The Albanian Alliance of Education Trade Unions, comprising the Trade Union Federation of Education and Science of Albania (FSASH) and the Independent Trade Union of Albanian Education (SPASH-ITUEA), has been working since 2002 with different projects designed to increase school retention rates and promote inclusion of vulnerable students. Teachers have been trained in new active learning techniques and even though in some cases the projects have concluded, the ethos and practices of inclusive education remain. Schools are now proving very effective in addressing cultural attitudes that give low priority to education, finding solutions to economic barriers to attending school, overcoming children’s fears of bullying and discrimination, and persuading families of the value of girls’ education.
In Albania, education is compulsory between the ages of 6-14 years and over the last decade there has been a steady and significant decline in the number of children out of school . Child labour in the formal economy has been largely eradicated. However, the incidence of school dropout among children from the Roma and Egyptian communities continues to remain high, a reflection of deep-rooted discrimination and exclusion. The children who are out of school are either in informal employment, on the streets, or in the case of girls, often victims of early marriage.
Since 2002, as part of the child labour projects, more than 450 national and local trade union leaders have been trained on child labour issues, from the districts of Tirana, Fieri, Korca, Elbasani, Durresi, Shkodra and others. Teachers now have access to a package of reference materials in Albanian on child labour issues and inclusive education techniques, including through the use of arts, culture and sports. Main activities include the identification of students who have abandoned school or are at risk; preparation of individual intervention plans for those children; and establishing child labour monitoring groups to coordinate activities to be organised with pupils, in collaboration with school leaders, parents, and local community representatives. We estimate that over 6000 teachers have been involved in the project and as a result over 2800 children have returned back to school and 6500 have been prevented from dropping out.
We now have a pool of well-trained teachers who know how to identify children in danger of abandoning school and how to deal with this issue. Teachers also see that unions are helping them strengthen their professional capacities. But the work of keeping children in school also safeguards teachers’ employment because here in Albania, the birth rate is declining sharply because of out-migration, and teachers’ jobs are under threat.
Teachers set up regular monitoring group meetings to discuss how to create a supportive environment for all children and integrate children at risk of dropping out. They discuss how to communicate positively, how to make a child more of a focal point of attention and build on their talents; and how to convince a child that he or she is valuable because sometimes the parents don’t do that. These new techniques also help teachers find ways to create a very positive environment for special needs children.
The projects also focus on building stronger relations with parents, particularly parents of the older children who are most at risk of abandoning school. Teachers have told us that they had not been really aware of the shocking extent of the social problems or economic hardship faced by some families.
They have organised joint activities with parents, like book fairs or art competitions or sports activities. They hold ‘coffee meetings’ with parents whose children are missing classes or no longer coming to school. In that way, the parents see that their children are really wanted at school and that helps improve cooperation. We discuss the reasons behind children abandoning school - we talk with them about the problems of poverty and economic reasons. These meetings are regular, step by step.
Teachers must often also convince families of the value of girls’ education, because of deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes. Here Roma and Egyptian girls are married at 14 years old in customary marriages, it is not legal but they still get married. So the girls stop school at 13 or 14 years old and even if they don’t get married they are considered grown up and should not be in school. If the child is still at home and not married, and many live with grandparents as the parents are working abroad, then we have some results.
Parents also tell us that the projects and the new school ethos of inclusive education have had a positive impact on the whole of the neighbourhood. One parent explained that a few years ago there were often younger children in the bars and streets with older children, doing things that were not respectable. But he has seen that gradually the children have been integrated back into their school and he considered that the streets have become safer.
As we celebrate Universal Children’s Day, we are delighted that this important work is continuing during the academic year 2019/20 in 11 districts in Albania, with the support of EI, the German Education Union (GEW) Fair Childhood Foundation and the Dutch Education Union, AOb. In Korca, the project targets two schools where 53 children abandoned school this year and we hope to bring them back. There are also another 120 students who are considered at risk of dropping out, who will benefit from individual support. The project also plans to train 60 teachers, older students and parents on international and national child protection legislation in targeted districts and 20 union trainers from another 10 districts on how to set up similar programmes in other schools. We are confident in this way more schools will be better equipped to prevent school dropout with all the negative consequences it brings for our children and future citizens.
20 November 2019 marks 30 years since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To celebrate the anniversary of one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties in history, we are publishing a series of blogs showcasing the work and commitment of education unions to support children’s rights, in particular their right to education. With many children and young people still out-of-school, our work is far from over. Read the full Statement of our General Secretary, David Edwards.
 UNESCO reports there were 26,672 children out of school in 2008 and 4,665 children out of school in 2017.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.