What is wrong with education in Kosovo? An update

Get this man to Kosovo

A while ago I wrote an article proposing, seriously, that Kosovo becomes the first European country to abolishe its summer vacations. You find it here. The argument was that Kosovo needs a BHAG (a big hairy ambitious goal) to change its international image and to focus on a major problem it faces in the field of education:

“A BHAG transforms or (re)defines a country’s image when it changes local realities in a way that even a critical visitor – the foreign correspondent of a leading international paper, for instance – will accept as impressive. The key is that the policy idea is both fresh and sound and can actually be implemented. It precedes public relations. It is about creating the good story that can later be told.

Which brings me to a Big idea which I believe Europe’s youngest and poorest society, Kosovo, might do well to consider pursuing. It is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s last book (Outliers), as well as by ideas I had preparing recent presentations on Kosovo and the state of the Balkans in Vienna, in Valencia (for NATO parliamentarians) and at Harvard. For these I had to reread ESI reports and new material on the state of Kosovo. It was not encouraging reading, to put it mildly.

So here is the basic idea: Kosovo urgently needs to convince first its own citizens and then the world that it is serious about addressing one of its most crippling structural problems, a wide education achievement gap with the rest of Europe. It needs to do so urgently; with the limited resources it has at hand, it also needs to be innovative.

The basic problem is clear: today Kosovars are less well educated and less prepared to compete in the common European market than almost any other society in Europe. School enrolment rates (including at secondary level) are low and have not improved in the past four years. Two out of three young people leave the education system without any qualifications. More than 10 percent drop out of compulsory education. The vocational training system is in dire straits. And there is a lack of money, even if spending on education has increased as a percentage of GDP: it does not help that Kosovo’s GDP is in fact one of the lowest in Europe.”

The proposal was the following:

Kosovo should become the first country in Europe to abolish the long summer school vacation. Kosovo children should be able to spend more hours per day and more days per year in primary school than children anywhere else in the region. This additional time in school could be used to give Kosovo pupils one of the most solid basic educations in the region.

This proposal would address three major problems at once:

1. There is in fact a desperate shortage of space in Kosovo schools. As a number of recent reports noted, school infrastructure is stretched “almost to breaking point” (ETF country analysis, May 2008). The majority of schools in Kosovo operate in two shifts, and a significant minority even in three. Given the growth of Kosovo’s young population, demand for space will increase further.

So there is an urgent need to use space more efficiently. It seems a waste of resources to leave schools empty during the summer. It is also silly, given the need to import expensive energy, not to use the summer months for teaching as well.

2. At the same time, first shortening and then abolishing the long summer vacation could help young Kosovars catch up and – in some fields – overtake other European students, particularly when it comes to basic skills taught at primary school level.

One way to do this with limited resources would be to increase the number of hours and days students spend in primary and lower secondary school classes. Currently, due to space constraints, Kosovars probably spend less hours in school than pupils in most other parts of Europe. The goal should be to reverse this and to use any additional hours to increase teaching foreign languages and basic reading, writing and mathematic skills at an earlier age than in other countries in the region.

As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, citing the example of a public school in NY, the number of hours spent in school does matter a lot, particularly for those from a disadvantaged background.The tradition of a long summer vacation – “considered a permanent and inviolate feature of school life, like high school football or the senior prom” – is above all a problem for children from poorer families: it is vacation time that explains a large part of the “achievement gap” between richer and poorer children in different tests done in the US.”

For the full argument go here.

Now I received a very interesting comment by Hazel Slinn. Let me share it with you, in the hope that this debate continues:

“Your analyis is broadly speaking correct. However, the lack of progress is not only due to the lack of a BHAG. The Canadian government invested millions (six, I believe) in trying to establish a teacher education system and improved matters with the Ministry of Education. Last week I was in Kosova and it was as if they had never been there. Heartbreaking.

I would add something to your analysis, something that seems to be consistently overlooked – where and how is the space to be made for training the teachers? The Ministry of Education is excellent at producing intiatives. They produced, with the help of the Canadians, standards for teachers, stages for development, requirements and so forth. Policy papers as far as the eye could see. These were given to regional and local education officials who could then brandish them at semi-qualified, poorly paid teachers as a threat, that if they didn’t get qualified by the next school year, or the one after that, then they would have no job at all. However, there was no release to attend training, no scheme for requiring that the university should provide courses for teachers at weekends, or as you suggest, during holidays. Heaven forbid, one should ask a university employee (professor or cleaner) to be present at work when they can be earning money elsewhere. One of my close friends has been enrolled at the University of Prishtina for almost two decades – paying admin fees ever since 2000. The political problems, the war, the lack of money, the lack of time have all prevented her from graduating, so she risks losing her job every September because she is still unqualified, despite being a dedicated professional in everyone’s eyes except the authorities. She is not the only one. And because she is not qualified she is paid a pittance.

The example of Poland should be followed. They had a BHAG, back in 1990. They set themselves the target of training 20,000 language teachers for the year 2000. They were so successful they actually trained more and their language teaching these days is a model for all to admire. How did they do it? The required those of us working in higher education to train teachers in the evening and at weekends. We were paid a little extra for doing it, but it was only for the period of the project. Teachers in school had their timetables blocked so they had all their classes Mon-Thursday lunchtime. Thursdays – Saturdays they were ‘Ours’ – to do with as we wished, well not exactly, to train on a three year programme leading to a degree. Many went on later to add a Masters, which was not required, but they got quite into it.

Kosova is tiny compared to Poland, so why don’t they want to offer their teachers some proper training? It’s easier to hold power over them and make them feel afraid if they remain unqualified maybe? Sooner or later I hope someone will hear my voice. I have been suggesting this scheme since I first worked there in 2000. I sang this song to the UN Department of Education when they were running the show, I have tried to get someone in the Faculty of Education to understand the need to train those who are already in school and I have discussed it endlessly with teachers who are exhausted, underpaid and feeling inadequate.

I hope your idea for a BHAG works – perhaps one day someone will hear my plea. I hope I haven’t ranted too much – I do feel very strongly about this.”

4 Replies to “What is wrong with education in Kosovo? An update”

  1. In Kosovo, the capacities and institutional culture of policy evaluation are not up to the declared strategic goals. One of the most serious concerns is the issue of administrative capacity: policy making in the public institutions remains weak. It continues to be affected by political agendas, a chronic lack of adequate human resources, high turnover and insufficient implementation and monitoring capacities.
    In the case of Kosovo, an evidence-based VET policy review must take the importance of the country context fully into account. Kosovo must be seen as a post-conflict transition country with aspirations to European integration. For decades the education and training system has experienced deep crises and post-conflict traumas, where the logic of planning first and then implementing evidence-based policies is displaced by the need to tackle urgent issues, such as getting students into schools, reducing shifts from three to two (and ideally to one) and ensuring that all students have textbooks. Consequently the process of policy making cannot be anything else but both rational and non-linear.
    The policy-making process is distorted even more in an environment, such as Kosovo’s, in which there are many international donors and aid agencies, all of whom, though well-intentioned and committed, have their own views on what to reform in the given sector and how to do it. Sometimes they offer different and conflicting advice based on their own models and priorities (all of it evidence-based). This leads to even greater confusion in government VET policies.
    Because of the lack of institutional capacity, different donor approaches can sometimes hamper the consolidation of evidence-based policy making. Here, a policy learning approach that develops national capacities to inform policies by drawing lessons from the available evidence and experience is necessary. This includes the capacity of Kosovo institutions and policy makers to learn from their own experience and from that of other countries.
    However, so far there has not been a stocktaking review of the impact of the VET policies already implemented, and there is not enough analysis to enable understanding of (i) to what extent the VET policies achieved their objectives, and (ii) if they did not achieve or only partially achieved them, the reasons this, so as to be able to realign policies and measures to the desired outcomes. In the absence of monitoring and evaluation, policies may be failing without anyone knowing it. For instance, there is a concern that stakeholders are not fully involved in discussions before policy decisions are made. It is also the case that in general no sound evidence is provided for policy maintenance, succession or termination.
    At present, there are no systematic school-to-work transition surveys done in Kosovo and only some tracer studies and anecdotal evidence may indicate the relevance of VET provision to current labour market and economic needs. Due to lack of comprehensive data on gross and net enrolment rates at each level, there is very difficult to see how successful the VET system has been in addressing such challenges.
    There are many current efforts to improve the functionality and reporting of the Kosovo Education Management Information System (EMIS). The efforts to organise school based reporting and access to the central system and reporting is being accompanied with the reorganisation of the structure of the system, both at municipal, inspectorate and the central level.
    These are some of these elements to be born in mind while speaking about the evidence-based policy making in Kosovo. While speaking about ETF partner countries, Kosovo included, sometimes the theoretical approaches to policy making and implementation appear to be dogmatic by not accepting that the process of policy making can be both rational and linear. What matters most in the implementation process is the different stakeholders (e.g. in the education and training sector the education local government staff, school principals or the teachers), that these stakeholders have the tendency to resist change and to respond to the design of the policy frameworks (due to a lack of capacity or of motivation), and that these stakeholders can be stirred to faithfully implement the new policy frameworks by supporting them with a combination of incentives and sanctions.
    Our work in Kosovo, has provided enough experience for us to be cautious in believing (some donors and sometimes we as ETF do in these countries) both the presumed rationality as well as the linearity of the process. I see in my everyday work with the stakeholders in the education and employment sector, that policy making is far from the scientific, rational and well researched and informed exercise. Most policy making is done in a very messy ad hoc and sometimes in a very sudden and surprisingly way. This complex process has to cope with, resist and overcome the vested interests of different stakeholders, the political and technical influences exercises by national and international players. Most of the time the responsible people being them national policy makers, international organisation or TA hired by the international organisation to support the national policy makers, end up “recycling” ideas, policies that they think they have worked elsewhere, hoping that it makes work easier. The process becomes even messier by the tense and imposing power of politics.
    3. Where is evidence generated? Some reflections

    In Kosovo there has been a lot of analysis of social and economic phenomena during the last decade. Information bases have been multiplied and improved in quality (LFS, better administrative data on the labour market and on education and training). A lot of studies have been made (mainly sponsored and mentored by international organisations) that have mobilised the local, EU and international research community and they have raised awareness of policy makers on what the problems or challenges are in education and training and employment policies. To a certain extent this awareness has lead to development of new policies which remain to be fully integrated into national systemic solutions.
    Nevertheless the TPR and B@E proved that the links between research/analysis and policy world are still far from each other. In the Kosovo context it is widely discussed that evidence based policy requires: (i) strong capacity on methodological and analytical instruments (i.e. researchers); (ii) strong technical capacity of Public Administration of Kosovo institutions; (iii) connection between policy makers, policy implementers and beneficiaries as a crucial factor for the evaluation of the policy impact; (iv) good data collection instruments; (v) good access to information and established processes for information diffusion and (vi) good communication between policy makers, practitioners and research and analysis world .
    For ETF to be able to come up with a proposal on how to support the evidence generation and analysis for policy making, it is important to look into:
    • the existing evidence and by whom it is being generated e.g. different local; EU and international institutions and sources
    • the process of how the evidence is generated and where it is analysed
    • the existing/established bodies/institutions/individuals in the system that analyse the evidences for policy formulation and impact
    • the coordinated mechanisms in place for evidence analyses and the processes used to better design policy options
    • the formal mechanisms that help research organisations, thinks-tanks, and policy institutes to interact with government institutions
    Experience has proved that coordination between research organisations, thinks-tanks, and policy institutes gives them strength in numbers, better access to information, more visibility, and more credibility for informed policies by governments and donors. Alliances between research organisations, thinks-tanks, and policy institutes can be structured or unstructured, long-term or short-term and these networks are generally more successful when they are need-driven rather than donor-driven.
    Critical friends of Kosovo and active players in the education and training system, can and should play a crucial role in national transnational cooperation with a special focus on peer learning and capacity development action.

  2. We would like to share with the interested colleagues in the Kosovo education and training system, the Kosovo review of progress in VET policy carried out with the support of the ETF. We call it Torino Process to defirenciate it from other processes that EU has established in Education and training. The analysis in Kosovo has been a participatory process, engaging all the
    key Kosovo institutions and stakeholders including the development partners active in the VET sector
    in Kosovo.
    The aim of this report is to provide a concise, documented analysis of VET reform in Kosovo, including
    the identification of key policy trends, challenges, constraints, good practices and opportunities. The
    analysis of the report builds on a range of complementary quantitative and qualitative evidence, such
    as statistical data and indicators, good practices, qualitative assessments and existing studies and
    reports, drawn from different stakeholders in Kosovo and the donor community.
    This report would have not been possible without the broad participation of, and consultation with, a
    wide range of stakeholders (policy makers, practitioners and researchers from both the public and
    private sectors) at different stages of the process – collection of all the evidence produced by the
    Kosovo authorities and development partners, including data collection, discussion of the findings of
    the review exercise, and the formulation of recommendations. Particular attention was paid to
    involving national institutions in the collection and analysis of the different types of evidence, and
    eventually to enhancing their capacity for evidence production and use.
    It is impossible to name all the Kosovo institutions and development partners’ organisations and staff
    who contributed their knowledge and expertise towards drafting this brief analysis of the Kosovo VET
    With sincere gratitude for all inputs provided during the focus group meeting in March 2010 and
    insights shared during the interviews in March and May 2010, the team would like to thank all
    concerned for their contributions, support and commitment to cooperation in the preparation of this

    You can consult and download the report from the ETF website:


    You can always contact me at the provided email. I enjoy this discussions and I hope more Kosovo experts join it and express their views how they want their education and training system to look like and above all what do they want their younger generation to learn.

  3. ETF Publication:Mapping policies and practices for the preparation of teachers for inclusive education in contexts of social and cultural diversity – Kosovo country report

    Download electronic version: Mapping policies and practices for the preparation of teachers for inclusive education in contexts of social and cultural diversity – Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244) country report (EN) , Hartimi i politikave dhe praktikave për përgatitjen e mësuesve për arsimim përfshirës në kontekst të diversitetit social dhe kulturor – Raporti për Kosovën (e definuar sipas rezolutës1244/99 të ks të okb-së) (SQ)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *