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Help your Balkan eagles to fly high

Bill Bolloten and Tim Spafford help you to give a warm welcome to pupils from Albania

Albanian families and young adults - and sometimes children on their own - first came to the UK seeking asylum in the 1990s, fleeing political violence and blood feuds. More recently, Albanian students have enrolled in British universities, and some adults have work permits. Most Albanian-speaking children are not from Albania itself but from Kosovo and Macedonia.

Most Albanians in the UK live in London, especially in Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith, Redbridge, Newham, Haringey and Brent. There are also communities in Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool.

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

There are many ethnic groups in Albania, but most are ethnic Albanians.

Others include GypsyRoma, Greeks, Montenegrins and Macedonians. The official language is Albanian, which has a dialect (Tosk) on which standard Albanian is based. Another dialect, Gheg, is spoken in the north and by Kosovan and Macedonian Albanians. Many educated Albanians also speak Italian.

Children take their father's name and are known by their first name and surname. Many Albanians are Muslims, though many do not worship regularly.

Christians in the country are mostly Albanian Orthodox and Roman Catholic.

THE SCHOOL SYSTEM

Primary schooling is free, compulsory and has two stages, each lasting four years. The lower-primary stage (akel i ulet) begins at age six. In upper-primary (cikel i larte), subjects are taught by specialists. Many subjects, including a foreign language, are compulsory.

From the equivalent of Year 3, children who fail more than two subjects must repeat a year. There are final examinations in Albanian and maths at the end of the upper-primary phase.

Secondary education is not compulsory, and many children do not continue beyond the primary phase, especially in rural areas. Some children attend secondary school (shkolle e mesme pergjithshme) from the age of 13 or 14.

This lasts for four years. There are also technical schools (shkolle teknike) or vocational schools (shkolle professionale). At the end of the secondary phase, pupils take the "matura" exam.

TIPS FOR TEACHERS

* Encourage Albanian pupils to attend after-school activities - some may have missed part of their education and need to catch up.

* November 28 is "national flag day". It celebrates the day in 1912 when national hero Ismail Qemali raised the Albanian flag, with its double-headed eagle emblem, to resist the Ottoman Empire's division of the country. Ask your pupils to tell you more.

* Older pupils may be literate in Albanian so provide them with bilingual dictionaries.

* Some Albanian pupils may be without a parent, so work closely with pastoral staff to offer suitable support.

* Albanians are often highly educated and skilled and have high expectations of school, so encourage the parents to get involved in school life.

USEFUL RESOURCES

* Albanian and English Words for School Use (published by the Refugee Council) www.refugeecouncil.org.ukpublicationsindex.htm

* Petar's Song by Pratima Mitchell and Caroline Binch (Frances Lincoln) is a picture book. Petar must flee his rural Balkan community when war breaks out.

* Albanian-English Picture Dictionary by S Turhan and S Hagin (Milet) See www.milet.commilet_albanian.asp

* Albania by Neil Olsen (Oxfam) is a paperback profile of the country that offers a very useful introduction to its people and culture.

USEFUL WORDS AND PHRASES

English - Albanian

Hello - Pershendetje

Good morning - Mirmengjez

What is your name? - Si ju quajne? or Si e keni emrin?

My name is... - Un quhem... or Emri im eshte ...

Thank you - Faleminderit

Can you write about your life in Albania? - A mund te shkruani perreth jetes tuaj ne Shqiperi?

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