News 22 Jan 15

US Ambassador’s Blog Highlights Bosnia School Segregation

A call by the new US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina for children of all ethnicities to study the same curriculum together has generated responses that reflect the country’s divisions.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Maureen Cormack.

The education ministry in Bosnia’s Serb-led entity Republika Srpska criticised comments by new US ambassador Maureen Cormack on her blog suggesting that “all children should go to school together and study a common curriculum”, but its counterpart in the Bosniak-Croat Federation entity welcomed her intervention.

Cormack, who took up the position of US ambassador in Sarajevo last week, published the blog on Monday in which she urged an end to ethnic divisions in the country’s schooling system.

“A discussion I want to have with the widest possible audience is about how Bosnia and Herzegovina can further embrace tolerance and the rich diversity that is the very foundation of this country,” Cormack wrote.

“To that end, I strongly believe that children should all go to school together and study a common curriculum, so they learn about each other while mastering the skills they all need to make viable contributions to the future of their country,” she said.

The education system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely divided in both the country’s entities, Republika Srpska and the Federation.

Children of post-war returnees to Republika Srpska are often discriminated against because they are forced to study the so-called ‘Serbian curriculum’.

For two years in a row, some Bosniak parents have refused to enrol their children in schools and organised a four-month-long protest in Sarajevo last year, asking to be allowed to choose a ‘Bosniak curriculum’ which differs in its treatment of a few subjects such as history and language.

In some Cantons of the Federation meanwhile, children are segregated through the practice of ‘two schools under one roof’, in which Bosniak and Croat children go to school in the same building but are separated from each other in different classrooms and taught different curriculums.

The Republika Srpska education ministry reacted to Cormac’s blog by saying it was against a common curriculum and stressing that education was “the sole responsibility of entities”.

“Republika Srpska laws regarding education clearly state that each child has the same access and possibilities to education without discrimination. All schools have an obligation to help create a culture which respects human rights and liberties,” said the education ministry in a statement.

Dusanka Majkic, a Bosnian Serb MP, told local media that Cormack’s statement shows “the new ambassador was insufficiently informed about Bosnia”.

“The American ambassador clearly doesn’t know that education is within the sole responsibility of the entities,” said Majkic.

But the Federation education minister Damir Masic told BIRN that he welcomes the American ambassador’s blog and that children should “get to know one another in order to acquire skills to assist the future of the country”.

“The Federal ministry developed a document in 2012 which lists recommendations to overcome segregation and develop a multicultural environment in schools. The guiding idea in the document is the welfare of children and their right to quality education,” said Masic.

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