Back to school
UNICEF BIH team visits schools that reopened their doors to students
“I like open-air school because the air is cleaner and this way, I learn more”, Dženita (12) said quietly, enjoying the first rays of the morning sun and attentively following biology class at the outdoor school amphitheatre.
Children around the world have been gradually coming back to their schools under a special regimen. The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to education, with more than 1.6 billion students across the world have for months been absent from their school. This September, nothing was the way it used to be before – schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina faced completely new challenges to teaching and delivery of classes. However, that did not stop them from finding unique learning solutions and methods and adapting them to children.
One of such examples is “Kaćuni “, Primary School near Busovača, whose teachers and school principal took one step further, rolled up their sleeves and provided an outdoor amphitheatre and classroom.
This is our multifunctional amphitheatre, children’s playground and botanical garden”, Đenan Hodžić, the School Principal proudly says. “Here we plan to organise children’s performances, and this will be an open stage available to the wider community. We wish to organise cinema and theatre performances. We want to have child actors, puppet shows and plays here. In our botanical garden, we have 239 trees, even some endemic species; next to each one, there will be its name in Latin. We will have more plant species here than those in the Botanical Garden of the National Museum in Sarajevo. Teachers and students can feel at ease because they do not have to fear and think how many steps they have made towards or how close they approached someone. This is not an urban area and here you can breathe freely and absorb vitamin D.”
The ever-present children’s hubbub in school corridors was absent this time, while there was noise coming from some classrooms only. The reason for this is the combined teaching and learning modality. While half of the class is in the classroom, the other half is at home as they attended classes at school the previous week.
Teachers meet their students half an hour earlier, the students disinfect their hands and enter the school one by one while respecting the physical distance. The first-grade students are placed in classes that are rather small. Thus, the school can respect all hygienic and epidemiological measures while at the same time allowing the first graders to be together. The first graders attend three classes, each lasting half an hour, and there are not more than 18 of them in a classroom.
“I prefer face-to-face instruction to online classes because this way I find it easier to learn and teachers can better explain more complicated things”, says Vedad, a sixth grader.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina have had to adjust to online teaching. Ministries of Education tried to respond quickly and introduce remote learning mechanisms, with mixed success.
According to the legislative framework, teachers are required to cover 70% of the syllabus, while the remaining 30% can be designed on their own. That is what we are trying to do here. These are new times, but we do not force our students to spend the whole day studying advanced technologies. These times demand that even small children improve their motor skills, talk and develop their speaking abilities”, concludes Principal Hodžić.
After the Primary School “Kaćuni”, we paid a visit to Secondary Technical School in Zenica. At the entrance, we were met by students on hall monitor duty carrying modern thermometers and disinfectants; there were posters with instructions on how to behave during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as clearly marked movement pathways.
Most of the instruction at this school is based on practical classes and they have faced numerous challenges while delivering classes online.
“We have a laboratory with computer numerical control (CNC) machines and workshops, but the biggest problem is that students did not have access to them. We managed to adapt to the new circumstances, so the students ran simulations using simulation software; they watched documentaries and thus learned the processes. They would create a software presentation or a presentation of the process that they would otherwise do during the practical classes”, says Maja Hadžisalihović, the School Principal.
At the school, they point out that the current education system is deficient since it still relies on the traditional teaching aids, such as blackboards, chalks or sponges, and that COVID-19 has had a lot of consequences on the practical classes.
“A student must feel a machine, acquire a skill and knowledge of a machine, material and treatment. We can talk about the best technologies, but handwork is still the most powerful. Subjects like history or biology can be efficiently taught online, provided that a nice classroom-like atmosphere is created”, says Enes Grabovica, the Assistant Principal.
Student motivation is perceived as an additional challenge.
“I would not like to see the continuation of online classes because it is not easy to motivate students to work at home on their own. It is almost impossible to hold practical classes online since we work a lot in the field and spend much time outdoors, on the school training ground”, adds Enes Grabus, teacher of the group of geodetic subjects.
Students of the second grade of this school had divided opinions about online classes. “I still prefer online classes because I have more time for training and for other activities”, says Aladin. Ajna, his classmate, however, does not agree with that: “I find it much easier when I am in the classroom because the teacher can explain everything to me”.
UNICEF in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been providing expertise and financial support to all competent education authorities to ensure access and improve the quality of learning for all children. UNICEF supports the competent education authorities to implement the recommendations of the Framework for Reopening Schools, which includes recovering, rebuilding and reimagining education systems in the country.