From: Alice Taylor
Protests in Tirana Over School Closures due to Lack of Heating

Activists in Tirana have come out to protest outside the Ministry of Education against the closure of schools for three days due to cold temperatures.

Last week, education minister Evis Kushi announced that due to forecasted temperatures of as low as -18 (at night) this week, all schools throughout the country would be closed for at least three days. The move sparked anger from parents and activists who argued that schools should provide adequate heating for students.

The group, Qendresa Civar protested in front of the ministry this morning. Activist Migen Qiraxhi, told the media that a situation where schools are closed because of a lack of heating during the winter is unacceptable and parents must do more to pressure the institutions to improve the situation.

“No one can be surprised that in January and February it gets cold. We are here to address the problems of teachers, a community that has been burdened with all difficulties. This profession has physical costs. They have no support for COVID, extra hours, working shifts. And children’s learning is impaired.”

He added they had communicated with many teachers who say they have felt unable to complain. They also accused the government of misusing taxpayers money.

“Students take wood to heat the classrooms. In Berat, classes are held in Eurolotto because the school is damaged. Education has no infrastructure,” he added.

Most state schools throughout the country do not have heating or cooling systems. In remote areas, schools suffer with a lack of running water, toilets, and suffer structural damage including holes in the rooves, cracks, and a lack of proper glazing.

In January 2021, students in Elbasan protested against a lack of heating in their schools. They held banners saying “we want warmth” and boycotted classes. Teachers told the media that children have to wear extremely thick clothing to classes so they can stay warm.

In the Elbasan region, most of the 200 schools do not have running water or toilets.

Meanwhile, Albania’s spending on education remains low. In 2020, just 3.4% of the GDP was spent on education, making it one of the lowest ranking countries in the world in terms of education spending. Spending in 2020 was at the lowest level since 2015, at just over 10% of the budget.

For many years, local and international institutions have called on the Albanian government to increase investments in education. In 2018, the Albanian Coalition for Education said they had been promising for six years, to increase investment to 5% of the GDP. Yet, data from Europe and the region consistently shows that Albania ranks among the last for this matter.

They wrote:

“The lack of public investment in education and the Government’s insufficient expenditure on quality and inclusive public education, continue to leave out of schools many children and adolescents in Albania! A high number of educational institutions do not provide the necessary services for children. According to the World Health Organization, almost 50% of schools in Albania do not have drinking water and about 70 % of the schools lack adequate hygiene conditions”

This issue was also highlighted following the COVID-19 pandemic when it became apparent some schools, particularly in rural areas, didn’t have basic facilities for students.

UNICEF also called on the Albanian government to increase spending to 5% as it would bring significant long-term economic benefits.

Following the protests, minister Kushi said the reason to close the schools was not because of a lack of heating but rather because of fears the deposits would freeze. In addition, she said it was due to children having to travel to school in cold conditions.

“Few schools in the country have problems with heating,” she said.

In addition, the minister noted that 1100 teachers and 1600 students are currently infected with COVID-19.