Hasan Prishtina School in Busovata. Photo: BIRN.

Rebellion over education reforms in Kamenica

Disagreements over education reforms came to a head as the new school year started in Kamenica this week, with pupils and teachers continuing to attend some of the 19 schools closed by mayor Qendron Kastrati.

In Kamenica this week, the start of the new school year brought threats of a teachers’ strike, with schools continuing to operate despite a decision to close them being issued by the local municipality. Both actions came in response to controversial education reforms enacted by the municipality’s mayor, Qendron Kastrati, which foresee the closure of 19 schools in the area.

Kastrati has stood firm behind the reforms, and stated that children attending schools other than those assigned by the municipality will not be legally considered as having undergone that year of education.

Both teachers and students at the Hasan Prishtina school in the village of Busovata, whose students have been reallocated to the Fan Noli school in the city of Kamenica, have expressed their opposition to the decision as they began the school year in the village as normal.

A teacher at the school, Ismet Maliqi, believes there has been no clear reasoning given about which schools have been chosen for closure. Defending the closures, Kastrati said in July that some schools had just a single pupil, but that was not the case in Busovata. “To close a school I think there must be some criteria,” Maliqi told BIRN. “What criteria is used at the municipal or state level? The school has over 110 students.”

The United Trade Union of Education, Science and Culture, SBAShK, sent representatives to the Hasan Prishtina school and others facing closure, offering its support to employees there and expressing its opposition to the decision. In August, SBAShK described the decision to close schools in the area as “rushed” and “lacking analysis.”

The union also encouraged the municipality to distribute school supplies, including textbooks and diaries to the schools. On Wednesday, the director of the Hasan Prishtina school in Busovata told BIRN he  was using diaries from 1990 after he was told his school would not be receiving new supplies.

Controversial reforms

Kastrati announced his intentions to change the educational landscape in Kamenica in May this year, when he publicly sought permission to conduct a consultative referendum in the municipality on reforms he described as “necessary,” and that could set an example for municipalities across Kosovo. 

However, his request was denied by the Central Election Commission, CEC, who cited a lack of specific legislation that would allow them to organize such a referendum. 

In response to the CEC’s decision, Kastrati expressed his disappointment at the lack of opportunity for residents to engage directly in the decision making process, but stated that the absence of a referendum would not deter him from continuing with the reforms.

The mayor, elected in late 2017, also criticized previous administrations’ inaction, which he claimed had helped create the need for such dramatic reform. “Had they ruled better in the past, we would have had the luxury of gradual change,” he said. “No public official should be indifferent as long as our children are subject to such a low level of education.”

In his letter to the CEC, Kastrati revealed that the reforms would inevitably lead to job losses amongst educators. “This reform, unfortunately, puts some teachers out of the education system and the workplace,” it reads. “But we have taken care to find ways for some of them to engage in complementary lessons, and others to be paid 70 to 80 per cent of their salary until retirement or other employment is found.”

As the details of the number of school closures emerged over the summer, Kastrati was criticized by political opponents, including LDK’s candidate for prime minister in 2017, Avdullah Hoti, who labeled the decision as arbitrary and lacking community consent. 

Kastrati responded by inviting Hoti to Kamenica’s three schools with one pupil each, or one of 37 per cent of schools in Kamenica that he claims lack a hygienic environment. He also pointed to legislation that prevents smaller schools from receiving funds for renovations from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, MEST.

But as the school year drew closer, opposition to the reforms grew. SBAShK announced its opposition to the plans on August 22, urging both parents and teachers to continue attending their usual educational institutions when school began in September regardless of any forthcoming closures, and threatening an indefinite strike of teachers in Kamenica if the schools were closed.

SBAShK also called on the Ministry and municipal assembly members in Kamenica to discourage Kastrati from his planned reforms, and encouraged its members from across Kosovo to stand in solidarity with teachers from Kamenica. 

Kastrati, who was elected in late 2017 while a member of Vetevendosje — but subsequently joined the Social Democratic Party of Kosovo, PSD, alongside Prishtina mayor and PSD leader Shpend Ahmeti — has often found himself under media scrutiny during his first term as mayor.

In April 2018, Kastrati and his deputy mayor, Bojan Stamenkovic, made headlines after addressing a joint letter to foreign embassies and the EU Office in Kosovo, asking for funds for the construction of a joint school for Albanian and Serb children in the municipality. 

The young mayor was also widely praised for employing predominantly women in his municipal cabinet, with six of the 11 directors being women. In doing so, Kamenica became just the second municipality to respect the Law on Gender Equality, with only Drenas also having 50 per cent or more women as municipal directors.

05/09/2019 - 10:31

05 September 2019 - 10:31

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.