Kosovo: You Get What You Pay For

you get what you pay forPRISTINA, Kosovo | Besim Gashi sits in a classroom of the Skenderbeu school, in a village in western Kosovo. Behind him, a tattered journal hangs in the corner, chronicling the work of last year’s students.

For Gashi, a 52-year-old primary school teacher, it was another academic year gone by without a long-promised raise.

As cigarette smoke curls through his fingers, Gashi reads in the newspaper what he calls another “tired promise” by Education Ministry officials that salaries will go up this month. “Oh, here we go again. I’m not sure whether I should read this aloud or not, but it says here that experienced teachers will be getting a pay raise very soon,” says Gashi, who has taught for 30 years and receives 200 euros a month to help support a family of five.

In fact, 2008 may prove lucky for him, as education officials announced recently that they are working on a certification strategy to reward Kosovo’s most experienced and skilled teachers.

Scheduled to begin this academic year, the project will for the first time collect information on every teacher’s background, education, and experience.

Halim Hyseni, an adviser to the education minister, says certification is a systematic way to ensure that the best performers, with the strongest backgrounds, will receive the greatest rewards. In the short term, teachers will be issued temporary certifications based on their qualifications and experience. In a later stage, the certification process will include an evaluation of a teacher’s classroom performance and proficiency in his or her subject matter.

It will be the first time that teachers will be part of a calibrated pay system. Each of the new country’s approximately 27,000 elementary and secondary school teachers earns 200 euros a month. That is slated to rise by 27 percent to 47 percent this year.

Teachers’ certification is a “crucial issue” for the current government and the Education Ministry, according to Hyseni. “Kosovo education is walking on the edge of the cliff, which affects all aspects of life,” he said. “Kosovo needs an educated society in order to improve its standard of living. All initiatives to improve the state of education have failed and occasionally have made things worse.”

The country’s teachers union has called for raises since the end of the conflict with Serbia in 1999. In 2005, demanding a 50 percent pay hike, it launched a nationwide strike that lasted for a few months. The union ended the action after the government pleaded with it not to shift attention from the question of Kosovo’s final status – and after the government promised to tackle the issue in the near future

Representing about 18,000 teachers across Kosovo, the union worked with the ministry in drafting the changes, which it sees as a step toward granting teachers permanent contracts, as opposed to the current practice of hiring them for a year at a time.

“This is a challenge for the institutions,” deputy union head Xhafer Xhaferi wrote in an e-mail. “Reforms in salary aim to create a fair and motivational system of compensation for educators, based on merit, skills, and professional qualifications.”

A strategy for the country’s primary and secondary school development over the next decade, released in January, estimated that 15 percent to 18 percent of Kosovo’s teachers are unqualified. But according to an April report by Kosovo’s statistical office covering the 2006-2007 school year, the figure is about 6 percent. About 65 percent of Kosovo’s teachers had attained a two- or four-year university education. A 2001 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of more than 30 countries or regions showed that all but one, for which data were not available, required at least two years of training beyond secondary school for teachers.

The January strategy document complained that “Inadequate infrastructure, abuse and neglect of official duties, the low status of education employees in the society, inability to promote teachers because of the enforced equal treatment for all, and the lack of finances, have contributed to a feeling of hopelessness by the teachers and education experts.”

Many Unknowns

For the first phase of certification, a teacher will have to present a relevant university diploma or other degree. But proving a teacher’s length of service could be the first hurdle, as there is no central database with that information.

Dukagjin Pupovci, director of the Kosovo Education Center, a teacher training organization, said that in the absence of real proof of experience, evaluators might have to take a teacher’s word for it.

Pupovci says the reforms will face other fundamental obstacles. “First of all, the exact number of employees in education is unknown,” he said, noting that some rolls might even contain the names of people who have died or left the country. The creation of a database is the only real answer to this problem, he said.

And it won’t get any easier in the second phase.

“The challenging phase of certification will be when teachers are promoted according to their training,” Pupovci said. For example, he said, the number of courses available might not be able to meet demand and a system of courses and credits will need to be standardized. “It is estimated that by 2011 only 70 percent of all teachers will get to this level of certification,” Pupovci said.

Education was among the priorities of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, which came to power in December. A 2004 report by the UN Development Program, while bemoaning the lack of published information on the educational system in Kosovo, put the illiteracy rate in 2000 at 6.5 percent, one of the highest in Europe.

The government plans to start construction of 53 new primary schools this year, which would take up half of the 38-million-euro education budget. Among its investments this year was a new spelling and alphabet book for first-graders, replacing one that had been in use for decades, at a cost of about 2.6 million euros. The January strategy report stated that through projects financed by foreign aid, the participation of children in mandatory education has risen to 97 percent.

The Education Ministry estimates that the first phase of certification alone will cost around 8 million to 10 million euros. The Finance Ministry has warned that parts of the advanced phase of certification, raises for training and credits, for instance, will have to wait until the government finds a “long-term stable sources and appropriate methods of financing them.”

But Hyseni says they’re actually going to do it this time. “We are aware that there is no economic development without quality education, as there is no quality education without well-paid teachers,” he said.


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