Majority Rules: The Education System in Bosnia

Recently, I expressed my interest in the education system in Bosnia.  Here is an excerpt from an essay I wrote:

In the Republika Srpska, problems arise when Muslim Bosniaks return to their small towns that were ethnically cleansed during the war. In these communities, education policies primarily reflect the domination of the Serbian majority group over minorities. Minority children are allowed access only to education organized to serve the needs of the majority students and the atmosphere is hostile in some schools.  The Serbian curriculum has a Serbian world perspective and is taught in the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Students learn of the symbols, struggles and sacrifices of the Serbian people neglecting to explain the other perspectives in Bosnia. For example, in music class students learn patriotic Serbian songs, and in religion class only Orthodox Christianity is considered.  Vague references to “our country” implicitly refer to Serbia and not to Bosnia and Herzegovina.   Although the education system in Republika Srpska is centralized and the administration functions more smoothly than the system in FBiH, schools fail to incorporate minorities.

In FBiH, education is less centralized with many decisions delegated to the local level.  Much tension exists between the Bosniaks and Croats, as evident in their schools, and many parents will drive their children to a school farther away in order to receive instruction with their own ethnicity.  In the five cantons with a Muslim majority, education is taught from a Bosniak perspective in the Bosnian language.  Literature focuses on Bosniak authors, and does not include authors from other ethnicities in the region.  History textbooks heavily emphasize aggression and genocide attempts against Muslims specifically . In the two cantons with a Croatian majority in FBiH, the study of language means instruction only in Croatian without any references to the other languages of the region.  The wars in the 1990s are referred to with the theme of defending “the homeland.”  The history books focus on a Croatian perspective and neglect the “non-Croatian population.”  Bosnia and Herzegovina is referred to like a foreign country such as Serbia or Macedonia and textbooks are published in Zagreb .

Religion, as one of the main distinguishing features of ethnicity in Bosnia, is specifically a sensitive issue in education.  The constitutions of FBiH and Republika Srpska explicitly guarantee religious freedom while implicitly referring to a separation of church and state.  However, with the importance of religion in the last few decades, an American-style separation of church and state is impossible in Bosnia .  Religious education was introduced in all public schools in the 1990s yet only the religion of the majority is taught.  Authorities explain that it is not possible to provide teachers to represent each religious group, reflecting the political divisions in the country .  Technically religion education classes are optional, but in reality, students who opt-out of these courses face discrimination in some school districts.  In some schools if students do not attend the religion classes, they are forced to sit in the hallway .  This method of dealing with multiculturalism in schools only emphasizes and strengthens differences between ethnicities.

Still interested? Download the pdf to read the essay.  bosniaeducation

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  1. The US Peace Corp was involved in Bosnia from 2000-2002 and appears to be involved in educational programs and NGOs. If you’re interested, submit a FOIA request for “any retrospective study or monograph, or official history of Peace Corp operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” In about a month, They’ll send you two studies on the program they ran there. It appears that the two-year program was designed to be a test-run for standard Peace Corp mission that never got started.

    • Christine
    • February 16th, 2010

    Hey HP, That’s such a great idea! I actually really want to do this…. Thanks!

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