bosnia report
New Series No:49-50 December - March 2006
Can B-H afford the failure of this programme?
by Mirna Jancic

Ten years after Dayton, a fresh educational initiative offers a ‘lighthouse’ for Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Joint Initiative of the United World Colleges (UWC) and the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in Bosnia-Herzegovina was officially launched at a plenary conference in Sarajevo on 28th October. It met with widespread local and international support for its task of bringing a quality international education to the country at secondary-school level that would be valid and acceptable for all national communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The UWC-IBO Initiative presented hopes that its programme would provide a stimulating and convincing model for wider curricular development and educational reform in a country where schooling has remained deeply segregated since the war.

The conference and its preceding workshops in Banja Luka and Mostar, entitled The Challenges of Post-war Reconstruction to International Secondary Education: the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, gathered over 300 local-education stakeholders, including representatives of gymnasia from across the country, pedagogical institutes, officials, embassies, NGOs, and UWC and IB graduates.

Conference speakers and the audience agreed that the current educational setup in Bosnia-Herzegovina desperately required change, and presented a challenge and opportunity for the success and relevance of international education in the 21st century.

UWC-IBO supporters argued that with over 40 years of experience, the UWC and IBO were in a firm position to accept the challenge of making a relevant contribution to the education system in B-H. The two organizations would be able to provide a world-wide recognized quality curriculum, secondary-school graduate diploma, teacher-training certificate, institutionalized partnerships between partner schools, recognition of local teacher ability, an externally evaluated examination procedure, and proven influence on the development of national curricula.

The Initiative, however, highlighted that these ambitious plans depended entirely on funding, and made an appeal to the international community to help secure sufficient underwriting early in 2006. Without this, the high expectations in Bosnia-Herzegovina will – once again – have been betrayed.

The chair of the Initiative’s Advisory Council, Elisabeth Rehn, opened the day-long event in Sarajevo by gratefully noting the support of local and international officials, including such Council members as B-H president Ivo Miro Jović, premier Adnan Terzić and foreign minister Mladen Ivanić.

Towards a common curriculum

In the absence of premier Terzić, a specially addressed letter from him was read out, acknowledging that although the Dayton Peace Accords signed in 1995 had brought peace to the war-devastated country, they had left education in deep ruins. Today’s Bosnia lacked a harmonised state-wide curriculum, offered segregated schools, and as a result was promoting discord rather than peace and tolerance. Terzić wrote that the UWC had managed to prove, over the decades of its educational experience, the possibility of working with groups of students who belonged to opposing or conflicting nations and societies, with a single curriculum which respected national traditions and culture. ‘I'm convinced that this model could become the nucleus of systemic educational reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina,’ he wrote.

Professor Dubravko Lovrenović of the University of Sarajevo agreed, calling the UWC-IBO programme ‘a healing remedy for our wounds’.

In support of these arguments, the chair of the Initiative’s executive committee, Professor Lamija Tanović of the same university, added that the existing national education system was ‘making students unhappy and contributing to overall injustice’. And to fix this problem, she said, ‘we don't need to invent the wheel, we just need to implement what has already existed for a long time and has proven to be effective. The IB will assist us in improving our educational system.’

A founder of the UWC-IBO Initiative, with 40 years’ experience as a former teacher and headmaster of the UWC’s of the Atlantic and of the Adriatic, David Sutcliffe presented the Initiative’s proposal to establish a UWC-IBO programme in Mostar, attended by 120-140 local students and 60-80 international students, all of whom would be selected on academic and personal merit only. This sustainable and dynamic UWC centre in Mostar, coupled with the existing IB diploma programme in Sarajevo’s Second Gymnasium, and the prospects of starting a diploma programme at Banja Luka’s Gymnasium in 2006, would provide a concrete, positive and practical example of integrated education at secondary-school level, with internationally proven standards. To clarify the Initiative’s goal, Sutcliffe said that the UWC-IBO did not aim to introduce the IB in all schools, since that would betray the historical relevance of the national system. Instead, he explained, the Initiative wished to establish a practical model as a point of reference for local schools.

George Walker, director general of the IBO, added that it was his organization’s usual policy to work with governments on their national educational systems and reform, which has produced successful results in Slovenia and Hungary.

Ivan Lorenčič, the headmaster of Slovenia’s Second Gymnasium in Maribor, which introduced the IB back in the 1990s, stressed that many Slovenian teachers and schools had benefited indirectly from the IB. ‘Previously teachers had their own standards, whereas now they have international standards.’

UWC graduates from B-H and current IB students in Sarajevo reflected on their own experiences of international education during the conference. Ivana Jurišić, a Mostar graduate from the UWC of the Adriatic in Italy (1995), pointed at the UWC-IB programme’s attention to developing critical thinking in students. ‘I hadn’t learnt this during my previous education back home. I found it very unusual that people at school asked me "what do you think".’

Lana Čolaković, currently an IB student at Sarajevo’s Second Gymnasium, said that her regular visits to an orphanage in Sarajevo, as part of her compulsory social-service activities within the IB diploma programme, made her feel like ‘a complete citizen’ of her community.

Lana’s headmistress, Aida Arnautović-Gurda, encouraged the future IB and UWC schools to introduce the diploma programme, stressing its high standards and guaranteed quality. Another headmistress, Slavica Nježić-Ivošević of the Banja Luka Gymnasium, said that her school was very keen to introduce the IB. ‘I hope that at the next conference I will be able to speak of our IB results,’ she said.

The Mostar Gymnasium head, Ankica Ćović explained her double feeling of privilege, since she would not only be introducing the IB, but also a UWC within her school. ‘This initiative will improve the quality of life in Mostar itself,’ she concluded.

The full conference report, its conclusions and list of participants are available at


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