As late as 1946, about 85 percent of the people were illiterate,
principally because schools using the Albanian language had been
practically nonexistent in the country before it became independent
in 1912. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman rulers
had prohibited use of the Albanian language in schools. Turkish
was spoken in the few schools that served the Muslim population.
These institutions were located mainly in cities and large towns.
The schools for Orthodox Christian children were under the supervision
of the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate. The teachers at
these schools usually were recruited from the Orthodox clergy,
and the language of instruction was Greek. The first school known
to use Albanian in modern times was in a Franciscan seminary that
opened in 1861 in Shkodėr.
From about 1880 to 1910, several Albanian patriots intent on
creating a sense of national consciousness founded elementary
schools in a few cities and towns, mostly in the south, but these
institutions were closed by the Ottoman authorities. The advent
of the Young Turks (see Glossary) movement in 1908 motivated the
Albanian patriots to intensify their efforts, and in the same
year a group of intellectuals met in Monastir to choose an Albanian
alphabet. Books written in Albanian before 1908 had used a mixture
of alphabets, consisting mostly of combinations of Latin, Greek,
and Turkish-Arabic letters.
The participants in the Monastir meeting developed a unified
alphabet based on Latin letters. A number of textbooks soon were
written in the new alphabet, and Albanian elementary schools opened
in various parts of the country. In 1909, to meet the demand for
teachers able to teach in the native tongue, a normal school was
established in Elbasan. But in 1910, the Young Turks, fearing
the emergence of Albanian nationalism, closed all schools that
used Albanian as the language of instruction.
Even after Albania became independent, schools were scarce. The
unsettled political conditions caused by the Balkan wars and by
World War I hindered the development of a unified education system.
The foreign occupying powers, however, opened some schools in
their respective areas of control, each power offering instruction
in its own language. A few of these schools, especially the Italian
and French ones, continued to function after World War I and played
a significant role in introducing Western educational methods
and principles. Particularly important was the National Lycée
of Korēė, in which the language of instruction was French.
Soon after the establishment of a national government in 1920,
which included a ministry of education, the foundation was laid
for a national education system. Elementary schools were opened
in the cities and some of the larger towns, and the Italian and
French schools that had opened during World War I were strengthened.
In the meantime, two important American schools were founded--the
American Vocational School in Tiranė, established by the American
Junior Red Cross in 1921, and the American Agricultural School
in Kavajė, sponsored by the Near East Foundation. Several future
communist party and government luminaries were educated in the
foreign schools: Enver Hoxha graduated from the National Lycée
in 1930, and Mehmet Shehu, who would become prime minister, completed
studies at the American Vocational School in 1932.
In the 1920s, the period when the foundations of the modern Albanian
state were laid, considerable progress was made toward development
of a genuinely Albanian education system. In 1933 the Royal Constitution
was amended to make the education of citizens an exclusive right
of the state. All foreign-language schools, except the American
Agricultural School, were either closed or nationalized. This
move was intended to stop the rapid spread of schools sponsored
directly by the Italian government, especially among Roman Catholics
in the north.
The nationalization of schools was followed in 1934 by a farreaching
reorganization of the entire education system. The new system
called for compulsory elementary education from the ages of four
to fourteen. It also provided for the expansion of secondary schools
of various kinds; the establishment of new technical, vocational,
and commercial secondary schools; and the acceleration and expansion
of teacher training. The obligatory provisions of the 1934 reorganization
law were never enforced in rural areas because the peasants needed
their children to work in the fields, and because of a lack of
schoolhouses, teachers, and means of transportation.
The only minority schools operating in Albania before World War
II were those for the Greek minority living in the district of
Gjirokastėr. These schools too were closed by the constitutional
amendment of 1933, but Greece referred the case to the International
Permanent Court of Justice, which forced Albania to reopen them.
Pre-World War II Albania had no university-level education and
all advanced studies were pursued abroad. Every year the state
granted a limited number of scholarships to deserving high school
graduates, who otherwise could not afford to continue their education.
But the largest number of university students came from well-to-do
families and thus were privately financed. The great majority
of the students attended Italian universities because of their
proximity and because of the special relationship between the
Rome and Tiranė governments. The Italian government itself, following
a policy of political, economic, military, and cultural penetration
of the country, granted a number of scholarships to Albanian students
recommended by its legation in Tiranė.
Soon after the Italians occupied Albania in April 1939, the education
system came under complete Italian control. Use of the Italian
language was made compulsory in all secondary schools, and the
fascist ideology and orientation were incorporated into the curricula.
After 1941, however, when guerilla groups began to operate against
the Italian forces, the whole education system became paralyzed.
Secondary schools became centers of resistance and guerrilla recruitment,
and many teachers and students went to the mountains to join resistance
groups. By September 1943, when Italy capitulated to the Allies
and German troops invaded and occupied Albania, education had
come to a complete standstill.
Data as of April 1992