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Feb 2, 2021

Bosnia continues ancient tradition of Islamic education

Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to maintain the tradition of maktab schools, which form the basis of religious education in the country. Today, all children from the first grade to ninth grade can attend maktabs. With the development of modern schools, however, the number of maktabs has decreased in the Islamic world.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina


Recent History and Governance Structure

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia in March 1992, at the beginning of an ethnic war that lasted almost four years. Over a decade later, with leadership and assistance from the international community, it is still working to rebuild in all areas, including education. Immediately following the war, reconstruction efforts focused on very practical issues such as establishing order, the migration and return of thousands of refugees, reconstructing basic infrastructures, etc. The first full-scale plans for reform in education were launched in 2002.

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina of December 1995 was drawn up as part of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA), which mandated a country in which the three main ethnic groups of the multi-ethnic area - Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims (“Bosniaks”) - would have relatively equal stakes. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has a leading role in the governance and reconstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, based on the provisions of the DPA.

The governing structure of the new country is as follows. The state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of two entities and an international district:

  • Entity 1: Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so-called “Muslim-Croat Federation”), made up of 10 cantons, with each canton having its own government.
  • Entity 2: Republika Sprska (so-called “Serb Republic”)
  • International District: Brčko District (international district governed by the State)

Ministries of Education

The State, each Entity, and each Canton the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, have a Ministry of Education. There are 10 Cantons: Unsko-Sanski, Kanton Posavski, Tuzlanski, Zaničko-Dobojski, Bosansko-Podrinjski, Sredjnobosanski, Hercegovačko-Neretvanski, Zapadno- Hercegovačko and Kanton Sarajevoin.

The State Ministry of Education has a coordinating role in education.

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Federal Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Department of Education has the responsibility for ensuring the right to education, and for coordinating the work of the cantons. It is made up of delegates appointed by the cantons.

Republika Srpska (“Serb Republic”): The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for all levels of education in the Republika Srpska.

Brčko District: Education is administered by an educational supervisor.

Legal Basis of Education

Primary and Secondary Education

A new State-Level Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina was adopted on July 4, 2003, and to date both entities, including the cantons of the Federation, and the Brcko District have all passed legislation to support this Framework Law. This law defines and establishes the fundamentals of preschool, elementary, secondary and adult education in the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The text of the law may be viewed in English on the OSCE Web site.

Post-Secondary Education

A State-Level Framework Law on Higher Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been in discussion since December 2003, when the draft was completed following Bosnia and Herzegovina's signing of the Bologna Declaration in September of 2003. The Law has passed the State Assembly, but was not approved by the House of Peoples when it was submitted for review there in July 2004. It is being reviewed and revised. Many of the reforms required for complete participation in the Bologna process cannot begin until a new law is enacted, and it is likely that fundamental changes in higher education will not take place until a new law is fully approved.

Educational Reform: Plans, Progress, and Challenges

Primary and Secondary Education

The goals for reform at the level of primary and secondary education fall into the general areas of increasing accessibility to education and increasing enrollment rates, improving and making better use of physical facilities, updating and improving teacher training and curricula and teaching materials, training education leaders and managers, developing better secondary vocational training to meet economic needs, eliminating bureaucratic redundancies and inefficiency, and establishing quality assurance systems. The 2003 State-Level Framework Law provides a legal basis for this activity.

The European Union is leading a reform project at this level of education, with implementation between 2004 and 2006. The three areas involved are curriculum development and quality assurance, reform of public administration related to the education sector and networking of schools and dissemination of results. One concrete goal is to standardize the content and format of the secondary school completion certificate, to facilitate recognition within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and internationally, in accordance with the Bologna process.

Post-Secondary Education

At the higher education level, similar reforms are necessary. Higher education also needs to rebuild, update, modernize, and improve. Educational philosophies must be examined and rethought. Curricula, instructional methods and materials, and facilities need to be redesigned and improved. The obsolete, and in some cases, destroyed, infrastructure for research and scientific activity needs to be reestablished and renewed. Many of the goals for higher education reform are changes that are necessary to enable the universities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to work toward full participation in the Bologna process.

The higher education institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina have developed a “Plan for Institutional Development of the Universities in 2003-2010,” and each university has developed its own reform plan, which it is implementing at its own pace based on resources available. The lack of a legal basis for higher education reform, lack of funding or inefficient mechanisms for appropriating available funding, and in some cases, lack of direction or motivation for change, are all factors that are hampering current reform efforts.

Other obstructions to change in education in general include the complexity of the governing structures, the redundancies of administration and resulting inefficient use of available funding, conflicting interests and goals of the main ethnic groups, and “brain drain” among the age group that constitutes the future leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The language and variants spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina are now collectively referred to as “B/C/S” - Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Traditionally Serbian was written in Cyrllic alphabet, while Croatian and Bosnian are written in Latin alphabet. Serbian is now sometimes seen in Latin script, too.

Structure of university programs: For the most part, the structure of the curriculum in higher education is still expressed in terms of the number of hours of instruction per week, rather than in a “credit” system, and the most common mode of student assessment is the final subject examination at the end of the year, with grading on a 10-point scale in which 6 is the lowest passing grade. As the universities work toward the reforms needed for full participation in the Bologna process, they will be reforming curricula, performance standards and assessment modes, and will begin to adopt the ECTS system of credits and grades.

The universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are in the process of upgrading their Web sites and adding more information about program offerings, curricula, student services, etc., especially in light of their preparation for full participation in the Bologna process. Most university Web sites include pages in English. Institutional Web sites can be good resources for verifying information.

Notes to Admissions Officers and Credential Evaluators

Look Beyond the Documents: Older students from Bosnia and Herzegovina may have experienced disruptions in their education and/or family life due to the war (1991-95) and resulting destruction and hardships. Academic documentation alone may not show the “complete story” of what the student has or has not accomplished, or what the student is capable of accomplishing.

Look Carefully at the Documents: Areas of the world where disruption and destruction have taken place are breeding grounds for document fraud and deception, for a variety of reasons, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is no exception. Academic documentation from the war era in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be reviewed carefully, and officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina agree with our advice to request authentication of all documents from this era, and any other document that might appear to be unofficial or questionable. Educational institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are responsive to such requests. Official student records are kept in the office of the Dean of the Faculty of the university in which the student was enrolled. Address a letter to the Dean, and include a copy of the documentation in the original language. Contact information is available on the institutional Web sites.

Characteristics of Official Documents: The institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are working at differing paces to modernize all aspects of their operations, including the issuing of documents. At the secondary level, a grade report is issued at the end of each year of school, and each canton issues its own certificate of completion of secondary education. At the higher education level, official records are kept in the office of the Dean of the Faculty in which the student was enrolled. Most higher education institutions still use the system of the student index booklet for recording student enrollment, subjects and examinations, and when requested to issue a “transcript”, they create an uverenje (certificate) based on data in the booklet that actually contains less information than the index. The uverenje generally confirms the date when the student first enrolled in the program, and the year of the curriculum (first, second, etc.) in which the student was enrolled when the document was requested. Sometimes an uverenje lists subjects by semester or year and includes the number of hours of instruction. The index is really the most complete academic record and can be considered official if the information it contains is verified. Computer-generation of documentation is not widespread, and it is not unusual to see official documents as preprinted forms with handwritten entries, including university diplomas. Documents from the war era should be authenticated by the issuing institution, as well as any document that might appear to be unofficial or questionable.

The documents that admissions advisors in the U.S. are mostly likely to see are certificates for incomplete higher education programs. Student retention in higher education is a big challenge in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to difficult economic and study conditions for most students. “Brain drain” is also a problem. Students who do complete their diplomas are likely to leave the country seeking better opportunities for further education and employment.


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