Education has a future in war-torn Kosovo

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 9, 2002

There's a new aroma at our table this week: "the sensuous smell of Turkish coffee brewing."

That, along with "the sound of roosters and the imams calling the faithful to prayer," says Dr. Cledwyn Haydn-Jones – "Cled" for short –, is what he woke up to each morning for two weeks this summer while on a teacher-training trip to southern Kosovo.

Cled, admired throughout the Cochrane area for his operatic voice, was till recently Associate Superintendent of Schools for Rocky View School Division. In addition to being adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and Gonzaga University, he is in demand as an education and leadership consultant.

Together with Violet Baron, assistant principal at Cochrane's Glenbow Elementary School, Cled was part of a team of eight teacher trainers from the University of Calgary cooperating with the Kosovo Education Development Project in a program of learner-centred instruction (LCI).

I thought our coffee companions here in Cochrane would be especially interested in this story because of our connection with the Ruhani family, Kosovar refugees. Our community hosted them three years ago during their flight from the horrors for which former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is currently on trial.

The assignment took Cled and Violet to the village of Recan, in a war-torn region not far from the ancient city of Prizren, near the border of Macedonia and Albania.

Recan is "inhabited by Bosniaks who are Muslim Serb speakers," Cled wrote soon after his arrival in Kosovo. They "share a common territory with the majority Albanian Kosovars, Serbs, Ashkalis and Roma (gypsies)."

Kosovo was an autonomous province in the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its population is overwhelmingly Muslim and only seven percent Orthodox Serb, a difference exploited in the brutal Balkan war of the late 1990s.

It is the legacy of that inter-ethnic conflict that provided the opportunity for a Canadian contribution to peace making through innovative strategies in education.

"Bosniak and Serb teachers see the value and efficacy of helping students practice the democratic art of 'agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable,'" Cled said.

There was "enthusiasm for learning exhibited by minority group teachers, Bosniak and Serb. These people taught us much about caring and doing, with dignity, grace and devilish humour – good things in desperate times!"

This was the second of a three-year contract between the University of Calgary and the Kosovo Education Development Project. Although it was Cled's first summer with the project, it was the second for Violet.

"What I saw when I returned this year was a country moving forward," Violet told me. "I saw teachers with whom I'd worked last year excited about education."

The University of Calgary team was in an area where, until recently, Albanians weren't allowed to attend high school. "It was illegal to teach them," she explained.

"Now there is a future together."

Violet's enthusiasm didn't escape Cled's attention. "Having Violet as my partner teacher was a privilege and a pleasure," he said. "I learnt so much from her about effective lesson planning and student-centred teaching."

In retrospect, he saw this "functional pairing of Canadian instructors whose skills complemented each other" as one of the great strengths of the program.

He also observed an enouraging trend toward gender equity. "Some of the most effective teacher leaders were women," he said.

Quite aside from the primary reason for being there, Cled developed some enthusiastic reactions of his own:

This part of the world has "some of the most delicious and fresh tomatoes, peaches and apricots," he wrote me from Kosovo. Looking out his hotel window, he could see the remains of a Crusades-era castle and an Ottoman fort.

He was also fascinated with the "anachronisms and paradox galore – late-registration BMWs, plis-hatted Albanian old men, Turkish rap music with traditional instruments."

And he absolutely agrees with Violet: this onetime place of strife and violence is becoming a place with a future together.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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