In a BIRN-hosted debate, officials from the Ministry of Education and members of civil society discussed attempts to implement online learning in Kosovo during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the socially underprivileged.
Nearly 30,000 students in primary and secondary education did not manage to participate in the distance learning programme launched by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, MEST in April 2020.
The programme was launched to compensate for classes missed during school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to education expert Dukagjin Pupovci, who was recently appointed as a deputy minister at MEST, a lack of access to technology led to many pupils missing out.
“Only 54 percent of families in Kosovo have a PC in their house,” Pupovci said during a BIRN-hosted debate broadcast on Tuesday, adding that the absence of an internet connection was also an issue for many families.
Bardha Qirezi, the Executive Director of EDU TASK, an education technology solutions company that monitored more than 400 schools between October and December 2020, agreed that the distance learning process was accompanied by a number of technical issues.
“When online learning started, we had problems with the use of technology by both parents and students,” Qirezi said. “There were cases when parents who had more than three children had to manage more than 20 Viber groups.”
Currently, students at all levels of education are attending school as normal, and Pupovci revealed that MEST is planning to hold additional hours for students nationwide in the coming weeks, in order to compensate for the lessons missed during the pandemic.
The deputy minister added that online learning was no substitute for education within schools. “A child needs support when learning and not only to see the lessons displayed on a tablet,” he said.
While the transition to online learning affected children across Kosovo, the situation particularly had an impact on certain communities. A report published in July 2020 by Admovere, an education and transitional justice NGO, identified that children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities were particularly affected by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Muhamet Arifi, the executive director at Balkan Sunflowers, an NGO specialising Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian education issues, echoed the report’s findings, stating that the pandemic has led to serious setbacks to education prospects in these communities.
“More than 50 percent of students [from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities] did not participate in lessons and they are behind with the whole process,” he said.
Sabri Xhigoli is the principal at the Daut Bogujevci primary school in Fushe Kosove, where 90 of the 810 pupils are from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. He revealed that the majority of children at his school from these communities did not participate in distance learning.
“I can say that 80 percent of these children did not participate in online lessons due to a lack of technology,” he said. “As principal of the school, I managed to secure seven tablets and five were distributed among the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, while two were given to Albanian students who needed them.”
The principal added that another 35 new tablets had been secured for students from an external donor, all of which would be distributed to children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.
At risk of dropping out
Ongoing issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis risk leading to more children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities abandoning education altogether.
As Arifi pointed out, this is not solely down to school closures and issues with online learning. “The difficult economic situation is making students leave school because they need to go and work for their survival,” he said, adding that in the last eight months alone his organisation had persuaded 50 children to return to education.
Abetare Gojani, a representative of the IPKO Foundation, stressed that girls from these communities were particularly at risk of abandoning their education.
“In the Municipalities of Fushe Kosove, Peja, Gjakova and Mitrovica we identified 190 girls that were at risk of dropping out of school,” she said, adding that the foundation equipped the girls with computers and provided training to ensure their education.
However, Pupovci played down the issue of school dropouts, stating that there were bigger issues with the country’s education system.
“Dropping out is not the biggest problem in Kosovo,” the deputy minister said. “In 2019-2020 we had 50 children from Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities that abandoned schooling, but we do not have the numbers for this year.”
Meanwhile, Radica Berishaj, an official at the Lifelong Learning Department at MEST, stated that dropping out was not only a symptom of the pandemic but a result of systemic problems in education that have been present for the last two decades.
“All of the problems that our education system has faced has an impact on [children] dropping out from schools,” Berishaj said. “The value of education has declined and children see education as an obligation rather than a necessity.”
This series of BIRN debates is supported by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
12 May 2021 - 09:50
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