Dreams for an intelligent classroom turning to dust in Albanian schools

$3.7 million was spent to equip 47,000 students around Albania with electronic tablets – now, those tablets are forgotten by students and teachers, unused.

By Fortesa Latifi

The plan was grand. In 2014 Albanian Ministry of Education aimed to buy tablets to stock 120 classes in 60 high schools across Albania,
urban and rural. With this proposal, around 47,000 students would benefit in those that were called in the project “intelligent classrooms.”
Three years after the “Modern Technology Education System” project should have been implemented, students have forgotten the brand of the tablets because they are used so rarely. Teachers haven’t been trained for using them in their classrooms, despite promises to do so. Currently, the tablets are sitting in storage closets and cabinets in schools, gathering dust. Currently, the tablets are sitting in storage closets and cabinets in schools, gathering dust. In 2013, the Albanian Ministry of Finance began negotiations for a loan from an Austrian bank called UniCredit Bank Austria. In 2014, the loan was approved and former Minister of Education Myqerem Tafaj signed the loan for $2.65 million. In September of 2013, Prime Minister Edi Rama was elected and the Socialist Party came to power. As a result, a new Minister of Education was appointed. Under Minister of Education Lindita Nikolla, the loan for the project was increased by $1.05 million dollars, bringing the total sum of the project to $3.7 million. Under the terms of the project, with the tablets, students would be able to study chemistry, biology, foreign languages, mathematics and literacy, replacing textbooks in 120 classes. In conjunction with the tablet implementation, blackboards were replaced with electronic boards. Teachers planned to give exams through the tablets instead of using paper.

Students have forgotten tablets

At the beginning of the 2015 school year, the tablets were planned to be in use, but the situation is not what the project papers envisioned.

One of the schools included in this project is Sami Frasheri High School in Tirana. Sami Frasheri is only a few blocks away from the center of the city. The school is pale pink, the color of cherry blossoms. An Albanian flag stands tall next to a statue of Sami Frasheri, the namesake of the school who was an Albanian writer and a symbol of the country National Renaissance in the 19 century.

The school sits behind a fence which separates it from the sidewalk. In front of the fence stands a security guard with a permanent scowl on his face. He eyes each person who enters carefully.

He shoos students away from the fence. He watches.

At ten o’clock, students have a break. The guard steps away from the fence and swings the door open. He allows the students to pass. They stream through the opening and onto the sidewalk.

There are fast food restaurants surrounding the school on both side and students rush to grab something to eat before they have to be back in class.

Although the tablet project had lofty goals, the students of Sami Frasheri told PSE that the reality of the situation is different.

 

“During 2016, we had lessons using tablets only three times,” said Stiven P., an 11th-grader at Sami Frasheri.  “Many of them have problems. Some do not charge.”

Across the city, in another high school you’ll find this same sentiment. At Eqrem Cabej High School, a teacher who preferred not to be named said she hadn’t been trained in tablet use.

According to the Ministry of Education, 4,000 teachers had been trained by 2015 with a goal of 8,000 trained teachers by 2018.

The director of Eqrem Cabej, Gezim Koci, told PSE that his school doesn’t have the necessities for the tablets to be useful. There aren’t chargers for the tablets or Wi-Fi to connect to and Koci said the only hope for investing in these solutions is further funding from the Ministry of Education.

“We have no financial means to cover these costs and are awaiting investment,” he said.

Tirana Regional Education Directory told PSE that the implementation has not been completed at Eqrem Cabej. In an email, the directory’s officials said that it would be years before the tablets project could be implemented in all Tirana’s schools.

“Only the basic equipment has been distributed to this school, not all of the equipment needed in order to make the digital teaching process possible. The project could not be implemented all over high schools of Tirana within a year since costs are very high,” the email reads.

In schools across the country, the project has stuttered. In Elbasan, students reported never using the tablets. In Tirana, students said they hadn’t seen the tablets in over a year.

PSE requested government records to determine which 60 schools had been chosen for the project in order to investigate other schools but the Ministry of Education did not fulfill the records request even though they are legally obligated to within ten days according to the law for the right of information.

PSE spoke with the Deputy Minister of Education, Nora Malaj, who said that the Ministry was dedicated to creating intelligent classrooms across the country. Malaj said she couldn’t comment on the problems in implementation.

Tablets without Internet

In each of the three schools that PSE visited to get information over the use of tablets, common issues ran amuck: Wi-Fi was nonexistent or weak, chargers were missing and tablets lay dead in closets; teachers lacked training and knowledge of the technology.

There were tablets, but there was no infrastructure to support tablets. According to one student at Sami Frasheri High School, the tablets were just something nice to look at.

Another student at Ismail Qemali High School said the tablets are so useless that students don’t even know where they are stored.

The lack of training for teachers also seems to be an important factor in turning tablets just classroom ornaments. Teachers pressed on with books, despite the hopes of the Ministry that tablets would replace them.

The Ministry of Education implemented a grandiose, reaching project without proper preparation. And taxpayers spent 3.7 million dollars on it.

PSE requested that the Ministry of Education provide an itemized list of the costs associated with each phase of the project but the records request was not fulfilled.

However, the Ministry did publicize certain facets of the project. According to the Ministry, 5,850 tablets were bought. Each school was given an electronic projector, 40 tablets for students, 15 tablets for lecturers and 3 laptops for teachers.

Despite the Ministry’s claim that each school received 55 tablets total, one school reported only receiving 25 tablets for a class of 36 students. PSE asked the Ministry to disclose the brand and model of the tablets, and for a breakdown of the costs, but the request was unanswered.

The plan was grand. The execution was questionable. The results? Look in the closets. The tablets are there.

 

Photos and Infographics by Fortesa Latifi.