Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


December 2nd, 2009 54 comments

Written by Joe Linstroth with additional reporting by Vullnet Malazogu

Photography by Evan Martin


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KAMENICA, KOSOVO — Diplomatic disputes have largely replaced gunfire in Kosovo, which is ten years removed from war, and currently one of the most crucial battlefields is education.

At the Maksimovic primary school in Kamenica, an ethnically diverse city in eastern Kosovo, 170 Serb and Roma students are taught that Kosovo is still part of Serbia. The Serb government in Belgrade provides the school’s curricula, as well as the faculty’s salaries.

“There is no trust,” said Zoran Pejcev, the school’s director, through a translator. “We don’t know that if we leave the government of Serbia we can trust the Kosovo government will accept us, that they will give us wages, that they will integrate a new system. There is so much hesitation.”

In an adjacent building just thirty yards across a cracked asphalt playground, ethnic Albanian children are taught that Kosovo is now an independent state. The ethnic Albanian leadership in Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, and the curricula designed by the new government’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) emphasizes the historical moment.

These parallel education systems threaten to further entrench ethnic divisions in the territory, where NATO troops, international observers and aid organizations have remained since the war’s conclusion to maintain peace and assist with rebuilding the territory’s infrastructures. Kosovo’s future political and economic stability, many here say, depends on the governments in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, and Belgrade to find a compromise on many issues, not least of which is education. Most of Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians live, work and go to school in isolation from each other. Without education reform — without some movement toward reconciliation happening in the classrooms among the future generations — the long-term strength of Kosovo as a state will likely remain tenuous at best. So far, little progress has been made.

“There is no motivation for either side to integrate,” said Oliver Schmidt-Gutzat, head of the Department of Human Rights and Communities for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo. Last April, Schmidt-Gutzat’s department released a report that, in part, criticized the lack of progress toward integration in Kosovo’s schools.

Serbs like Vlasta Simic said they are caught in the middle of a political game between the governments in Belgrade and Pristina.

“Like tennis,” said Simic, whose family has lived in Kamenica for four generations. A printer by trade, he has been unemployed for three years. His wife, Jadranka, works at the Belgrade-funded Serb municipality in Kamenica. The Serb institutions – mostly local municipalities, health care facilities, and schools – are the few places, he said, where Kosovo Serbs can find jobs.

“A lot of wages come from Serbia, from Belgrade,” he said. “But in the end, I don’t feel any of them, this government in Kosovo or the government in Serbia cares about us.”

But until the political situation is resolved, Simic said he would be hesitant to send his two children, who attend the Maksimovic school, to another school with Albanian children to learn from a curriculum designed by the Kosovo government.

“The situation that we are living in at the moment, if one Serb does that then I would be like a black sheep,” he said. “All the families need to accept it. It comes back to politics. The fish smells from the head.”

Simic’s sentiment is not an isolated one. The international organization Save the Children has been trying to integrate Kosovo’s Serb and Albanian children through its Mozaik project since 2006 with little success. The project aims to create a multicultural preschool model and has six programs in five municipalities. The goal of the project is to breakdown the ethnic divisions before they form by fostering an environment where children from different ethnic backgrounds can just play together. The ones in Kamenica and Oblic, another town with a sizeable Serb minority population, focus on integrating Serb and Albanian children. While they have waitlists for the programs at other sites targeting the Bosniak and Turkish minorities, the project managed to only attract three Serbian children last year. Rrezearta Zhinipotoku, Save the Children’s advocacy and communications coordinator in Kosovo, said ideally the project would have ten Serbian children and ten Albanian children at each of the two sites. Attracting Albanian parents has not been a problem, she said.

While frameworks exist — namely the Bologna Process and the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, more commonly known as the Ahtisaari Plan — to guide Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians toward a compromise, both sides have yet to agree to recognize the other’s diplomas, much less institute a second-language curriculum or integrate classrooms.

“The framework would be there if everybody would adhere to it,” Schmidt-Gutzat said. “Again, there is no willingness to sit together and find practical solutions because this would be seen as a recognition.”

Diploma recognition is at the heart of the dispute. For Belgrade, recognition of diplomas issued by Kosovo’s Ministry of Education would signal an acceptance of independence, which it has refused to do. Many Kosovo Serbs fear losing access to Serbian universities, especially when their only option in Kosovo for higher education is at the university in Mitrovica, the ethnically-divided city in northern Kosovo, which also refuses to acknowledge diplomas issued by MEST.

“There is not a motivation for Serbs or any others who want to follow the curriculum here if their diplomas here are not recognized in Serbia,” said Schmidt-Gutzat. “It’s political, but it’s a fact.”

The first step is the development of a Serbian curriculum that is agreeable to MEST officials. According to Kosovo law, the government is required to provide education in both of its official languages, Albanian and Serbian. MEST officials, however, said it is up to Kosovo Serb representatives to participate in the curricula’s design.

“Imagine the situation if we write the curricula, if we approve it and send it to them to implement,” said Kushtrim Badrami, head of the ministry’s Center for International Cooperation on Education, Research and Technology. “You know what the reason would be that they do not implement it? ‘Who are you to tell us about our curricula.’ To prevent this, we say come on, sit down and write this curricula.”

The Ahtisaari Plan, which was brokered by the former Finnish President and Nobel laureate Mahti Ahtisaari in 2007, established a framework for the implementation of Serbian education curricula. It allows the use of Belgrade-designed curricula in Kosovo Serb schools, but they must go through MEST for approval. For subjects such as mathematics and science, there would likely be little dispute, but it is in the areas of history, language and culture that will prove difficult to find mutual agreement.

Anticipating this, the plan outlines the formation of an independent commission that consists of three Kosovo Serb representatives, three Kosovar Albanians, and one member appointed by the International Civilian Organization (ICO) to review all Serb curricula and ensure they conform with the Kosovo constitution. The commission’s decisions are rendered by majority vote.

“This commission should have been established long ago. The ICO pushed, it was established officially in April of this year, two days before the publication of our report, and the commission has not met a single time,” said Schmidt-Gutzat in a July interview.

Christophe Pradier, who is the ICO-appointed member of the commission, stressed patience.

“We are at the beginning of the process,” he said in August. But he added that there is a September 2010 deadline to review the Serb curricula and propose some revisions.

Even if the conditions outlined in the Ahtisaari Plan are met, they would seem to further entrench ethnic divisions.

“The existing rights, even if properly implemented, are not an advantage for integration and you can still have separate education systems,” said Schmidt-Gutzat. “If you don’t put an obligation to learn the [other] official language then you, to some extent, support segregation.”

Continued segregation could have long-term consequences for both sides.

MEST officials said they saw little need for Kosovo Albanian students to learn the Serbian language.

“Of course, it’s good to know one more language but there are not real benefits,” said Enesa Kadic, head of the Division of Communities and Gender, which handles minority education issues for Kosovo’s Ministry of Education.

Yet with unemployment hovering above 40 percent and a trade deficit of 900 million euros during the first half of this year, Kosovo cannot afford to further isolate itself from the regional economy.

“There is a whole generation now from 30 [years old], or maybe even a bit younger, that doesn’t speak any kind of Serbo-Croatian anymore, and they are surrounded by countries that speak this language, except for Albania,” said Schmidt-Gutzat. “So for them it is a loss because they are not able anymore to communicate with their neighbors.”

For Kosovo’s Serbs, long-term segregation could mean a significant reduction in their population, especially in enclaves south of the Ibar River, which forms a natural boundary between the predominantly Serb north and the mostly ethnic Albanian south. Already, many Kosovo Serb students who continue their education matriculate to universities in Serbia. With the scarcity of jobs in Kosovo and the students’ inability to communicate in Albanian, the territory’s dominant language, many of Kosovo’s best and brightest Serbs do not return home.

“Many of the university students would like to come back, but there are not many job opportunities for them – there is nothing to offer them,” said Pejcev, the Serb school director in Kamenica.

Integration in Kosovo’s schools is an unrealistic goal, most here say. The level of optimism varies as to whether the two sides will find any common ground on education reform in the near future. The one thing Kosovo’s Serbs, Albanians and international observers do agree on, however, is that dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade must begin in order for a viable state, one that can support all of its citizens, to emerge.

“The war happened ten years ago,” said Pejcev, sitting in his sparse office. “But now there is a political war that has gone on since then and that political war needs to end in order for us to have better lives.”