Is the Situation with “Two Schools under One Roof” getting better?

December 4, 2018 1:15 PM

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) the right to education is being violated because of discrimination, which exists in schools in both entities. This report from the OSCE Mission to BiH (‘the Mission’) addresses the practice of ‘two schools under one roof’ in the Federation of BiH (FBiH) as the most visible (but by no means only) manifestation of discrimination in the education systems of the country.

The conflict in BiH, which lasted from 1992-1995, resulted in an estimated 100,000 dead2 and 2.2 million displaced.3 The mixed Croat and Bosniak cantons of Zenica-Doboj, Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva were all areas of intense fighting, which resulted in the substantial displacement of one of the two ethnic groups. After the war, these areas remained highly polarised, which impeded the return process. Serious obstacles remained even after property restitution and reconstruction were largely completed4, including access to social services and fears regarding security. Another major obstacle to the return process was the issue of education.

In addition to a conflict’s direct impact on education through the destruction of schools and impeding access to education, education policies have often been used “to shape or reinforce social divisions, intolerance, and inequality or to eliminate spaces for the development of a critical citizenship”.

During the conflict in BiH and its immediate aftermath, the influence of ethno-nationalist politics filtered down to schools. Authorities commonly re-named schools to honour persons or events from the conflict and displayed nationalist insignia or religious symbols. The teaching process was also conducted based on curricula and textbooks that were ethnically coloured, including the victimisation of one constituent people and the exclusion or even villainization of the other constituent peoples. The issue will continue to be difficult to resolve.

Cantonal authorities, which hold the primary competencies over education (and other issues) in the FBiH, are not forced to respect the rule of law and be accountable for eliminating discrimination in education (as required of all education authorities in BiH), including ending the practice of ‘two schools under one roof’. There is also a severe lack of political will due to broader political issues and self-interest, as well as concerns from the parents of children about preserving national identity. The Mission recognizes these concerns and proposes a constructive way forward that incorporates them. It should be emphasised that there is no question that children in BiH have the right to learn their mother tongue as a subject in school.

Large numbers of traumatized returnee parents refused to enrol their children in local schools. They understandably feared exposing them to a hostile environment, created by opposing narratives of victimhood and derogation of their ethnic identity. To avoid this while still ensuring they received an education, parents sent their children to ad hoc schools, often in inadequate private premises (houses, bars or restaurants), or bused their children to schools in neighbouring communities predominantly inhabited by members of their own ethnic group. For example, in Usora, near Tešanj (Zenica-Doboj Canton), a “tent school” was built in the local school courtyard for Croat children. In these ad hoc schools, children received an education according to ethno-centric principles.

Further division of students is evident through the construction of new school buildings, leading to the establishment of mono-ethnic schools and complete segregation of students along ethnic lines. In 2009, an administratively unified ‘two schools under one roof’ in Tešanj ceased to teach two curricula due to the establishment of a new school in neighbouring Usora that exclusively uses the curriculum in Croatian langauge. Financial support from a foreign donor enabled its establishment and the bussing of Croat pupils from Tešanj meant that the administratively unified school became increasingly mono-ethnic.

A currently shared sports hall in Kiseljak is expected to be made mono-ethnic through the construction of an additional sports hall in 2019 meant only for Bosniak students. An administratively and legally unified school in Novi Šeher (Maglaj) could potentially become mono-ethnic through the construction of a new school in the nearby Municipality of Žepče, again financed by a foreign donor. Similarly, expansions and modernizations of portions of ‘two schools under one roof’, which are only used by one ethnic group, further entrench the divisions. An example of this occurred in Vitez in 2014 when an annex to the main school building was refurbished with the financial support of a foreign donor. While the intention to help students by constructing new facilities or refurbishing existing ones is positive, limiting that assistance to a single ethnic group is divisive and negative.

Creating mono-ethnic schools in multi-ethnic areas is not a solution. In fact, it is a step backwards, further segregating children along ethnic lines. The construction of new mono- ethnic schools or school facilities for students currently enroled in ‘two schools under one roof’ only further perpetuates the problem of segregation and mono-perspective education. Transporting children of one ethnic group to another school within or outside their community also further embeds the “them” versus “us” understanding.

At present, the situation is not getting better. On the contrary, there was recently an attempt to establish another ‘two schools under one roof’ in Jajce, against the wishes of the students. There are also cases of mono-ethnic schools being established in ethnically mixed areas and students being bused to schools in areas where they are the ethnic majority.






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