Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) may soon be hosting a cohort of teachers from Kosovo in the master’s of education program. The university is now engaged in a 10-year agreement with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Republic of Kosovo to “explore collaborative educational initiatives in Kosovo, the Balkans region and the United States.”
The memorandum of intention was signed Sept. 15, 2015, during a one-day visit to the EMU campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, by Dr. Arsim Bajrami, Kosovo’s minister of education, science and technology. President Loren Swartzendruber co-signed the agreement.
The teachers would potentially attend graduate classes taught by EMU education faculty in their country, online, and during summer residencies at the Harrisonburg campus, with funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID has been engaged with Kosovo’s education system for the past 14 years, according to its website.
Bajrami was accompanied by Dr. Ahmet Shala, Kosovo’s former minister of finance and ambassador to Japan, and now visiting professor at James Madison University; Dr. Zenun Halili, senior adviser; and Frymëzim Isufaj,counselor of economy and Congress at Kosovo’s embassy in Washington D.C.
The memorandum was signed after a short meeting between the visiting dignitaries and the EMU delegation, which included, in addition to President Swartzendruber, Dr. Fred Kniss, provost; Dr. Jim Smucker, vice president and dean of graduate and professional schools; Dr. Sarah Armstrong, director of the master’s in education program; and Daryl Byler, executive director of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
EMU’s teachers are trained with a programmatic focus on personal formation, learning in community, cross-cultural competencies, and integration of peacebuilding principles into the teaching curriculum, said Smucker during a short presentation.
Bajrami said Kosovo has benefited from educational exchanges in the United States for many years, which has laid “a strong foundation for long-term cooperation and friendship.”
“This university is small in size, but you bring some very special qualities that make me happy,” Bajrami said through a translator. He pointed out that Kosovo’s education system, along with its teacher training programs, is still in development, but that the country “has an orientation to bring an American philosophy to our education system as we want to increase our quality standards. Good teachers guarantee good students.”
Ambassador Shala, a close friend of the minister, provided translation during the meeting. Shala’s roots are in education and business, yet he has a strong interest in interfaith peacebuilding, according to Byler, who spent time with Shala during a visit to Kosovo for a conference on that same topic in the spring.
A proponent of education, Shala established a foreign language school in the capital of Prishtina in the mid-1990s, and later opened branches in several cities. The schools suffered damage during the 1999 war, but were later re-opened with a new emphasis: the provision of free education to refugees, orphans, invalids of the war, and other marginalized people.
The memorandum points to shared goals of both EMU and the Kosovo government of “creating a just and peaceful world through the power of education” and building strong learning communities through cross-cultural exchange.