements can be noted in the field of education. The enrollment rate at all levels is increasing, but it is still significantly below the average, and a lot of young Roma and Ashkali do not reach higher levels of education. In this academic year, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has increased the number of scholarships for Roma, Ashkali (and Egyptian) students from 500 to 600, and has also allocated funds to learning centers that were previously primarily funded by donors.

Promoting Inclusive Education: The government should encourage integrated classrooms that bring together pupils from many ethnic origins as a proactive way to promote inclusivity. The younger generation may become more united as a society and help heal divisions through cultural exchange and shared learning opportunities. Kosovo should prioritize implementing an inclusive education system in order to shield susceptible youth from radicalization. It has advanced somewhat, as seen by the development of a manual for instructors and the thorough training of educators (refer to the section on education). It is one of the active participants in the project for the Western Balkan Counter-Terrorism (WBCTi).

Investing in Infrastructure: A focused investment plan is necessary to address the gaps in infrastructure and resources. Funds allocated for modernizing classrooms, supplying instructional materials, and augmenting educational resources as a whole will help to build a more just and efficient educational system in both urban and rural regions.

Revamping Vocational Training Programs: Redesigning vocational training programs should be the government’s primary priority in order to address high dropout rates and youth unemployment. By matching these programs to industry demands and working together to offer real-world, hands-on experience, we can better prepare students for the workforce, which will lower unemployment rates and promote economic growth.

Building a robust educational system requires addressing historical differences, raising educational standards, encouraging inclusion, and addressing financial limits. Kosovo can set the stage for a society that is centered on knowledge, cooperation, and shared prosperity by making investments in its youth. Although the road ahead is still long, Kosovo can improve its educational system and create the groundwork for a better future by working together.

Cover Image by: Ben Wicks, 2018 via Unsplash


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