SARAJEVO — Education in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in trouble. The school system there suffers from a lack of good infrastructure as a result of the Dayton peace agreement, which ended a brutal civil war in the 1990s. The agreed upon government led to segregation between different ethnicities, lack of good programs for children with disabilities and the exclusion of minorities. However, improvement efforts for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s educational system by the U.S. are starting to change this disparity.
Back in the 1990s, an ethnically driven civil war raged in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Dayton Peace Agreement founded in 1995, set up two different entities in the country, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, and the Bosnian Serb Republic. Each entity has its only police, parliament and education system.
This new regime has created a segregated school system in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although students attend the same school, they are taught different languages and histories in various classrooms. Outside of class, students of different ethnicities do not socialize. This lack of socialization often causes tension and violence.
Other ethnic groups have limited accesses to education in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The minority Roma population, in particular, is especially disadvantaged. Primary school attendance among Roma children is one-third less than other ethnicities. Based in Bosnian, the schools only teach the Serbian and Croatian language. As a result, children raised in Romani-speaking families struggle in school due to language barriers.
Economic inequality also plays a role in these children’s struggles in school. Roma families have a harder time buying the necessary materials and providing the transportation to school. Worst of all, many Roma children were born without any birth records, which makes them legally invisible to school authorities.
The segregated school infrastructure has also made it hard to care for and educate children with special needs. Children with disabilities often do not get a good education because schools rarely have the resources to meet the requirements for their studies.
However, USAID has been making steps to improve education in Bosnia-Herzegovina. USAID partnership with the Give Us A Chance Association has set up the first care center for children with disabilities in the region. It provides children with special needs with experts who can accommodate their needs and gives them a safe place to reside if their homes are dangerous.
The center, located in Sarajevo, offers a psychologist, speech therapist, special education teacher, social workers and 50 trained volunteers.
The U.S. has also sponsored a program that brings children of different ethnicities together for summer camp. The purpose is to get face-to-face interaction among various ethnicities to reduce racial prejudice and stereotyping. Through the program has only reached one percent of the population, as of 2014 it showed great promise.
A small pilot program called Tolerance Through English could deepen ethnic unification by giving people a third language to communicate. This way people do not have to speak the language “of the other side” but can communicate in English, a language that is neutral to each ethnicity.
Finally, the U.S. has partnered with Save the Children to create an organization called Leaders-Young Roma in Action (LYRA). Its goal is to fight old prejudices held by the citizens in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It empowers and trains young Roma people to recognize discrimination, the violation of human rights, and teaches them how to report those issues.
Though education in Bosnia-Herzegovina has problems, improvements could be on the way. If the U.S. can partner with local organizations to combat ethnic divides, the Bosnia-Herzegovina school system could become unified, more tolerant of minorities and better equipped to educate the children of the region.
– Bruce Truax