The federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is divided across 10 independent cantons, each run by its own government and legislature. Education is split across 14 different ministries within Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading to an immensely complex, decentralized education system, offering unfocused educational goals and initiatives. As a result, many regions with lower budgets operate with outdated infrastructure. Furthermore, cooperation among local governments is rare which hurts enrollment as well as attendance rates.
Direct impacts of these shortcomings were apparent in 2018 data from the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) which showed that 15-year-old students from BiH consistently performed below the average proficiency levels across mathematics, reading and science. Data from the same report revealed that the educational standards and development of 15-year-old students in BiH lag three years behind their peers in other OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.
The disruptions during COVID-19 — half a million students were impacted by school closures — presented an opportunity for proactive measures to address inadequacies in education systems. With U.N. support, education authorities assessed existing institutions and then implemented a recovery program, targeting the most vulnerable and marginalized students via a gender-responsive initiative: Re-imagining Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initiative supports public sector education across three administrative units, Republika Srpska entity, West-Herzegovina Canton and Una-Sana Canton, with the overarching aims of developing digital and blended learning facilities across the country, building a resilient education system that is responsive to emergencies and ensuring educational quality and inclusivity.
The advent of digital and blended learning techniques during the pandemic saw many changes in the way education is received, shedding light on the importance of connectivity. U.N. agencies stressed the significance of this in the education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, conducting assessments of the quality of digital learning across all stages of education, and simultaneously addressing the professional development needs of teachers to ensure they are equipped with the digital competency required to provide quality and inclusive e-learning.
The Re-imagining Education initiative funded an information management system in Una-Sana canton in September 2021, supporting the digitization of the education process in the region.
Of note, the Transforming Education Summit in September 2022 saw more than 1,500 representatives from BiH from both the governmental and non-governmental sectors, discussing the problems and proposed changes. Culminating with a drafted declaration, later accepted by education ministers across BiH, this heralds a country-wide policy of education reform and endorsement. Further collaboration with UNICEF and UNESCO is expected to offer support in developing a viable plan of action to achieve the outlined declaration objectives.
Within a year of the Reimagining Education initiative, by March 2022, approximately 25% of schools across the country were provided with digital devices and along with it, about 2,500 teachers received training for digital learning.
The efforts could have spillover benefits to other countries. The end of October 2022 saw a joint meeting between Serbia, Montenegro and BiH under the Quality Education for All initiative, where representatives exchanged ideas on their experiences of the current systems, exploring policy reforms and outcomes. The benefit of such collective discourse is significant, offering each country fresh insights into new ways of managing their education systems.
The education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina have attracted interest from the European Union (EU) as well. Following extensive support to BiH, the EU is considering strengthening its ties to support further education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina through collaboration with local education officials and the U.N. agencies inside the country. Perhaps further success could pave the way for more expansive reforms within the EU, targeting other member states with a struggling education system as well.
Beyond merely advancing the teaching and learning environments of its various cantons, Bosnia has set a powerful example on an international scale, urging other countries with a struggling education system to follow suit, and those with an established one to not get complacent.
– Bojan Ivancic