Creating young social entrepreneurs in Kosovo

Innovative UNICEF programs now part of school curriculum

Leonora Aliu
27 January 2022

Gjilan, 2021 -The medical high school in Gjilan bears the name of well-known Kosovar pulmonologist Asllan Elezi. Its goal is to produce the next generation of frontline doctors and nurses who will protect us in life-threatening situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this school has no building of its own. The prospective medical workers of Gjilan are only guests in the building where they study, and as such, lack essential equipment like laboratories.

Year 12 students at the school joined forces with their teachers and came up with innovative, temporary solutions to this challenge as part of the UPSHIFT program taught in the school.

Creating young social entrepreneurs in Kosovo

UPSHIFT, which teaches entrepreneurship and social innovation, was recently accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation to be included in the curriculum in three municipalities in Kosovo.

Dafina Jashari and Mihrije Ramadani, both 17, were part of two groups who competed to win a grant to improve their school if their ideas were chosen. Dafina’s group proposed an ICT Mobile Cabinet that could move around the classroom, as there was not enough classroom space for a permanent computer lab. "We thought of it as a shelf with tools and up to five laptops," she said.

Her friend, Mihrije’s group came up with the idea of creating a professional space for practice. This idea, she says, emerged not only as a result of the absence of a school building but also because, due to the pandemic, she and her peers were not able to complete their internships as usual in the Gjilan Regional Hospital.

"We could not attend the whole internship because we had to attend the internship two years later (due to the pandemic). We only attended the internship once during a term," she said.

"We thought it best to have a space at school, with the [medical] dolls we have, so that we can learn at school. We have some equipment but no physical space - we do not have classrooms and cabinets.”

ICT professor

ICT professor Ibadete Limani, who has been a teacher since 2008, helped mentor the students through the UPSHIFT program. She said the students had become more active, innovative and creative in designing and implementing concrete projects.

“The work differs from the projects which we as teachers created for students. At UPSHIFT children imagine themselves as social entrepreneurs and research the needs of the community by doing interviews and discussions.

"What really surprised me was that students come up with very clear ideas and have the ability to identify and solve problems in their community and know how to apply, if well supervised, their ideas," she says.

She said that 80  students took part in the UPSHIFT program as part of teams of 4-5 students.

Her colleague Professor Ramadan Salihu said that teachers mentored students in different elements of their projects, depending on their subject area. For example, he teaches economics and entrepreneurship and provided children with budgeting advice.

MT: Closer to the teachers

 One key advantage of integrating the UPSHIFT program within the school curriculum, according to students Dafina and Mihrije, is the fact that it brings them closer to their teachers.

"We have spent more time together and worked together. For example, we went to furniture shops, we asked for prices, and negotiated for cheaper prices,” said Dafina. Mihrije added that it broke down the “teacher-student formality”.

Innovative UNICEF programs now part of school curriculum

MT: Sustainable programs for all young people

Gjilan is one of the three municipalities where UPSHIFT has been included in the high school curriculum, alongside two other UNICEF skills-building and empowerment programs for youth: PONDER, which promotes media literacy, and PODIUM, which focuses on advocacy. Implementation of these important programs for young people in Kosovo is supported by the Government of Austria.

Kozeta Qena-Imami, who leads UNICEF Kosovo’s work on education with adolescents and youth, says the accredited programs are being piloted in six high schools in these municipalities..

"During the period from March to August 2021, 174 teachers (108 women, 66 men) were trained in one of the accredited programs," said Ms. Qena-Imami. These teachers then worked with curriculum experts to include the programs in their teaching plans.

"The ultimate goal is to have sustainable models that can be replicated in schools in other municipalities throughout Kosovo," she said.

Making these programs part of school curriculums ensures that more adolescents can have sustainable and equal access to innovative skills building opportunities that prepare them for the transition to work and life as young adults

This process of integration is supported by UNICEF together with its partner Ipko Foundation and the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation.