The education system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is complex. School systems, curricula and funding principles differ between the three political units (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian Republic and the autonomous district of Brčko). Within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, too, the ten cantons differ.
During the Yugoslav era, the same school system and curricula applied to all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the Dayton agreement, the question of education systems was linked to the very sensitive language issue. The three language and cultural groups were therefore given their teaching system. Serbian-speaking pupils would be taught in schools with curricula from neighboring Serbia and Croatian-speaking pupils in classes with curricula from neighboring Croatia. For the Bosnian (Bosnian Muslim) majority, a third curriculum was applied, namely the national one that applied to all schools before the war. The motives for this division were drawn from international conventions on children’s rights to be taught in their own language.
At national level, in 2003, a nationwide education system with common curricula and syllabuses was decided to facilitate reconciliation between the ethnic groups. The compulsory, free elementary school was extended to 9 years (from 6 to 15 years), and later a compulsory one-year preschool was also introduced. However, the changes are taking place slowly. At the beginning of the 2010 half, half of the pupils were still in eight-year primary school. The lack of resources has meant that preschools have not been developed and the new syllabuses for increased ethnic understanding and tolerance have not yet penetrated. In many cantons, there is great resistance to change and in many classrooms an ethnic stereotypical image of society is still transmitted.
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The change in 2003 also meant that the high school became three years for most students. It has both a theoretical and a vocational branch. Only just over 2/3 of those who have completed the entire compulsory school continued to the upper secondary school in 2010. Just over half of a year that started school completes the high school. This means that the level of education is lower in Bosnia and Herzegovina than in the vast majority of countries in Europe.
Attendance in schools has decreased in recent years. The main cause is considered poverty; parents have to pay for teaching materials, other materials and trips to school. 4 percent of six-year-olds did not start school in 2010, and about one-tenth left before completing primary school. Only a minor part of the Roma children start school. Even in high school, many drop-outs occur.
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Political and administrative complexity also exists in higher education. Educational policies, laws, regulations and related funding are determined jointly for the Serbian Republic but vary within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Harmonization is needed for a single education system in order for the country to participate in European cooperation in higher education. But that harmonization is a time-consuming process.
In 2013, the country had nine publicly funded universities, 18 private, smaller universities and close to twenty private colleges with academic undergraduate education. Largest and oldest is Sarajevo University (Univerzitet u Sarajevu). Generally, only small funds are allocated for research and development. The gap is widening between university education and the needs of the labor market and unemployment among academics is increasing. Well-educated young people are increasingly looking abroad.