Children of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo may be left without Learning Centres if they’re not transformed into educational institutions.
Kosovo’s 33 Additional Learning Centres, which provide complementary education services to Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children in order to improve their school performance and integration into society, are in danger of closing due to lack of institutional management.
The failure to transform the Learning Centres into institutions is calling into doubt the position of their tutors who do not have a regular payroll through which they’re paid by the state, but only through donations and grants. Their closure increases the possibility of the 1,200 children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities who attend these centres, dropping out of school.
The centres are located throughout Kosovo and until now have been under the management of the two NGOs, Voice of Rome, Ashkali and Egyptians, VoRAE, and Terres des Hommes – Kosovo. There are 83 centres in 20 municipalities in total. But organisations are demanding that they go under institutional management.
“It must be taken into account that these children are from families with severe poverty, with parents who cannot read and write, and who have no space at home to learn,” the education official at VORaE, Argnesa Jahamurataj-Visoka, said. “These centres are the only ones that offer enough space, materials, activities and food.”
In 2018, Kosovo’s Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, MESTI, issued an Administrative Instruction, which provided for the centres to come under the responsibility of the municipalities, MESTI and the Ministry of Finance.
However, VoRAE claims this institutionalization has not started yet. Jahamurataj describes the level of current institutional collaboration as “foggy”, saying that there is no coordination between the local and central institutions.
“As an organization, we go to the municipality, the municipality tells us that they can no longer put them [the centre tutors] on the payroll because we have reduced the number of employees. We go to the Ministry of Education, they say that they haven’t received any request from the municipalities. The Ministry of Finance says the same.”
The education official says the lack of coordination between ministries and municipalities is risking closure of the centres, which operate in primary schools.
The Administrative Instruction, which is largely a co-financing agreement, foresees that in the first year of its implementation the centers will be financed wholly by the host organisations. In the second year, the financial burden will be cut in half, with the organizations paying 50 per cent of the costs and the municipalities covering the other half. In the third year, financing will be completely come under the management of municipalities.
In the municipality of Suhareka, where two centres operate, the tutors are paid via individual contracts. In 2020, they were funded by NGOs, and in 2021, 50 per cent by the municipality and 50 percent by VORaE, in accordance with the Administrative Instruction.
“We have a problem with the salaries of tutors because we can’t include them in the salary system because we are not allowed to by the Ministry of Finance,” the Director of Education in Suhareka, Avni Tafolli, said. Tafolli says they have problems with the central level because they do not get support for any centre from the Ministry of Education.
BIRN tried to get an answer from the Ministry of Finance regarding this issue, but it did not respond by time of publication.
For the two centres in the villages of Vojnoc and Xhyrkoc, in Shtime, the budget expenditures were fully covered by VORaE for 2020 but only half in 2021. The Directorate of Education in Shtime told BIRN that from 2022 the municipality will cover the full costs if the requirements are met by the Ministry of Finance to put tutors on the payroll.
In Gjilan, where one centre is located, for three years, funding has been half covered by the municipality and half by the Swiss government through VORaE. According to the Directorate of Education, the agreement predicts financing to be fully covered by the municipality in 2022.
The Administrative Instruction obliges MESTI to plan an annual budget to support the approved programmes of the centres; funding programmes to be based on government regulation; public announcements of the financing of projects through the category of subsidies; MESTI to provide special support for the programmes of the learning centres.
The ministry told BIRN it allocated 200,000 euros for the learning centres for this year, and 400,000 for 2022.
“Municipalities can plan a budget for the learning centres that are under their control within the Specific Education Grant,” its message read.
The Administrative Instruction states that municipalities should support the work of Learning Centres in their annual budget planning for education. Through the specific education grant, they should plan the basic budget for the establishment and operation of school-based learning centres.
At the centre in Rahovec, the Director of Education, Avni Morina, said that in the absence of the payroll, the two engaged tutors are paid from the category of school goods and services.
Unlike this municipality, in the two learning centres in Podujeve, the financing of tutors is still done only by donors to VoRAE. In Kamenica, where there is one Additional Learning Centre, financing is covered entirely by the municipality. They have never had a problem with funding because the teachers from the Directorate of Education also perform the duties of tutors.
According to the Administrative Instruction, various donations can be given to the holders of the learning centres, or through the state budget, with a specification for use by the learning centres. Avni Fetahu, director of education in Podujeve, said that “they had ever had a problem with tutors’ salaries.”
In 2019, representatives of non-governmental organisations, including VORaE, protested in front of MESTI demanding the funding of the centres.
“Donors have withdrawn because Kosovo has created laws to finance these centres but is not implementing them, so we risk being left without these centres,” they said.