In order to give every child in Kosovo's severely overcrowded schools an opportunity to receive an education, three four-hour classroom shifts are often the norm.
For almost a decade, USAID has worked with Kosovo school system leaders to alleviate this problem through expanding and rehabilitating existing schools. In 2009, this effort took a new turn.
USAID, in partnership with CHF International, introduced the concept of a "Green School" to address overcrowding in the Medresa-Cameria section of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
Green Schools practice energy efficiency and water conservation, as well as use non-toxic and recyclable building materials in an effort to reduce the negative environmental impacts of school construction and operation. Energy efficiency is a particular concern in Kosovo where coal-fired power plants provide much of the nation's electricity, but emit high amounts of pollution. These plants also suffer from chronic technical problems, causing frequent blackouts.
The pilot school in Pristina will use more efficient, alternative sources of energy—namely, solar heating and geothermal cooling.
Piet de Vries, CHF International chief of party, says that with these new systems, the school can save 30 to 60 percent on energy costs every year compared to traditional HVAC systems. Additional savings will come from maximizing the use of natural light using a "light corridor" that allows sunlight to reach the core of the building and from there illuminate the classrooms.
Other key features include flooring, ceiling panels, and wall paint that are free of asbestos and harmful chemicals, and a "Green Roof" that students can use as a botanical "living laboratory." The roof will have plants and a water catchment system to help cool the school during hot summer months and retain rainwater for flushing the low-flow toilets.
"We hope that by offering these students a healthier learning environment, which is stimulating and conducive to learning, we can have a positive impact on their learning and overall development," says de Vries.
Moreover, a curriculum is being developed to teach students about environmental issues and green technology. As a result, the school is one of the first institutions in Kosovo to have a plastics recycling program.
Pristina Mayor Isa Moustafa and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell officially opened the school on May 12. USAID and CHF worked closely with the Municipality of Pristina during the construction, with the city covering 70 percent of the $2.1 million cost.
Communities of Learning
USAID's new education strategy endorses a "Communities of Learning" approach where schools act as a primary resource center for delivery of services that extend beyond education and contribute to a community's overall wellbeing. Pristina's Green School is a prime example of this approach, serving as a place where teachers, students, parents and the entire community can learn about and advocate for environmental stewardship and a better future for Kosovo.
At the ceremony, the officials noted that educational benefits of this effort extend far beyond the school building itself.
Said Dell: "The education doesn't stop with the children; the advanced engineering of this school is going to be used to teach engineering students at the University of Pristina about modern, environmentally friendly construction techniques. This actually has a benefit that goes well beyond the teaching of the children of the community; it's something that's going to modernize the entire construction industry in the country."
Another program funded by USAID, the Basic Education Program, will continue investing in education reform in Kosovo in partnership with the nation's government. The Green School will act as a demonstration school over the next four years for modern teaching methods in science, technology, and early grade reading.
Last updated: July 10, 2015