Two schools under one roof –  I want you to fight it!

10. April 2018

by Hatidza Jahic

SchoolAn education system that segregates children based on their ethnicity unfortunately still exists in the 21st century in the heart of Europe. Motivated by the cases of children who decided to fight and the children segregation in buses, which took place at the beginning of this school year (2017/2018), I feel responsible to discuss this issue. I want you to be aware of this problem and fight it!

Two schools under one roof: the origins. 

The case of ‘Two schools under one roof’ refers to the schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina where children are ethnically segregated, i.e. children from two ethnic groups (Croats and Bosniaks) are attending school classes in the same building but are taught different curricula in separate classrooms. According to the latest publication of Analitika (Center for Social Research), more then 30 schools in the country are applying this system. The majority of these schools are located in the southeast and central parts of the country (in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the entity that is dominated by the Bosniaks and Croats). This practice does not exist in the other entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Republika Srpska) simply because the needs of other ethnic groups are not accommodated there and apparently it has a different strategy for education reform. 

The origin of the  ‘Two school under on roof’ dates back to 1999, just after the Balkan wars, when this system was created as a way to integrate the children of returnees (refugees coming from abroad and internally displaced persons). At that time, the practice was approved by the OHR (Office of the High Representative), the OSCE, and the USA ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The idea was that school would be unified at some point later in time, under a single curriculum, using the same textbooks. Some textbooks were even printed with the support of the World Bank, but were eventually rejected by the Croat political leaders. Very soon the international community figured out that this system was stimulating segregation even more. The Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in its 2014 court decision ruled that the practice represents a violation of the law against discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Three important issues exist: firstly, the existance of three languages (corresponding to three ethnic groups, Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian); secondly, the issue related to the so-called national group of subjects, namely mother tongue, geography, history and religious studies; and thirdly, both ethnic groups use the national identity argument to hold on to the status quo when it comes to the creation of a unified curriculum. These are the effects of current system and on the other side, the system itself (decision making process, high decentralisation etc.) impedes these issues to be solved.

Something is rotten in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina: 

  • The system

Education system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not easy to understand. It is highly decentralised and politicised. The country has 14 ministries of education: one on the state level (within the Ministry of Civil Affairs), two on the entity level (two entities, namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska), and one for each of the ten cantons (10 cantons within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and one in the District of Brcko. No wonder the system does not function properly!

  • The leaders within the system

The main argument used by the political leaders to justify the existence of the ‘Two schools under one roof’ practice is that this is the only way to ensure the protection of children’s rights and the national identity of each of the ethnic groups. One of the ministers of education (at the canton level) a few years ago stated: “you cannot mix apples and pears and that is why the ‘Two schools under one roof’ will never be suspended”. One of the current ministers also affirmed this position, stating that “not everyone has to attend high school if they don’t want to” which further raises the question of providing equal access to education to everybody. It is more than obvious that European values, intercultural learning as well as the universal values of equality and elimination of discrimination are unknown to the political leaders of this country and, most importantly, they don’t understand the richness and all the possibilities that diversity and inclusion can create.    

What has been done so far?

The OSCE, the PIC (Peace Implementation Council – the body responsible for enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords), the Council of Europe, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the OHR made numerous efforts to unify the schools, with limited success. For instance, one of the cantonal education ministers was removed from office by the High Representative Lord Paddy Ashdown back in 2005 for obstructing the revision of the system. On the ground, NGOs such as Nansen Dialogue Centre and The Abrasevic Youth Cultural Centre have implemented numerous joint activities for children from schools located in the south of the country. There have also been public campaigns as well as campaigns organised by the children themselves  (such as “We Are Stronger Together“ and “Friends without Borders“).  Even parents are demanding a compromise. However, none of the  leading political parties have made any serious effort to stop the practice. 

What still needs to be done?

The integration of schools through a single curriculum should be on the list of priorities for  decision-makers at all levels. However, even the OSCE is very reserved when it comes to possible implementation models of such an integration exercise and giving concrete recommendations for eliminating this practice. The entire education system is in need of a curriculum reform. There is also a need for a paradigm shift when it comes to electing political leaders: voters, especially young people, should not base their choice on the fear of diversity. That mistake was already made in the past. The country’s leadership is well aware of the possible solutions to this issue, yet they refuse to resolve anything just to maintain the old flames of tensions, fear and mistrust burning.
I don’t see how this society will prosper if it keeps ignoring other people’s culture, heritage and identity and if it fails to embrace multicultural education and intercultural learning. It makes me so angry that voters trust political leaders that are supporting a system that puts the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s society to shame.