Bridges of Knowledge

Study visit to Serbia - Quality of Education of Children and Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina

For UNICEF, Vladimir Banić
Mostovi znanja

25 April 2019

While a Serbian language teacher was picturesquely explaining the prepositions “on”, “in”, “behind”, “under” and other to dozens of migrant children in the Primary School Branko Pesic in Zemun, bending under the table, then putting her hand in one of the desk drawers or calling two migrant children to stand at either side of her explaining the preposition “between”, her colleagues, teachers of the Bosnian language, and principals and pedagogists from primary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the lecture applauding.

Osnovna Školi Branko Pešić u Zemunu

Serbian language class for migrant and refugee children at the primary school Branko Pesic in Zemun


“Our main mistake while we were teaching children our mother tongue that they should learn was that we were teaching it as a mother tongue, and not as a foreign language. Little progress had been made until we exchanged experiences with our colleagues who teach foreign languages, because the teaching method is completely different. It includes listening and a lot of descriptive work in the class. It also involves teaching simpler content in a modern, and not archaic language which is often found in the Serbian language textbooks”, teacher Ljiljana Panjkovic explained to her colleagues from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This simple advice from colleagues teaching foreign languages to children in Serbia saved the Serbian language teachers a lot of time and enabled them to make significant progress in working with migrant and refugee children. Now, Ljiljana along with many others who have been involved in the reception and integration of children from war-affected areas, have the opportunity to transfer the knowledge to colleagues and friends from the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina who are receiving the children from the same group with a three-year delay and to help them integrate as quickly as possible and with as little energy and resource wasting as possible.

studijska posjeta Srbiji 2

Tour of the Primary School Jovan Ristic in Borca


From the beginning of 2018, around 30,000 migrants and refugees passed through Bosnia and Herzegovina, while around 5000 are currently in the country. Around 20% of them are children. In the first wave, the most important thing for the state and for the organizations working on reception and protection of rights of children and adults was to ensure the guest have regular meals and decent accommodation. The next necessary step was ensuring the start or continuation of education for children who came from mostly from East Asia countries.

The biggest number of migrants and refugees are in the Una-Sana Canton. Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of this Canton, Damir Omerdic, recalls the beginnings:

“The preparation for inclusion of these children started in the summer of 2018 through discussions with international organizations about the experiences of other countries and the possibilities of logistical support to our education system. Today, on the territory of the Una-Sana Canton, starting with the second semester, these children, 140 of them at the moment, attend four primary schools. Children go through stages of preparatory group work on the path to inclusion in mainstream classes.”

Damir Omerdić, ministar obrazovanja, nauke kulture i sporta USK

Damir Omerdic, Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Una-Sana Canton


In addition to four schools in the Una-Sana Canton, two more schools in the Sarajevo Canton and one in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton have prepared a detailed plan of education of migrant and refugee children in close cooperation with educational institutions, relevant sectors and international organizations (UNICEF, IOM, Save the Children, World Vision and others).

The three-day study visit to Serbia that was supposed to help with higher quality of education of children and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina gathered 30 teachers, pedagogists and principals of primary schools, as well as representatives of the government and non-governmental sector from Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Sanja Kabil, Education Specialist at UNICEF in Bosnia and Herzegovina says that education is crucial to help children recover from the horrors they have faced, and essential for their development and their future:

“In order to ensure a comprehensive institutional framework for action on the issue of including refugee and migrant children in education, and with the approval of the Ministry of Education and Technological Development of Serbia, we are working on adapting the Manual for Integration of Refugee and Migrant Children into the Education System. We at UNICEF remain committed, together with partners and competent education authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to providing education for refugee and migrant children during their stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina in accordance with international humanitarian standards.”

There is no doubt that the advice the teachers and representatives from the government and non-governmental sector from Bosnia and Herzegovina received during the panels, discussions and visits to schools in Belgrade through discussion with their colleagues will save time and help with providing quicker and easier access to the education system for this specific group of children, but also with their inclusion in the community.


Anela Kozlica, direktorka Osnovne škole Prekounje

Anela Kozlica, principal of the Primary School Prekounje


Anela Kozlica, principal of the Primary School Prekounje from Bihac, said after the three-day visit that schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina are on the right path. Out of the experiences in Serbia, she says she will implement systematic keeping of student files for these students, which has not been done so far. Also, she believes it is important that she personally met the colleagues from Serbia because many children who used to be in Serbia are now in her school. The contact with teachers from Serbia will later help her record the level of knowledge of a certain child, but also give her the opportunity to consult them when some obstacles occur that might have already been overcome by the colleagues from Serbia.


Hajrudin Okanović, direktor Osnovne škole Ostrožac

Hajrudin Okanovic, principal of the Primary School Ostrozac


Hajrudin Okanovic, principal of the Primary School Ostrozac, believes, looking at the experience from Serbia, that more professionals need to join the project of integration of migrant children into Bosnia and Herzegovina's education system, primary having in mind the interpreters, and that inclusion of these children must be done through joint forces of people from the school, government and NGO sector, which was the case in Serbia. “Only such a comprehensive action can create a positive outcome,” says Mr Okanovic.

From such conclusions, all the way to the most detailed discussions about problems such as how to organize transportation of children to school, the guests from Bosnia and Herzegovina listened to the advice from more than 50 representatives of schools, the government and the NGO sector from all parts of Serbia where refugee and migrant children are staying.


Senadija Kadrović, pedagog u Prvoj Osnovnoj školi Ilidža

Senadija Kadrovic, pedagogist in the Primary School Ilidza


Senadija Kadrovic, pedagogist in the Primary School Ilidza, says that the overall impression of the level of empathy shown towards these children in Serbia is impressive. Comparing the work done in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she says she is proud because she can see they are on the right path. She highlights avoiding the high level of aspirations in the beginning as the most precious experience from Serbia:

“It is necessary to set short-term realistic goals, and this is the recipe for success. This is what the colleagues from Serbia have done, and little by little they have reached the point where children have learned the language and are attending classes regularly.”