Two schools under one roof?

Mutual understanding though shared experiences

Two schools under one roof in Travnik, BiH

Throughout the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the phenomenon of dvije škole pod jednim krovom — two schools under one roof. These schools, common throughout Central Bosnia and the southern region of Herzegovina, are not like any other schools in the world. As the name suggests, the main difference in these schools is that there are two separate school entities running in one school building, divided by ethnicity. The 57 schools operating in this system throughout the country are completely segregated — mainly between the Croat and Bosniak community. Students in these schools share different shifts, teachers, curriculum and administration, and in some situations, must even use separate entrances or stairways to get in to the school or classrooms. Bosniak students learn Bosnian language and Bosnian history, while their Croat peers learn Croatian language and Croatian history.

Indeed, at the heart of segregated schooling is the reification of supposedly irreconcilable identities

This system of segregated learning can breed negative sentiments about the other ethnic group for students; in fact, a report commissioned by Council of Europe revealed that “one in eight BiH children avoided joint activities with students of other ethnicities, and one in six did not want to be in the same class as members from other groups.” In the long term, these programs could make it harder and harder for ethnic reconciliation to be fulfilled on a widespread scale thought the region, and make it difficult for students to make inter-ethnic connections during the school day.

The Head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina Jonathan Moore asserted that, “these programs were meant to be a temporary solution.” However, more than 20 years after creation of the Two Schools system, little progress has been made to reintegrate the schools in this program. Following legal action taken by various NGOs to desegregate the schools, many local governments have decided to just keep the educational system the way it is.

Nevertheless, there are efforts being made to increase inter-religious dialogue between students at these schools. Examples include the Access and Teaching Tolerance Through English (TTTE) programs. These initiatives, implemented by American Councils for International Education, work directly with students from both ethnic groups in schools throughout Bosnia. The programs aim at increasing English language skills within these students, but they also have additional benefits. The programs are realized in segregated schools, and students from both ethnic groups participate together in learning English and American history. This year, YES Abroad students met Access and TTTE students in Travnik and Stolac, BiH. Meeting with students participating in the programs, one can easily see the positive benefits that they bring. In the southern town of Stolac, for example, students form different ethnic groups might never be able to interact with their peers from the other ethnic group in a school setting. However, the TTTE program is breaking down these walls.

Meeting TTTE students in Stolac

One TTTE student in Stolac commented:

[The Teaching Tolerance Through English program] is a good experience to get to meet a lot of new people and travel around. It’s fun.

Students seem genuinely happy to be participating in the TTTE program. While it might not have widespread impacts at first, just interacting with students from other ethnic group creates a greater sense of community, and is a starting step towards mutual understanding.

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