The COVID-19 Pandemic has challenged the education systems all over the world by depriving 91% of students from their school buildings. Kosovo did experience a similar challenge during the 1990-s, when it managed to organize a parallel education system, which was a unique example of citizens’ mobilization to keep the education system alive, during the period of conflict and war.
Now there is peace, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, learning is organized online, and in different forms. The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) got mobilized and as a result the e-learning for grades 1-9 is broadcasted on RTK and YouTube. At the university level, as well as the private pre-university level, learning is being organized through the use of platforms, such as: Moodle, Google Classroom, Google Meet, Zoom and Webex. There were some difficulties experienced by the public primary and secondary schools, due to lack of the digitalization and due to this students had to use applications, such as Viber, Whatsapp and Facebook to submit their homework assignments.
In Kosovo the internet is continuously spreading with more than 90% for all age-groups and regardless of the location, rural or urban (Kantar, 2019). According to Kantar (2019), 97% of population has access to mobile telephony, 37% have Smart TV-s, 30% have Tablets, 39% have PC-s and 48% have Laptops. Kosovars mostly access the internet via their mobile phones (74%), and the main purpose for this are: communication (93%), music listening (37%), reading (35%), hearing the news (22%), and studying and research (18%). The most common used platforms are Viber (85%), Facebook (67%), and Instagram (51%). Therefore, one can establish that in most of the cases technology is used for communication and social media, but there is less interest to use the technology for educational purposes.
During the discussion it was emphasized that Kosovo, as well as other countries opted for the online method without any prior instructions for a better organization of such an activity. Even the world was not prepared for such a situation, especially at the pre-university level. However, having in mind the emergency situation, as well as the uncertainty about the duration of the situation with the Pandemic, or whether there will be a second wave of the Pandemic and the need for maintaining of the social distance in the following months, the technological potential may be used for educational purposes and have an impact in the speeding up of the process of digitalization.
In this case, one must think about the marginalized groups which make some 15% of students, who may not have access to equipment or internet and are not included in the educational system.
Speakers agreed that the online learning, especially the way it is organized currently, is not effective because of the emergency situation with which the institutions had to face, by having lack of interaction between the schools, teachers and students. During the discussion, it was suggested that schools should use the instructions and be autonomous in organizing of such communication and interaction; whereas the platforms and the e-learning be used as an aid throughout this organization. This is why more engagement was requested from the municipal authorities and schools, as well as from the community of students, teachers and parents. On the other hand, it was mentioned that the school is first and foremost an educational institution with the student in its center and therefore should organize a program which is compatible with the curriculum, but under different conditions. Students should not be overburdened, instead, they should be supported so that they can overcome the situation. In relation to the evaluation, it was said that there are several scenarios such as, organizing of additional classes during summer time, postponing the evaluation, annul some evaluations and do adjustments according to the situation. In reference to this, one of the speakers suggested that efforts should be made not to allow for the learning to fail, and therefore not to annul the entire school year, but instead to find mechanisms that would be suitable for conditions in a Pandemic situation.
There were questions and critics about the use of platforms, emphasizing the difficulties to access these platforms by the marginalized groups and the absence or non-inclusion of all students and teachers in the same way and level. A debatable matter was the quality of the materials used for e-learning and the level of the inclusion of schools and teachers in the process by emphasizing the problems with organization. There was a debate also about the submitting of the homework assignments, reading and student engagements, implementation of the possibility for education from home which is foreseen in the law, but at the same time there is the difficulty of not knowing much about this type of learning because of lack of experience and the supervisory and verification mechanisms in this aspect. Despite the admiration for the teachers and the organizations that are recording e-learning classes, it was mentioned that one cannot avoid mistakes because of the speed of the implementation and lack of different levels of control for the materials that are used. Since MESTI cannot suggest one platform, schools may use the one which is more suitable for them.
Participants to this discussion agreed that the online learning classes were an emergent solution, therefore the focus for the next phase should be in the development of other instructions, including those for evaluation, as well as increasing the quality control level for the recorded lessons. There was also a wide consensus that the technology is not sufficiently used for educational purposes and that the schools should adjust their infrastructure and the communication systems. In this situation, all mechanisms should be used for organizing of classes and that classes should be provided to the marginalized groups and also organize alternatives for an external evaluation.
In conclusion, despite the fact that classes may not be that effective, all efforts should be made not to annul the school year. Additional classes should be organized, by including the marginalized groups and activation of all teachers in the process of education. Immediately, upon the normalization of the situation, schools should be empowered and have a functional system of communication with students and parents, and thus encourage and supervise classes, not only during the situation with Pandemic, but also for any other situation in the future. School year should end by having additional classes and using the criteria that take into consideration the teaching plan and the conditions in which the classes were organized. At the policy level, the MESTI should develop policies for an intensive digitalization of schools in cooperation with the municipalities.