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Education in a Rebuilding Nation: Renewing Special Education in Kosovo
Exceptional Children, Summer 2004, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 485-495 (11)
Bartlett , B., Blatch, P., and Power, D.
Abstracted by: Michael Neil
By the end of the Bosnian Civil War, the educational system in Kosovo, including special education, had been decimated. Though devastating, the consequences of this destruction provided an opportunity for innovative restructuring of special needs education for individuals with disabilities. In “Education in a Rebuilding Nation: Renewing Special Education in Kosovo”, Bartlett, Blatch, and Power discuss the successful projects initiated by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in conjunction with activists within the Kosovar educational community. This article also focuses on a neglected field of study encompassing the unique needs of people caught within the intersection of disability and displacement and social needs, including education.
Reestablishment of an educational system, which can impart literacy and other necessary skills, becomes paramount in the effort to regain functional self-government after ethnic conflict and other violence have disrupted governmental and societal institutions. The ideal reconstruction and renovation of educational systems requires rebuilding infrastructure, as well as replenishing supplies, but particularly focuses on multiculturalism and inclusion when training teachers and administrators. In the case of Kosovo, scarce building materials and limited school supplies did not deter the desire of both teachers and students to reestablish and improve their traditional schools, reclaiming and amending their previous system.
In pre-war Kosovo, special education operated under a “withdrawal” model, which separated deaf, blind, and intellectually impaired students from the community at large and from each other. Impediments to attendance for these special-needs students included transportation and safety issues. In many cases, children lived far from a designated school and the connecting roads were studded with land mines. Additionally, trained special-education teachers were scarce. Ethnic segregation exacerbated the problems. Serb, ethnic Albanian Muslim, nomadic Roma schools were separated from one another bureaucratically and geographically. Division by ethnicity segregated the already enisled special needs children.
By 2000, with the fall of Milosevic and the end of the Kosovar civil war, terrorized and neglected students populated the remnants of the parallel school systems run by Albanian Kosovars. The UNMIK provided almost immediate relief. It appointed wardens to protect students and hired teachers committed to ethnic as well as disability integration. To aid this process, the deaf community purged teachers and administrators unwilling to discard archaic views, integrated classes, and created Kosovar Sign Language.
In the blind community, UNMIK took a secondary role to school and community leaders who had shielded blind students, whose parents had fled without them, from roving militias during the conflict. In staying to protect the children, professional teachers including those with special education training and administrators remained, as did the proper educational equipment they preserved. Even before the conflict, adapted mainstream curricula were in place. Conditions existed which allowed for easier normalization, rebuilding, and reform.
While Kosovo has experienced enormous challenges, the resilience and resourcefulness of the special education system stands as an exemplar of ethnic and disability tolerance, a valuable asset to national reconstruction. The experiences of UNMIK and grassroots educational groups in Kosovo have shown that permanent disintegration of social services is not inevitable in a post-conflict situation and that rebuilding efforts can provide unique opportunities for community improvement.