Kosovo: Blind Children to Attend Regular Schools

blind children attend regular schoolsPEC, Kosovo | Metë Thaçi, a resident of the village of Malisheva, cannot see clearly. He is not completely blind but his vision is impaired, having inherited an ocular disease from his father, which he then transmitted to his youngest son.  When he was a child, there were no schools for the blind in all of Kosovo.  Thaçi was only able to attend school when turned fifteen in 1981, when a special school for the blind opened in Pec. Though it was more than 100 km away from his hometown and family, Thaçi welcomed the opportunity to attend.

More than twenty years later, Thaçi brought his second son, Fatjon, to the same school. Fatjon has a type of cataract in his eyes which has severely weakened his sight.  Thaçi enrolled his son in the special school in Pec but, two weeks later, took him back home on the advice of school staff.

“He was way too young to be away from home. He cried all the time so I could not leave him in the school’s dormitory,” Thaçi explained.

He then took his son to “Ibrahim Mazreku”, a regular school in Malisheva not more than 500 meters from his home.  Due to the great commitment of his teachers and the support of his neighborhood friends, Fatjon managed to integrate into the regular school system with relative ease.

Changes in the Kosovar education system in recent years have facilitated the integration of children with special needs, such as Fatjon, into the mainstream education system. The special school in Pec has been transformed into a resource center that assists regional schools with integrating blind students into their classrooms. According to the special school’s director, Ahmet Mahmutaj, this is a wholly new approach to educating blind people in Kosovo. “When Metë Thaçi was our student for 10 months a year, he was obliged to stay in the school dormitory. He visited his family once every two weeks, and during such trips he, like all other students, had to be accompanied by someone, which incurred great expenses. Adjusting to the new environment also required a long time, especially for younger students.  Now many students do not have to do these things,” explained Mahmutaj.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, with the support of the Finnish government, is busy transforming the country’s special schools into resource centers, providing tools to advise and train teachers in regular schools who are working with blind children. The Pec school is one of three schools in Kosovo that was included from the very beginning of the project.  Two teachers have been recruited to travel throughout Kosovo’s municipalities, identifying and advising children with impaired vision, as well as providing advice to their parents and their teachers.

Fatjon says he is happy to be in a school close to home. His teacher Gani Mazreku says that Fatjon was warmly accepted by the other students and the fact that he cannot see well did not prevent his integration.  Fatjon has been provided with large print books made specifically for him, as well as a special portable table that the teacher puts at the front of the classroom (so it is close to teacher’s desk, in order for Fatjon to be able to see more clearly).  The special table was provided by the resource centre in Pec, as well as other books and equipment.

Fidane Avdimetaj is one of the two traveling teachers from Pec, who works with children like Fatjon. She followed Fatjon from the day he was transferred back to Malisheva. She remembers how she cried on that day. Now she is pleased to know that Fatjon is happy in a regular school with his friends.

Avdimetaj says that Fatjon’s case was not unique. “We found 35 pupils with the same problem in different schools. We provided books for these children in double format — bigger-than-ordinary books, primers, workbooks, notebooks — as well as desks and other tools for work. We get in touch with their teachers, we advise them because they have never worked with these kinds of students before and have no idea what this work means,” said Avdimetaj.

The integration of students with special needs into regular schools is a pilot project financed by the Finnish Government. They have trained teachers across Kosovo and pay the salaries of the two traveling teachers, as well as provide financial support to the three resource centers in Kosovo. This project has also been supported by municipal education officials and by blind advocacy organizations. The Ministry of Education has expressed its support and readiness, upon the completion of the pilot project, to take over the financial obligation to continue with other phases of the project. Minister of Education Enver Hoxhaj has said that the integration of children with special needs is a priority for Kosovo’s education system.  Nine years after the war’s end in Kosovo, a survey was conducted in order to identify these children, who are often kept at home in their villages and do not go to school at all. The Ministry of Education aims to enroll these children in regular schools, particularly those who are completely blind, and teach them the Braille alphabet and alternative learning strategies, so that they might follow the curriculum in a similar manner to their sighted peers.

This article was produced as an assignment for the “Improving Coverage of Education Issues” online distance learning course organized by TOL and developed in cooperation with the Guardian Foundation and the BBC World Trust, enabled by the generous support of the Open Society Institute Education Support Program.




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