So we’ve been running for almost a month now. A serious core of pupils comes every day and for two hours they learn reading, writing, maths and English with us. But still, that means that a child who attends every day for a month only has 40 hours of lessons with us. That’s the equivalent of 8 days in a UK school, where we’d run a 5-hour teaching day. It’s the equivalent of 10 schooldays in Kosovo where the shifts might be 4 hours. Either way, it means these kids are still lagging behind their peers.
My hunch was that we are only limited by our own energy and people power. I reckoned the kids would come for more hours in a day if we offered teaching for longer. So when, last week, the Charity Club of the private American University in Kosovo offered some of their students to teach classes on a Friday afternoon, I guessed we would have children interested in coming. Today was the first test of my theory.
We decided that we’d make it a girls-only afternoon as we had heard from some parents and kids that they weren’t happy about their older girls learning in mixed classes. We announced it to the children yesterday, and told them it wasn’t obligatory, but that if they wanted to come then they could. We assured the boys there would be something just for them starting in the next few weeks (I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have some more volunteers for afternoon classes). And then this afternoon we waited to see who would turn up.
First of all the volunteers – four pretty young women, and one young guy from AUK. I hoped we’d get at least five girls arriving in order to make it worth their while. Laura stood nervously at the door, ready to welcome any kids, and sure enough, five girls arrived. Then more, and still more sidled up to the door. In the end we had twenty five girls turn up because they want to learn more. That’s almost all the girls who attend our classes.
With me and each of the AUK volunteers taking a group we were able to split the kids into groups with particular learning needs. Valentina wrote her name without any mistakes for the first time (I have been wishing she had been named something shorter – Cima has a definite advantage). Selime wrote her first sentence. Girls in the more advanced group made a little cartoon strip with speech bubbles coming out of the characters’ mouths. Everyone had a great time – including the volunteers, as they assured me while they sat furiously cleaning their hands with wet wipes at the end of the afternoon.
And for the first time, today 25 of our children spent the same number of hours learning as their counterparts in mainstream Kosovan schools. Given the enormous class sizes in Kosovo (which can go up to 50), they had considerably more teacher attention than their counterparts in mainstream school. So at least for one day, the kids we’re teaching have closed the gap between themselves and the classmates they will hopefully join in September.
Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon