Leveraging digital tools and skills-based learning to transform education outcomes in Kosovo

#CriticalThinking

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Nona Zicherman
Nona Zicherman

Head of Office at UNICEF Kosovo

Photo of This article is a part of our Balkan Journey series.
This article is a part of our Balkan Journey series.

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Show more information on This article is a part of our Balkan Journey series.

Friends of Europe’s Balkan Journey seeks to circumvent stagnant debates on enlargement in order to focus on moving the region forward in practical terms through political imagination and forward-looking solutions.

Reframing the narrative to focus people-centred priorities rather than political objectives can bring a fresh policy perspective to overwrought discussions on how to strengthen and develop the Balkan region and close the gap to the EU.

A greater focus on inclusion and amplifying the voices of women and youth is one clear path forward. Other priorities include digital transition, green transformation, increased regional cooperation and the strengthening of democracy and rule of law.

Our articles and the Balkan Journey as a whole will engage with these overlapping and interlinking themes, promote new and progressive voices, and foster pathways to regional cooperation, resilience and inclusion, informing the content and recommendations for our annual EU-Western Balkans Summit.

Building a more resilient society for children and young people in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has become particularly urgent in Kosovo*, where one in two individuals is under the age of 30, and one in three is under the age of 18. Kosovo is the only place in Europe that is still in the early demographic dividend stage, a critical window of opportunity for accelerating economic growth by building on the potential of its young population. Yet, Kosovo’s opportunity to reap the benefits of this dividend stage will close by the mid-2030s and the situation on the ground remains concerning.

According to the World Bank, children in Kosovo spend 13.2 years in school on average, but only get 7.9 years’ worth of education. MICS survey data from 2020 shows that only two in five children in the second grade have sufficient foundational reading and numeracy skills, and the 2018 PISA revealed that 78% of 15-year-olds in Kosovo do not reach the minimum proficiency level in reading. It is safe to assume the situation has likely worsened, given the impact of the pandemic on education.

Employment indicators are equally concerning. Youth unemployment currently stands at 29%, and one in three young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are neither in employment, education or training. There is a persistent mismatch between education and labour market needs, with unemployment among university graduates varying between 14% and 21% throughout the past year.

The pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis are only worsening the strain on families and education systems. How can we accelerate improvements to the education system and improve educational outcomes in the longer-term while also helping adolescents and youth develop skills that allow them to become agile, adaptive citizens, equipped to navigate personal, academic, social and economic challenges and find success in work and life?

The pandemic provided a critical opportunity to establish the foundation for digital education in Kosovo

As many young people in Kosovo point out, the future is digital. A staggering 96% of Kosovar households have internet access, but it is primarily used for social media and communication. On the other hand, employers in Kosovo prize digital skills, which are considered among the top three required job skills, especially for well-paid positions. It is unsurprising that young people in Kosovo are increasingly demanding the integration of digital skills in the curriculum, along with a learning approach that blends traditional face-to-face teaching with experiential approaches and online learning.

Although digital education was a topic of discussion before 2020, related strategies were never implemented. The pandemic created an urgent push to incorporate digital tools in education, with almost all teachers having to use them during school closures. Faced with this situation and encouraged by continuous feedback from young people, the Kosovar Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), with support from UNICEF, developed the first Kosovo-wide e-learning platform, shkollat.org, a repository of formal online education materials for grades 1-9, as well as informal skills-development programmes for youth. As a one-stop platform that provides access to vetted educational content, communication tools and a range of other educational applications, it can be used for remote, hybrid and blended learning purposes. The platform currently hosts 14,000 learning videos, plus instructional video tutorials for teachers and learners.

However, shkollat.org and other digital learning platforms in Kosovo remain underused. Teachers, students and parents were thrust into the new digital environment with little preparedness, creating the impression that digital learning can be less effective and should be reserved for emergencies only. But the pandemic provided a critical opportunity to establish the foundation for digital education in Kosovo, and the value, transformative potential and scalability of blended learning going forward must be adequately demonstrated.

The pandemic laid bare the inadequacies of our education systems and showed us that the solutions of yesterday are not fit for today, let alone for the world of tomorrow

The development of a new digital pillar within the recently launched Kosovo Education Strategy 2022-2026 is a promising start. It provides a comprehensive roadmap towards a system-wide digital transformation and prioritises five main areas: the adoption of an inclusive and centralised digital platform; the development of multi-dimensional and qualitative digital teaching materials; the provision of quality internet infrastructure and necessary technical equipment at schools; the development of digital competences for teachers, school personnel and students; and the creation of institutional mechanisms to coordinate the digital transition and the use of technology in education.

In parallel to policy-level work, opportunities for young people to develop 21st century skills should also be expanded through non-formal learning. For example, a bespoke UNICEF programme, Techstitution, focuses specifically on information and communications technology (ICT) skills and has helped 3,000 young people, 64% of which were girls, improve their digital literacy, with the hope to expand this programme further.

The pandemic laid bare the inadequacies of our education systems and showed us that the solutions of yesterday are not fit for today, let alone for the world of tomorrow. We urgently need to create and nurture learning frameworks that meet the needs of young people. This starts with listening to youth, who seem to be well ahead of policymakers in recognising that, for education to be really useful, the future rests at the nexus of digital and life skills.


*For the United Nations, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).

 

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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