Interview: Damir Mašić, FB&H Minister of Education and Science

Interview: Damir Mašić, FB&H Minister of Education and Science


IBNA / Interview: Damir Mašić, FB&H Minister of Education and Science

By Maja Tuljković

FB&H Minister of Education and Science Damir By Maja Tuljković talks about the goals of the Ministry, problems that are topical again with this new school year, and the possible modernization system of the education system in B&H. He said that the education system in B&H is ‘destroyed’.

The FB&H Ministry allocated 600.000 KM this year as well for free textbooks for socially vulnerable groups, given that this year it has expanded to all 10 cantons. What is your ultimate goal? Is free education in the FB&H possible?

The FB&H Ministry of Education and Science ensured 600.000 KM this year as well for the realization of a project for the procurement of free textbooks for students in need who attend a nine-year elementary school in the 2013/2014 academic year. These funds are distributed based on the number of students in all ten cantons, and were allocated to the cantons on 20 August. With this, the FB&H Ministry fully met its obligation.

Primary education in our country is obligatory. According to the Framework Law on Primary Education in B&H, primary education is free and is ensured for all children. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask why is primary education not free for all children in this country? The relevant levels of government justify this fact on the lack of financial resources, and so the legal provisions are selective in our country. This issue in the FB&H depends on the financial power of the canton.

Our goal is to improve the conditions of education in all of the FB&H. We believe that the provision of free textbooks is an extremely important social measure, but also a link in the chain of educational needs in order to create better conditions for the education of children in the FB&H. This is only the first step toward our ultimate goal of free textbooks for al children in nine-year elementary schools in the FB&H.

You recently said that the education system in B&H is ‘’destroyed’’. What contributed to this?

The realistic picture of the education system in B&H is a reflection of the state as defined by the B&H Constitution, the entities and the cantons, and the Statute of the Brčko District and on the basis of which is legally defined of the responsibilities in the area of education.

The RS, the ten cantons in the FB&H and Brčko District have full and undivided responsibility in education.

The FB&H Constitution bestows complete jurisdiction over the education system to the cantonal level. Thus, the FB&H has today ten cantons that have the same authority over education as states do. These ten cantons independently decide on all matters that relate to education and not only for preschool, elementary and secondary school, but also for higher education. So lets say, in each canton at different times and in different ways nine years of basic education are introduced. Children in cantons have different requirements. the implementation of the Bologna process in universities is carried out in four different ways and prevents any student mobility between the cantons. This is just one example.

It is inconceivable that first graders in the West Herzegovina Canton in September did not begin school based on a decision by the cantonal Minister. They will start school in January next year. So, every canton has the power to make such a decision, and this is absurd. In addition, we had a problem in Central Bosnia Canton where there were a number of private higher education institutions for several years, and only this year did the canton adopt a Law that would regulate this area. There is certainly a whole range of problems in education, not only in the FB&H cantons but also in the entire country. The B&H education system was incorrectly established and a large part of it was devastated by the enforcement of the B&H Constitution. The organization of the education system in this way is not good for anyone.

Now we are in a really serious situation where students most suffer, so we will have to start addressing a number of issues. I believe that we must first speak openly about all problems because this is a prerequisite for solving them. Our country is in a situation in which our everyday problems shows that some things have to change, or the system will continue to implode.

Would reform of the education system improve education in B&H? What role would your Ministry have in that?

Education reform primarily means improvement and modernization of the educational process, improving the conditions of educational work, modernizing curricula so that children would attain functional knowledge, standardization of working conditions and attendance in accordance with European and contemporary trends and a host of other measures.

The obligation of the state, regardless of the level of government, is to ensure quality and standard conditions of education to all children in B&H.

No one questions the authority of anyone, but there have to be rules that would be respected at all levels, from the state to the municipal level. Unfortunately, we have a situation today where some levels of government do not want to speak about these problems.

The school year has started and old problems have appeared. The current problem is two schools under one roof, and the boycott of classes by parents of Bosniak children in Konjević Polje near Bratunac. Has there been any progress in solving them? Will this type of segregation leave consequences on children in B&H?

In the last period we have devoted a lot of attention and a concrete proposal for the solution in recent years. However, the competent cantonal ministries did not show or express the willingness to solve the problem on the ground.

As the public already knows it, the FB&H Ministry of Education and Science has repeatedly publicly stated its position on the ‘two schools under one roof’. It condemned the everyday functioning of this segregated phenomenon, made an analysis of the situation in the entire FB&H, and prepared a model solution to eliminate this phenomenon and submitted it to all cantonal ministries and international organizations in which professional support was offered and called for a joint solution to the issue ‘two schools under one roof’.

Unfortunately, the cantonal ministries of education, responsible for the area of education, especially in the Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, where this phenomenon occurs, have completely ignored this call and document where a unified model was offered.

The problem of children in Konjević Polje near Bratunac is also one more in a series of problems that children face on their way to achieving their basic human rights. All levels of government have to show special sensitivity to the needs and rights of children in returnee communities throughout the country, and in this case I expect the same from the Minister in the RS when it comes to resolving the current problem in Konjević Polje, as well as in other returnee areas in the RS.

To conclude, it is obvious that political will is over constitutional rights and legal provisions and judicial institutions, and unfortunately in everyday life.

Cantons in the FB&H have still not paid debts to the student centers, which amounts to almost two million KM. If this does not happen anytime soon, is there a possibility that the center will not be able to accept students? Would the adoption of a Law on student standards in the FB&H solve this problem? What would this law exactly allow?

In recent days we have called on cantonal ministers of education to urgently comply with the agreement from 3rd July 2013 and pay the remaining subsidies and payments for accommodation and meals for students in the student center of the University of Sarajevo. This call for settlement of liabilities specifically relates to the relevant ministries and the government of the Una-Sana, Central Bosnia and Zenica-Doboj Canton.

We recall that the FB&H Ministry of Education and Science regularly meets all obligations to student centers of the Protocol on subsidizing food and accommodation for students. I hope that they will show the minimum of responsibility and honor this commitment so that the functioning of the student center would not be called into question.

However, for any quality access of a problem it is necessary to have a legal basis that would have a long-term solution, including in the area of student standards. At the meeting held in July in the FB&H government, which was organized to address issues of irregular payment of subsidies by the cantonal government to the Sarajevo student center, as well as other problems faced by student centers, is one of the current issues has been the necessity of adopting legal solutions for this area in the FB&H.

I think that the adoption of a Law on student standards in the FB&H, which needs the approval of the cantons in order to create conditions for its referral for parliamentary procedure, it would solve a number of issues such as student accommodation in student centers, food, subsidized housing, scholarships, as well as all other unresolved areas with the goal to find quality and standard solutions and to improve student standards in the FB&H.

We have prepared a draft law of this document and we are ready to go into further realization if the cantons want it, and I believe that the will for this exists.

An electronic diary has been used in the Zenica Music High School for four years. Can the teaching process be modernized in this way in the rest of the schools in the FB&H?

The modernization of the teaching process involves an IT component, and the introduction of electronic diaries is certainly a desirable element that is a great relief in the educational process to both teachers and parents. A concrete example is the E-Diary in the Zenica Music High School, which is a positive and practical example that has been successfully functioning for five years.

Professors and parents have seen the benefits of E-Diaries. Parents have access to information without having to come to school, such as whether their child attended a class, grades, and all other records that a professor keeps on students. In essence, this project resulted in a significant reduction in absenteeism of students at classes, better grades and an insight into the educational process.

Certainly one of the ways and measures to modernize the teaching process is the introduction of electronic diaries in a larger number of schools.

It is worth noting that there are several projects that we are realizing with international institutions that relate to the improvement of science teaching and the promotion of information and communication technologies in the FB&H.

We believe that it is very important to tailor the education system to the needs of the time and that it is possible to carry this out, but as long as there exists goodwill of all actors in the education process. One such link is the introduction of electronic diaries in all schools in the FB&H, and they have been working on this for some time now. This would improve communication and awareness in more segments when it comes to parents, their children and educational institutions.

After that, it would be possible to have a networking system of software that would provide more efficient and quality mastering of the curriculum and it would make it easier for children to learn. The moment when cantons are ready to accept this joint project, we are ready to fully finance it.