Community alliances keep girls in school
Six years after the end of the conflict here, in which bombs turned thousands of residents into refugees and reduced much of the landscape to rubble, Kosovo’s schools are recovering with the help of an innovative alliance between teachers and parents.
Over 60 ‘Parent-Teacher Councils’ have taken shape throughout the UN Administered Province of Kosovo. These unique councils empower local leadership in an area where many government functions have fallen to the United Nations.
The councils work to repair facilities, identify out-of-school children and conduct public awareness campaigns on education. They also build grassroots networks that keep communities involved.
“We are trying to make the schools work like model education,” says a teacher at the Skenderbeu primary school, just outside the capital city of Pristina. “This is an ideal programme. Everyone wants to be part of it.”
Persistent gender gap in education
Because of a persistent gender gap in education – particularly in rural areas and among ethnic minorities – the project focuses on keeping girls in school.
Some 14 per cent of women and girls in Kosovo’s rural areas are illiterate, compared to 4 per cent of rural men and boys. One in 10 girls drops out of school by the end of grade 5, and nearly half of Albanian girls drop out by grade 9. Only 43 per cent of secondary students are female.
Yet there is no shortage of students anxious to get an education. In a recent survey over 90 per cent of teenage girls in rural areas expressed a desire to continue their education.
In the village of Renz the local Parent-Teacher Council has proved to be a lifeline for three young teenage girls. Miranda, Albulena and Fitore had to walk fourteen kilometres each day to attend school in the neighbouring town of Dragash. In 2003 they dropped out of school because of their parents’ safety concerns.
The Parent-Teacher Council took the problem to the local ministry of education. Officials agreed to pay for transportation that covered most of the distance between their village and the town. The three girls were then able to resume their education. Successful initiatives like this one are surfacing across Kosovo.
Safety concerns, especially for girls, continue to be an obstacle to universal education. Schools in Kosovo are often located far from students’ homes, forcing children to walk many miles, even during winter. The problem is compounded by memories of the recent conflict.
Poverty and the costs of post-war reconstruction have also taken a heavy toll. With unemployment rates for rural women reaching 99 per cent, there is little incentive to go to school. A survey of girls living in rural areas showed that ‘economic hardship’ was the most-cited reason for dropping out.
Supported by a partnership between Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Parent-Teacher Council is helping communities renew themselves, while ensuring that girls are not left behind.