I wish I could say that education has always been a priority for Albanians, but I cannot. At the time of our country’s liberation, more than half of the population was illiterate. Albania has had a monist system for 45 years, during which education and fighting illiteracy were a priority for the state. There was a lot of effort to make children literate but as in most communist countries, everything including education was run exactly how the state wanted it. Rigidity has been a long-established feature of the Albanian education system, with strong measures being taken against students considered “problematic”. There were even special places where leaflets containing statements or ironic poems to shame bad students were put up and seen by the entire community. There was little freedom or tolerance regarding children’s behaviour.
Right now, in a far more democratic system than that of 20 years ago, the situation is different. But most Albanians would prefer to call this a period of transition rather than full democracy. Albania is still in a transitory stage between monism and pluralism, and between a planned economy and one open to the world market. Such changes are also visible in our education system, where we have both public and private schools. I have had the opportunity to experience them both, but I must say that both public and private schools are quite different from their counterparts elsewhere.
What I have firstly noticed while comparing them is the difference in infrastructure. Obviously, private schools are better equipped, providing students with cleaner and often warmer classrooms in winter and more sophisticated labs. I am currently studying in a public school and unfortunately I notice the contrast. Our desks are filled with drawings and if you take a look under any of them, you will see a sea of chewing gum. Since I started high school, we have never used the lab or its equipment. There isn’t a real gym or dressing room. Our changing room is a disused room full of broken chairs, blackboards and tables. There are broken windows everywhere and smoking is rampant among certain students.
Even if we have been a democratic country for more than 20 years now, violence is still prevalent in schools. At my private school, I had a teacher who was always hitting me and my friends. She was my main teacher for five years, during which I remember many of my classmates changing schools or classes because of her. She used to pull children’s ears when they could not solve a problem correctly and continued to do treat us like this until we reached sixth grade. Now, I feel terrible for the children she is currently teaching. I never went to a public elementary school but I fear the situation is as bad there.
In both schools, we were forced to learn subjects we would never use or were not interested in. I agree that everyone should be shaped by having some knowledge in every field but, there are some kinds of knowledge that we will never need and will forget after a while. We study more than ten subjects and we don’t have the right to choose between them. Before starting high school I was given a form to fill out and choose my subjects. I never understood what happened to that form. My teachers never brought it up and I am currently studying certain subjects that I did not opt for. I think it is fine for us to receive general knowledge, especially in elementary school, but I believe it is beneficial for high school students to start pursuing a specialized line of study.
I would also like to show how corruption has infected the educational system. In my class, there are five boys whose mothers teach in school. Two twins among them were my classmates for nine years in elementary education, so I know them to be students who do not put effort into studying and have a rude attitude towards teachers. One of them mostly got grades of 6 or 7 while the other was slightly better, getting 8 and 9. The highest grade is 10 and the lowest one is 4, which shows that they were not stellar students. Now that they are my high school classmates, their mother still teaches here. They constantly leave classes with the teachers’ condonation. They have the freedom to go to the tuck shop and eat while everyone else studies. They can leave school premises without any consequences, or play football while the rest of us have geography class. Basically, school has become their second home. The same applies to the other three.
There have been cases where they have threatened classmates, saying that they can control them and get their grades changed. This may have been said jokingly, but it is still stuck in my mind. My teacher once let us see all of our classmates’ grades, and those of a teacher’s son caught my eye. He had almost as many 10s in math as the best student in that subject did. I tried to recall when he had answered a math question correctly – not just during that year but throughout the whole ten years I had had him in my class – but could only remember a few instances.
I also want to mention that there are many teachers who lack experience and skills. I have an English teacher who, rather than supplementing my knowledge, puts me in danger of forgetting the language. She talks as if “steak” and “stick” are the same word, and has poor spelling. What can we expect from a teacher that says “cat eat food”? We have had many arguments with her and our tutor teacher about this, but no one seems to care. There are also teachers who insult and even discriminate against us based on our gender or our outside-of-school activities, and all we can do is listen to them.
I could go on giving examples and fill the pages up, but the point of this article is to show a real part of Albanian education. I know that, like my elementary school, there might be schools that do not have such problems – but there are also schools that are much worse off. Every time I bring up this problem with my high school friends, they look tired rather than impassioned. Though they come from different schools, they all have seen similar incidents and say that there is nothing they can do.
Furthermore, politics is ingrained in the school system. If you are a member of the leading party, you are not vulnerable for as long as they continue to lead. This is particularly true for job promotions, including in the teaching profession. It is much easier for members of the leading party (or coalition of parties) to get jobs and often nepotism prevails over meritocracy. You can enjoy similar advantages if you know someone rich and powerful enough to buy people’s minds.
I cannot reveal my identity as the writer of this article because I am too scared that it might end up in my classmates’ hands. I have only shared it with my family and closest friends. I know that if any of the others read it, the years I have left in high school would be hell, but I am tired of hiding it and must show you this reality of school life, even if I wish it could be a better story. We need big changes. I feel awful about myself and everyone that works hard to get good grades, while others with contacts inside the system can get them without even trying. They will have a better future and some of them will even run this country.
However, I would not like only to discuss negative aspects of my country’s education system here. I do appreciate certain teachers that I have had in the past and currently have, who are committed to their work and love it. My tutor for instance, teaches us Biology and is very strict, but passionate about her job. I really love her work ethic, desire for us to understand the topic, and availability when we have questions. I believe that Albania has many youth out there who would make great teachers like her, but never get the opportunity as they do not have the right connections.
While I come to realize that I would have been lost without my education and retain immense gratitude for the wonderful teachers I have, I know it is still important that I speak up. The problems mentioned above will never end if people don’t change their attitude. As I said before, many of peers have given up trying to get better conditions. I know I could join them, but am glad that there are some people who are not scared to raise their voice and tell things the way they are. I believe that, being young, we have the energy and passion to bring change.