Green Education and Environmental Activism in Kosovo5 min read
Kosovo’s strains to provide high-quality education have been further challenged by the pandemic shockwaves. Yet younger groups of students and activists have nonetheless shown resilience and a high level of awareness towards the role of green education. Although Kosovo lacks a political agenda on environmental issues, youth’s civic engagement has entered the educational sector and displayed the country’s failure in providing a sustainable vision for future generations.
When Kosovo’s Supreme Court overturned the earlier ruling of the Court of Appeals by suspending the construction of Brezovica’s hydropower plant, thousands of young activists were rewarded for their efforts in standing against the project. The spontaneous grassroots mobilisation was not a mere act of civic participation but reflected a broader willingness of teenagers and local communities in providing new alternatives for living sustainably and in respect of nature.
As noted by the European Commissioner for Education, Mariya Gabriel, education undoubtedly plays a role in inspiring sustainable behaviour and helping citizens move from awareness to action. In Kosovo, local mobilisations in favour of green causes have escalated in recent years, encouraging younger generations to deepen their knowledge and speak up. Green education is formally a part of Kosovo’s public education curricula; starting from the third grade of elementary school, children get acquainted with basic knowledge of the nexus between nature and society. However, lessons are only held in the classroom, with no practical sessions in nature or visits to farms and gardens.
In secondary schools, green education is an elective course, subject to the decision of school principals whether it is provided. Even if offered, the curriculum only provides generic knowledge, reflecting the structural weaknesses encountered by the education system in general. In addition, both unpreparedness on the subject and old-fashioned teaching methods disengage students, rather than turning knowledge into practice.
However, spontaneous initiatives from the third sector have emerged over time with the scope of filling the gaps. Nurtured by the wider European framework on environmental protection and ecological transition, green activism in Kosovo has entered schools and educational centres in other forms, even in more rural areas. CSOs focusing on green education have promoted public debates, cleaning campaigns, protests, and other non-formal educational activities that create potential for raising awareness and furthering collective actions. Where Kosovo’s authorities cannot reach a broader audience of citizens, civic activism promotes various training and capacity-building activities to improve the youth’s critical thinking skills. Among other initiatives, Green Clubs have been established across Kosovo in order to equip pupils with recycling skills and knowledge of waste separation.
The establishment of such platforms, including broad partnerships between CSOs, schools and local institutions, might facilitate authorities to adopt new teaching and learning alternatives in the education sector. Yet activists and students demand better inter-agency cooperation between the civil society and the field of education to smooth bureaucratic procedures and allocate autonomy to schools and educational centres in protecting biodiversity.
Root causes and paradoxes
Numerous entrepreneurial initiatives have been created in order to turn environmental issues into an opportunity for learning new skills and providing alternatives for a circular economy in Kosovo. The SEREC project in the town of Peja has not only established a chain of recycling-and-sorting waste textiles to be potentially resold, but it has also organised vocational training activities in schools and universities. At Odhise Paskali Art School, students were equipped with cloth-redesign skills, while some graduates from the local university have joined the NGO sector to combine knowledge with practice.
While civil society is taking the leap forward, there are a number of problems that lie in the daunting and complex features of Kosovo’s administrative system. Despite the high number of running projects in education and civil society, environmental issues have never been a top priority for political élites. In this way, green education and environmental activism are not two faces of the same coin. People’s engagement in virtuous practices in rural areas, often supported by local civil society organisations, has not so far stimulated any long-term cooperation with institutions.
Moreover, both political interference and watchdogging within the same civil society, along with a general lack of professionalism in formulating green policies, deepen the issue of institutional assistance toward the whole educational sector. For instance, the majority of students and scholars are unable to conduct in-depth studies on environmental practices due to the lack of data that is provided by institutions at all levels.
However, youth civic engagement in environmental issues is on the rise. A large number of young citizens feel disengaged and uninspired because they feel unheard by institutions. In Pristina and Mitrovica, the youth have self-organised a wealth of initiatives with the scope of raising awareness about a variety of environmental issues. Activists and ordinary people in urban areas are largely engaged in, and overwhelmed by, information on green alternatives. Yet they have almost no chance to keep up their good work due to institutional disinterest.
On the flipside, in rural areas, older generations are unmotivated to contribute to new alternatives and found unwilling to readapt themselves to a new sustainable life. Ageing communities perform old-fashioned practices of recycling and sustainable consumption, driven by a high level of poverty. The generational divide here comes to the forefront: while the elderly struggle to catch up with the new paradigms of sustainability, young generations do not need much encouragement to become involved in good environmental and ecological practices.
Youth remain the main target group of public campaigns, which do little to tackle their consumerist attitudes in contemporary society. Green education can definitely reshape their attitudes beyond school for the better, but a wiser investment plan for new learning and teaching programs can harmonise the future interconnectedness between nature and the young generation, and vice versa.
This article was written as part of wider research and advocacy efforts supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society in the context of ‘Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowship’.
Gentiola Madhi is a policy analyst based in Italy. Since 2018 she works as a consultant researcher for non-governmental organizations and she contributes to Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso – Transeuropa. Previously, Gentiola worked as project manager for the Center of Excellence at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania and as a national programme officer at Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation in Tirana. Gentiola is an alumna of ‘Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowship and a former Think Visegrad Fellow at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy in Prague.