'Five years ago we had no desks'

4th July 1997 at 01:00
Albania. Albanian ministers could only look on in bemusement as their European counterparts at the Europe 2000 conference extolled the virtues of the Internet and competed over which had the most technologically advanced schools.

It was not a debate they could join in. Their pupils have no paper on which to write, no pens or pencils and no textbooks from which to learn. History books are so skewed towards a political agenda that they tell Albanian pupils more about the Chinese cultural revolution than their own country's past.

"Things could be worse. Five years ago we had no desks or chairs, now we have. Until recently, children could not go to school because Kalashnikov rifles pointed at them," said Idriz Kanjari, Albania's ambassador to Sweden and one of the representatives attending the Council of Europe education conference in Kristiansand, Norway.

So long isolated from the outside world, the Albanians are no longer on their own. The council has approved a Pounds 2.5 million appeal for new textbooks and paper, with the Italians already having come forward with pledges of help in rewriting the history syllabus. This is on top of some Pounds 10m donated earlier by the Nordic countries for education, democratisation and human rights reforms.

The Albanians know it will be a long process, and one cannot help but feel their frustration. But things are moving forward.

A series of working groups has been set up to review the curriculum of maths, literature, science and technology, with ministers seeking to introduce new subjects such as sociology.

Teacher training will also undergo changes, although the Albanians claim the profession has left behind the ideologies of the past. The concern now is that pupils are being taught using "primitive, outdated methods".

Mr Kanjari said: "Our big problem is that many teachers in the past have entered the profession with insufficient preparation and training. The old mentalities no longer prevail.

"The Internet and the technologies the rest of Europe talk about are a way off for us. But with the increased mobility of students it is important that our teaching and learning programmes match European standards."

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