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Country Reports on Education

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Searching for a Strategy ...: Multiethnicity, Tolerance and National Stereotypes in the Educational Systems of Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Christof Bender

 

I. Introduction

War and the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina affected its educational system more than in any other eastern European country in transition (except maybe the Kosovo region). Ethnic cleansing produced predominantly ethnically homogenous areas and enabled the fragmentation of education along ethnic lines. The proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (later renamed Republika Srpska) and the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna (later renamed Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna) established their own educational systems, oriented towards Belgrade and Zagreb respectively. This led not only to a deep social change in the form of the segregation of the young generation, but also to a structural re-organisation of education. Out of the unified and highly centralised pre-war system three independent and to some extent incompatible educational systems emerged, teaching different languages, histories and ethics, based on different laws and curricula.

Three and a half years of fighting throughout the country, ethnic cleansing and intensive long-time shelling of towns also contributed to a serious decrease in the quality of education. Over the whole country educational institutions suffered from deprivation of resources: facilities, teaching material, and teachers.

These developments had long-time consequences, outlasting the Washington Agreement as well as the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). The development of the educational system(s) is deeply intermingled with the overall situation in BiH. This makes projects dealing with education for tolerance and understanding, human rights education, civic education and the like extremely difficult. Educational institutions are shaping images of the young generation and determine their perceptions of people belonging to the respective "other groups". Without children with open and moderate attitudes, the long-term chances for a democratic and stable Bosnia and Herzegovina are very low.

In order to understand the problematic of these issues, it is necessary to sketch the relevant factors determining the development of education in BiH (Chapter II). Chapter III provides a survey of relevant activities. Afterwards problems faced by current initiatives and future perspectives are briefly discussed (Chapter IV). The conclusion (Chapter V) closes with some

recommendations.

 

II. Background – Key-Factors

A. Pre-War and Post-War Education

Education in former Yugoslavia was structured in a similar way to the Western educational systems. Essentially, this general framework has not been modified. Primary school (osnovna škola) is attended for eight years. For the first four years one single teacher teaches basically all subjects. From the fifth grade onwards, separate subjects are taught by different teachers. Secondary education is provided by grammar schools (gimnasija) with general orientation, and vocational schools (stručna škola) with more professional orientation (medical schools, dentist schools, technical schools, etc.). Vocational schools can be attended for three or four years, the latter permitting access to university. Undergraduate studies generally last from four to five years. A masters degree can be attained by additional two-year courses (mostly organised in a way that people already working are able to participate). Doctoral Studies are organised individually, and are pursued mainly by university assistants.

The big difference to the pre-war system lies in the contents of different subjects (especially history, nature and society, language and literature, art and music). Currently, three different curricula are in use – two of them designed in neighbouring countries (Croatia and Yugoslavia). Schools in the RS exclusively work with Yugoslav curricula and textbooks and teach only Serb language. In Croat controlled territories of the Federation, Croat curricula, textbooks and language are in use. In areas under Bosniac control, pupils are taught in the Bosnian language, according to the curriculum and the textbooks of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Children not belonging to the dominant group of their school either accept being taught according to the respective "other" curriculum, or have to attend school in another area where they belong to the majority group. In ethnically homogenous regions the latter is hardly possible. This is a considerable problem for the children of minority returnees1, and should be addressed by the international community immediately.

In a few schools, such as the private Catholic School Centre in Sarajevo, children not belonging to the majority group receive special education according to their ethnic background. In all three new educational systems the subject "Marxism" was removed, and some religious classes were introduced.2 With the exception of Una-Sana Canton, Sarajevo Canton, Bosnia–Podrinje Canton (Goražde), and some schools in Tuzla-Podrinje Canton the Cyrillic alphabet is no longer taught in the Federation.3 In the RS, where Cyrillic was used exclusively over the last few years, the Latin alphabet is reportedly about to be re-introduced.

 

B. Legal and Political Fragmentation

The state of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Whereas the latter is centrally organised, the Federation is divided into ten cantons. Each of them has its own constitution, a cantonal assembly, a governor (president) and ministers. Thus, 13 constitutions exist in Bosnia. This makes political decision-making a very sensitive and difficult task.

As far as education is concerned, the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, formulated in Annex 4 of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), transfers educational issues to the entities.4 Whereas educational matters in the RS are clearly assigned to the Ministry of Education and Science, the Federation lacks a clear determination of educational competencies. The division of responsibilities between the Federation Ministry for Education, Science, Culture, and Sports and the cantonal ministries dealing with education is not completely clarified.5 According to the Federation Constitution, each canton can transfer authorities concerning education to municipalities, and is obliged to do so if the majority of the population in the municipality is not the majority population in the entire canton.6 This leaves the country with no central body to co-ordinate educational matters, but with 12 ministries and some municipality representatives involved in education. Some cantonal ministries have no more than 3 employees. Another problem is that some of the cantons have not yet developed educational laws, leaving educational matters without clear jurisdiction. The Federation Ombudsmen pointed out that "the field of elementary and high school education has not been adequately legally regulated and brought into accordance with the provisions set forth in the BiH Federation Constitution".7 Currently, any initiative for a common reform or at least a common approach meets extensive difficulties, as competencies are not completely clarified and the agreement of too many political decision-makers is needed.

 

C. The Political Side of Education

Despite some – at least partly – promising developments on the political scene during the last year, nationalistic/ethnic leaders still dominate politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina on all three sides. Most leaders in power, especially of the Serb and Croat communities, stick to the principle of ethnic segregation and emphasise the importance of Serb or Croat identity respectively. Politicians are continuously trying to increase their influence on education. The new draft of the university law of the Sarajevo Canton is a serious threat to the autonomy of the university. For example, the appointments of the rector, deans and even honorary doctors have to be confirmed by the cantonal assembly.8

Educational institutions are of great importance for the development of national/ethnic identities. Language, history, nature and society, but also geography, fine arts and music can be used not only to construct a certain identity, but also to promote racial hatred and intolerance. About half of the pupils attending school in BiH learn history, geography, nature and society as well as language and literature from textbooks printed in Croatia and Yugoslavia, designed for pupils of these countries. All textbooks in use in BiH blame the respective "other sides" for being guilty for the war, having been the aggressor, and having committed war crimes. In the RS and in Croat dominated areas commitment towards a united Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than reluctant. Croat pupils are taught that Franjo Tudjman is their president and Serbs that the RS is a sovereign state, which emerged after aggression by a Croat-Muslim conspiracy.

Education is one of the most politicised spheres of contemporary Bosnian societies. Attempts to improve the quality of educational practice are often overruled by narrow (nationalistic) political interests. As long as no major change in Bosnian politics occurs, the emergence of different and more moderate approaches towards educational policy is improbable.

 

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