Charter Schools: A First Class Ticket to an Educated Future
If I were asked to describe the Marshall Memorial Fellowship in one sentence, I think it would be the Chinese axiom: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Only two days into the visit and “fate” showed me a concept I had only known in theory–charter schools. Little did I know the true impact these schools had on people and American society. I learned this lesson when my MMF cohort visited the Carlos Rosario Charter School in Washington, D.C. This visit lit a spark in me. My brain was booming with all kinds of statistics and calculations, comparing the American example with the experiences of my own country’s young population. Kosovo is the country with the youngest population in Europe: about half of its population is under 25 years of age, and about 20% is between 15 and 25 years of age. Estimates indicate that only about 40% of young people aged 15–19 and 69% of young people aged 20–24 are active in the Kosovo labor market. The unemployment rate in Kosovo today is 45%: the highest in the Western Balkans. The main reasons behind this are a lack of economic development (no production, no foreign investments, hence no job creation) and a lack of proper education policies to cultivate a labor force compatible with demand. Naturally, the current unemployment levels, as well as the low rate of economic development, have turned the young population into a liability rather than an asset for Kosovo. Education policy is one of the key tools in transforming this liability into an asset. In terms of higher education the focus should be on providing the quality of education that best equips the young labor force with the skills needed for today’s market. Charter schools like the one we visited in Washington don’t exist in Kosovo. Our educational system was seriously harmed during Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, to the point where it was rendered nonexistent.
It has continued to be severely harmed in the aftermath of the war due to a lack of ambitious educational policies. Compared to their fellow Europeans, Kosovar youth today are not competitive workers– despite the fact that the majority of them are multilingual. They lack a system that provides them with vital skills, and a market in which to apply them. Kosovo is failing to provide fertile soil for educational and workforce innovations. Kosovo needs to develop more skilled workers. The idea of charter schools would provide a creative way to achieve this goal. Together with proactive economic development policies, the charter school model could help change the statistics cited above, helping stop the current exodus of youth who seek a better future outside of the country. Aristotle once said that “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.” American charter schools strike me as a first class ticket to an educated future and a Kosovo that is alive and vital.
Puhie Demaku, Levizja Vetevendosje!, is a 2012 Marshall Memorial Fellow from Kosovo
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.