Coming together to reimagine education in Bosnia and Herzegovina
When I was first appointed as United Nations Resident Coordinator two and a half years ago, it was clear to many that beyond the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the education system was facing a series of complex and longstanding obstacles, including, a highly decentralised education sector, outdated infrastructure and declining numbers of students. In 2018, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment found that 15-year-old students from Bosnia and Herzegovina were well below the average levels of proficiency in reading, mathematics and science across the OECD, even though there is relatively high spending per student relative to the country’s GDP.
From crisis to opportunity
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the learning of more than 400,000 students across Bosnia and Herzegovina which brought these challenges into sharp focus. Yet this crisis also provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support the national authorities deliver stronger educational reform across the country.
When the pandemic began to unfold in 2020, the United Nations agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina came together to prioritize education as a focus of our COVID-19 recovery efforts. A quick needs assessment in March-April 2020 by UNICEF and UNESCO was the basis for framing a United Nations education recovery programme. The cornerstone joint project, which was launched under the leadership of UNICEF and UNESCO, in partnership with ILO and UNV, was called ‘Reimagine Education for Marginalized Boys and Girls during and post COVID-19’.
The project was one of only 18 projects globally to receive support from the United Nations Secretary-General’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund, and the only one that focused on the education sector. More importantly, this project was a catalyst for reinforcing United Nations support to the authorities to strengthen cooperation among government ministries, improve teaching capacities, modernize ICT equipment, and develop new digital learning platforms.
The immediate impact was clear. Between February 2021 and March 2022, UNICEF, UNESCO and ILO provided 2,498 teachers with training on digital learning and teaching, whilst also providing 664 digital devices (laptops and assistive technology) to 110 schools (26% of overall number of schools).
Towards shared education commitments
As the emergency phase of COVID-19 retreated, it became clear that the learning resources, training and equipment provided by the United Nations had greatly enhanced the collaboration between the country’s various education ministries and other stakeholders.
Building on this sense of synergy and cooperation, the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina convened a series of three pre-Summit consultations under the leadership of Ministry of Civil Affairs and in close cooperation with federal entities, cantons and the northern district of Brcko. These consultations brought together almost 1500 participants from governmental and non-governmental sectors, schools, academia, youth and the private sector to discuss key priorities ahead of the Transforming Education Summit. More than half of the participants (845) involved in the consultations were under the age of 30.
After a summer of inclusive dialogue and discussion, the education authorities submitted a Report and Declaration of Commitment to the Transforming Education Summit Secretariat in New York.
This declaration was adopted by the 16 Ministers responsible for education affairs at the various governing levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It represents the first country-wide policy position on education endorsed in twenty years. As we move forward, UNESCO and UNICEF are working in support of the relevant education authorities to develop an action plan focused on implementing the commitments outlined in the Declaration.
The value of our joint efforts to transform and unite the education agenda across Bosnia and Herzegovina has been also recognized by other partners. As part of its extensive support to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union is considering a stronger engagement to support education over the next 10 years, with UNESCO and UNICEF actively assisting in the identification of education-related priorities.
The path to long-lasting transformation
As we prepare for an exciting week of dialogue, discussion and commitments during the Transforming Education Summit in New York, I feel proud of the steps we have taken to support the authorities reform Bosnia and Herzegovina’s education sector and to build a more inclusive, high-quality and relevant learning experience for all.
Whilst Bosnia and Herzegovina still faces many challenges in its path towards quality education, I’ve learnt over the last two and a half years that with clear global leadership, backed by catalytic pooled funding, and genuine partnership across the United Nations with the authorities, we are now uniquely placed in Bosnia and Herzegovina to deliver on these once-in-a generation transformative educational changes.
This piece was written by Ingrid Macdonald, UN Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to mark the opening of the Transforming Education Summit. To learn more about UN's work in the country, please visit BosniaHerzegovina.UN.org.