Between March and July, Teach For Kosova organized monthly virtual meetings with our first cohort of accepted Fellows. During these virtual meetings, Fellows were introduced to one another, the core values of Teach For Kosova, and were provided with monthly assignments to prepare them for Summer Institute.
Our head of training Samir developed the training program and themes for each week of Summer Institute. Together with Dardan and Fulbright Scholar Aaron Spitler, sessions and activities for Summer Institute were created for a 5 week training program.
The themes for each week were as follows:
Week 1: Foundational Sessions/Introduction to Teach For Kosova
Week 2: Leadership Development
Week 3: Effective Teaching, Planning, and Implementation
Week 4: Effective Teaching, Planning, and Implementation
Week 5: Building Community Relationships
From July 13th to August 14th, Teach For Kosova facilitated our first Summer Institute with 17 outstanding young leaders. Each day consisted of a full day of trainings with facilitated sessions, group discussions, and a variety of activities totaling to over 150 hours of training. Fellows were introduced to different concepts related to teaching, leadership, having a growth mindset, building relationships with education stakeholders, receiving feedback, and much more
Additionally, during weeks 3 and 4 of Institute, Fellows had the opportunity to practice teaching both virtually and in person. Each fellow was provided with a class of students (consisting of other fellows) and a Teach For Kosova staff member. Fellows were observed and received feedback from both their students and the Teach For Kosova observer.
Teach For Kosova staff and Fellows also had the opportunity to listen to many guest speakers, highlighted by Head of Parliament Vjosa Osmani and Former Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Ms. Osmani and Mr. Kurti discussed what it means to be a leader, how to persevere through challenging situations, and the importance of improving education in Kosova today. Other guest speakers included prominent educational leaders in Kosova who gave unique and nuanced perspectives on leadership and advocating for necessary change in our education system.
The Teach For Kosova team concluded Summer Institute in Germia Park where Fellows reflected on their journeys throughout Institute. In our end of Institute survey to fellows, we were ecstatic to read that 100% of our fellows would highly recommend our Fellowship to a family member or friend.
Teach For Kosova spent the months of March and April 2019 visiting schools in Mitrovica, where we met many inspiring teachers, outstanding students, and visionary school leaders.
By: Dardan Hajrizi
The Teach For Kosova team had the pleasure of meeting Director Ismet Ferizi while conducting school visits. During our first meeting, Mr. Ferizi expressed an interest in the program and stated that he was unsure how much he could offer the Teach For Kosova team as he was nearing retirement in the coming two weeks. Although he was nearing retirement- Mr. Ferizi had the energy and charisma of a youthful leader and his passion for education was contagious.
He organized the Teach For Kosova team’s classroom sit-ins in which the team was able to experience what it means to be a student at Frang Bardhi High School, gather valuable data about the teaching methodologies practiced in today’s classrooms, and identify key characteristics that Teach For Kosova’s fellows will possess when the recruitment phase begins.
The team conducted multiple visits to different schools each day that they were in Mitrovica- and by chance they came across Mr. Ferizi as they were on their way to another school. Unbeknownst to the team a valuable conversation about the current state of Kosova’s education system, the obstacles that exist within it, and the tools necessary to overcome these obstacles, unfolded. According to Mr. Ferizi, the youth are the answer to the challenges that exist within the current education system and that if we can attract talented youth into the field of education, the barriers that exist will crumble. He firmly believes in the Teach For Kosova cause and stated that he would be willing to support the program even after he retires.
It is rare to come across someone as passionate about education when they are on the cusp of retirement, as Mr. Ferizi. His dedication to his school, students, community, and the country of Kosova have not gone unnoticed. Thank you, Mr. Ferizi for your service, valuable advice, and unwavering belief in Kosova’s youth and the Teach For Kosova program.
By: Dardan Hajrizi
As part of the project: Teacher Profile Development; recruitment of teachers from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities, Teach For Kosova selected Gjakova as one of the municipalities to begin its community/school visits. The purpose of these visits were to learn from different teachers, school/community leaders, parents, and students about the education system in Gjakova. While visiting different schools, the team met incredible people who were dedicated to improving the education system and understood the obstacles that exist within it.
Teach For Kosova will also visit Mitrovica and Malisheva as part of the project which is supported by the Engagement for Equity (E4E) program financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). From these visits, the team hopes to use the knowledge gained to build a "teacher profile," one that will inform what qualities a Teach For Kosova fellow must possess in order to fulfill our mission and vision as an organization.
While working to build a teacher profile, Teach For Kosova met many accomplished school leaders and teachers in the municipality of Gjakova. One of these school leaders, Zana Kurtishi-Rudi, exemplified what it means to be a visionary leader who is determined to tackle the challenges that her school faces and improve the educational experience for all students who attend Mustafa Bakija Elementary School. Prior to leading Mustafa Bakija Elementary School, she worked as an IT Teacher at an elementary school in Gjakova for 10 years. During her time as an elementary school teacher, she took on the responsibilities of a Curriculum Coordinator for the “Life and Work” field. Additionally, she developed the administration and assessment instruments for all statistics classes in the country, as well as the school- based development plan for capacity building of teachers.
Zana has worked closely with the Ministry of Education for seven years as a Master Learning Facilitator in: Training Trainers, Assessment, Technology in Education, and Web Design for schools. Together with the Pedagogic Institute of Kosovo and the Ministry of Education, she developed the Manual for Developing Methodology Practices in Teaching, Assessment, as well as planning the lessons in the “Life and Work” field which has -Technology and Informatics and hands-on learning in elementary school grades 1-5.
During our meetings with Zana, a theme that was brought up frequently was teacher appreciation. Zana emphasized her belief in her teachers and the work they do at her school—as well as the importance of appreciating their dedication to their students. Moreover, Zana has been working towards improving students’ experiences at Mustafa Bakija, to ensure that they are receiving the best possible education. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, she has created a system in which the school evaluates the needs of teachers, students, parents, and the school as a whole, in order to make effective decisions that address the needs of all parties.
Zana expressed that in order to make these decisions; communication, teamwork, transparency, and accountability are all factors that must be present for the school to be successful. To that end, she explained that at Mustafa Bakija, there are multiple teams that each have designated roles and responsibilities that work together with her and strive for continuous improvement. As an example, she mentioned that this year the school conducted its first internal evaluation. Through the combined effort of students, teachers, parents, and school leaders, Mustafa Bakija Elementary School was able to analyze, identify, and corroborate data on what areas the school needs improvement. As a result, the school has a clear idea of where to allocate resources and how to lessen the different obstacles that were identified through the internal evaluation.
Zana exemplifies what it means to be a leader who motivates and inspires others to work towards a common goal. Through her leadership, Mustafa Bakija Elementary School continues to grow and prove that when we work together, anything is possible.
By: Egzon Gashi
In every country in the world, there are certain students who have a predicted future of success while others must overcome many barriers for success. In Kosova’s education system, these differences are less pronounced; unfortunately, despite having one of the youngest populations in the world, Kosova’s students are not being prepared to succeed internally or compete globally. It is generally known throughout the country – and especially in the education community – that Kosova’s results in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam were alarming. In the test, Kosova’s students’ scores were amongst the lowest in the world in Math, Science and Reading.
The issues in the system are well-known. In the last four years, however, many of the changes Kosova has implemented have yielded minimal results. Kosova has a new curriculum that is being implemented throughout the country and the country even created a PISA commission for the 2018 test – the results of which will not be available until the end of 2019. While immediate change is difficult to assess, the feeling around the country is that there are still significant issues holding the country back from improving its education system.
In September 2018, the non-governmental organization “Teach For Kosova” was founded – the organization is working to implement the global Teach For All model and adapt it to Kosova’s context. While the model is globally informed, in order for it to succeed, it must be locally-rooted to solve the unique issues which Kosova’s education system faces. The Teach For All model has been implemented in 49 countries around the world. Its expansion is indicative of its success and Teach For All has been supporting Teach For Kosova in its early development.
While the model is globally informed, in order for it to succeed, it must be locally-rooted to solve the unique issues that Kosovo’s education system faces. The Teach For All model has been implemented in 49 countries around the world. Its expansion is indicative of its success and Teach For All has been supporting Teach For Kosova in its early development.
The basic premise of the model is to recruit, train and develop the nation’s most promising young graduates and place them as full-time teachers for two years in Kosovo’s highest-needs schools. The model is predicated on the belief that teaching is inherently a leadership position and that for students to be successful, they need teachers who are role models and advocate for them.
The fellowship lasts two years, and the aim is that the graduates of the program become alumni who are well informed about educational issues and are inspired to create change. The recruits — chosen for their academic success and demonstrated leadership potential — will then be positioned to understand systemic issues in the education system and collectively work to address these issues.
While our organization will follow the basic Teach For All model — recruiting young leaders, placing them in schools, and developing their leadership capacity — the program itself will be highly contextualized.
The Teach For Kosova team will first develop a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in Kosovo’s education system. This will be done through research, through conversations with education leaders, and perhaps most importantly, through a deep immersion in communities throughout Kosovo. All of this will serve to develop a program that will prepare teachers for success, and leaders for change.
In order to achieve this goal, in January 2019, our team chose three communities to begin their work and field research — Gjakova, Mitrovica and Malisheva. The first two were chosen primarily because of their high number of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian students. While Kosovo’s education system is low-performing as a whole, the issue is particularly pronounced in these minority communities. Malisheva was chosen as it is a more rural municipality in Kosovo with students from a lower socio-economic background.
Throughout these school visits, we encountered a few issues that are seemingly prevalent throughout the education system. Namely, a lack of resources as well as politicization in the school system. The lack of resources can be attributed to the lack of overall funding that Kosovo has for schools.
While students at home usually have smartphones and other technology, classrooms are generally outdated — lacking projectors or any sort of digital equipment. During the visits, teachers expressed that the lack of resources makes it difficult for them to reach students and keep them engaged in a digital age. While much work has been done to alleviate this issue, it persists.
Another major issue that Teach For Kosova hopes to address over time is the politicization of the school system. Anecdotally, it is often said that teachers are hired based on political party affiliation and that leadership positions are given as political favors. On the ground, we have witnessed this.
An example of a seemingly structural issue is that new teachers are recruited by two members of the municipal government and by the principal of a school. In this system, the municipalities have the final say in which teachers are hired; meanwhile, principals have expressed that their lack of autonomy makes it difficult to successfully lead a school. This politicization is one example of a myriad of systemic issues that need to be addressed for Kosovo’s education system to excel.
Despite the difficulties and systemic barriers Kosovar students face, the community visits also showed our team that students are in fact eager to learn. Especially at the elementary level, students in Gjakova and Mitrovica (the first two municipalities visited) were engaged and well-behaved.
At the higher high school level, however, there is an obvious drop-off in both engagement and learning. Part of the problem seems to be a mindset that if you are raised in Kosovo’s system, you cannot succeed. There is a feeling amongst students that their success will be determined by whether they can leave Kosovo and emigrate for better opportunities abroad.
With both the difficulties and opportunities Kosovo faces, the answer seems to lie in a collective effort for change.
Teach For Kosova aims to recruit 20-30 teachers per year and place them in Kosovar schools. While these young leaders will only represent a tiny fraction of the more than 20,000 teachers in Kosovo, their potential for impact can be significant. All over the world, the Teach For All model has proven that bringing the top minds into education affects change not only inside the classroom, but also outside of it — where many of the systemic issues exist.
Over the next year, we will learn more about Kosovo’s education system and design a program and institute that will train recruited teachers to understand the systemic issues in education, and to respond to the unique needs of Kosovo’s students.
As the organization grows, the hope is that the collective group of young leaders who have gone through the program will contribute to an education system in Kosovo that allows for all children to have a fair chance at success in the public school system.
By: Dardan Hajrizi
In late September and early October, the Teach For Kosova team organized multiple focus groups in which teachers, students, and parents were questioned about their perspectives on education and the teaching profession in general. From these focus groups, the team was able to corroborate what was observed while conducting field research and drafted a concept teacher profile.
These focus groups were held with students from Riinvest College, RIT Kosovo, the University of Prishtina, and Roma Versitas Kosovo. The objectives of the focus groups were to learn more about students’ perspectives on the challenges that exist within the education system, their future plans (academics and career paths), and what they thought of the Teach For Kosova Fellowship.
In general, students believed that the education system is outdated and needs to be revamped with new teaching methods, a developed infrastructure, passionate teachers, and the removal of politicization from the teaching profession. Many students stated that they would be studying abroad upon completing their undergraduate studies, but expressed a desire to return to Kosova to assist in its development as a country. Furthermore, students expressed a strong desire to participate in the Teach For Kosova Fellowship program.
December 1-5th, 2019
Executive Director Egzon Gashi attended the UNESCO conference on ‘Educating for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future’ in Tunisia this week.
The conference places key actors of education at the forefront of challenges such as exclusion, marginalization, and inequality to ensure every child has access to quality education.
By: Egzon Gashi
On December 3rd, the results for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam were released. As in 2015, the results were alarming - Kosova’s students were near the bottom of the rankings of countries tested and were severely below basic proficiency in all three thematic areas - reading, mathematics, and science. The announcement of the results coincided with a UNESCO conference I was attending in Hammamet, Tunisia on education and inclusion. I represented Kosova and my organization Teach For Kosova at the conference. The results immediately become a topic of conversation at the conference and also back home in Kosova. While they were disappointing for Kosova, they were not surprising.
Between the two tests, in 2015 and 2019, there were subtle changes. The Ministry of Education created a “PISA Commission” which gave more focus to the test and how it was administered; the thought was that because 2015 was the first time Kosova took the exam, implementation affected results. However, this year’s results only reinforced what those in the education sector already knew: Kosova’s education system is not preparing students to fulfill their potential.
How do you reform a broken system? There isn’t a silver bullet, unfortunately. Rather, it takes structural and sometimes difficult change, which must be implemented over time. Over the last 18 months, I’ve immersed myself in Kosova’s education system and learned a great deal from visiting schools and municipalities, speaking to key stakeholders, and developing an understanding of how the system functions.
While the question always seems to be how we can quickly turn things around, the answer is that systemic change takes time, and sustained effort.
Below are a few ways Kosova can begin to create change.
Develop a system of both teacher and school level evaluation
Prior to intervening in any system, it is essential to understand where the issues lie. Unfortunately, Kosova has not effectively developed systems of either teacher or school level evaluation. Reform must be targeted and nuanced according to specific needs of cities, communities, schools, and classrooms.
There are over 23,000 teachers in Kosova’s schools. The teaching profession is seen as a stable job with a relatively good salary. Additionally, teacher evaluation is sporadic and often limited to two or fewer times per year. The highest performing and lowest performing teachers are generally treated the same.
With proper evaluation, schools can identify those teachers are not meeting minimum standards and intervene. If intervention and time does not yield required change, the difficult decision of replacing teachers must be made.
At a school level, directors must be held accountable to their school’s results. Investment and capacity building in data gathering would allow for proper school-level evaluation. After Identifying which schools need the most intervention, municipal level leaders can strategically plan how to divide resources and efforts. Strong school leadership is essential to a high-functioning school.
Recruit and develop the necessary leaders to implement change
If the education system is to be reformed and updated, the right leaders need to be in place to plan for change and to make change happen. Leadership is needed at every level: in classrooms, schools, communities, and in the wider system. And leadership must be collective.
Kosova has a vision for change in education; the 2016-2021 education strategic plan created by the Ministry of Education together with both national and international partners has very modern and forward-thinking plans for reforming education. However, there exists an enormous gap between planning and implementation. The right leaders with an understanding of how to interpret and implement reform will begin to bridge this gap.
De-politicize the education system at a national and municipal level
When discussing education in Kosova, the words “politicized” and “corrupt” are often at the beginning of any conversation. Municipalities hire directors and teachers based on political party affiliation rather than merit. Additionally, change in political leadership leads to change in both personnel and vision-setting at the municipal level. What municipalities need is a clear education vision that is informed by schools, leaders and importantly - the community. A clear vision would not be deterred by change in leadership.
One immediate change that can be made is in the teacher recruitment process. Today, municipal leaders make hiring decisions. However, evidence shows that when school directors are able to hire and manage their own staff, they can create a more effective school environment. Giving this discretion to school directors also makes it significantly easier to hold directors accountable to results.
A second more systemic change that can be made would be the introduction of community-level school boards. Rather than be political appointees, these school boards could be representatives of the community who have worked in education and understand both the strengths and needs of the school system. Oversight from school boards can hold municipalities accountable for hiring decisions and can provide strategic advice on reform and its implementation.
Overhaul teaching methods
A teacher’s role in the classroom should not be to teach at children, it should be to facilitate learning. In too many of Kosova’s classrooms, memorization remains the main way students learn. Not only do teachers expect students to repeat what they said during formal and informal evaluation - sometimes they expect the repetition to be word for word. This teaching method actively suppresses critical thinking, the very aspect of knowledge that the PISA exam attempts to evaluate.
Most of Kosova’s schools also have a teacher-centric classroom. Children are seated in rows with the teacher front and center while students are hardly ever given a voice or chance to lead. Effective classrooms facilitate conversation among students, allow for debate and disagreement, and work to slowly and subtly transfer the process of “teaching” to the students themselves.
In addition to this, Kosova’s classrooms prioritize theoretical over practical learning, in nearly every subject. Students learn best when they are able to both relate and apply their knowledge in practice. Classroom activities, projects, and real-world application of learnings are a few ways this can be done.
Empower and give students a voice for change
The tragedy of education is that its most important stakeholder - the children - is often not included in any decision-making. Students are eager for leadership opportunities and to be able to apply themselves. School-based governments, community-level projects, and teachers who actively listen to or engage students in conversation, are effective ways of empowering students.
When visiting Kosova’s schools, I often asked students the question of what they hoped to do when they got older. Nearly half, if not more, responded that they wanted to eventually both study and live abroad. Kosova’s youth is its most valuable resource; unless the country figures out a way to develop an education system which allows them to fulfill their potential, it will lose them.