Under one roof in Bosnia

A film exploring the experience of teachers in Bosnia's segregated schools

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This year, two of Bosnia's regional Education Ministries were taken to court for discrimination. The cases centred on a system known as "two schools under one roof", where two schools which teach different curricula share a single building.

In these schools, the pupils and staff often have little contact. At its most extreme, the schools run in shifts or use separate entrances.

The court heard that to segregate pupils from different communities is discriminatory.

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In Central Canton, where one of the cases was brought, the verdict has not been given yet, but in Mostar, the judge agreed and ordered that schools which share a premises should unify.

Controversial system

From its inception the system has been controversial.

Set up following the end of the Bosnian war, two schools under one roof was intended as an interim measure to bring communities back together. Many argue that the system reinforces divisions on ethnic and religious lines.

Kiseljak 1 school and Brestovsko school share a building Kiseljak 1 school and Brestovsko school share a building

In 2002, Lord Ashdown warned that education was being "used as a political football". The following year, he fined the ruling nationalist party for failing to unify schools.

There are 50 schools in Bosnia Herzegovina which still operate the two schools under one roof system, as well as further schools which have integrated but still segregate children in order to offer different curricula.

Kiseljak 1 School and Brestovsko School in Kiseljak operate as two schools under one roof. They share a building but have two head teachers, two staff and teach in different languages: Bosnian and Croatian. (The languages are so close that it is no bar to communication and they are often regarded as dialects.)

Staff and pupils in the two schools have no formal shared activity. The English teacher in the Kiseljak 1 did not know the name of her counterpart in Bestovsko school.

The head teachers of the two schools meet to resolve problems - such as the cost of heating in a cold winter - but have failed to reach a simple compromise over sharing library space.

Grey hairs

UNICEF has recently invited staff and pupils from both schools to attend a series of workshops together to redesign the playground. It's a modest step, but experience shows that such interventions can lead to change.

Fifty kilometres away, Konjic First school was also visited by an international NGO in 2000. In Konjic, the NGO suggested a shared Parent Teacher Committee be set up. At that time a Catholic school shared the same building but the pupils were segregated and kept apart by a locked glass door.

Samira Bise, who led the joint PTA committee and who still teaches at the school, recalls this as a key moment in the journey to bring the two communities together.

Start Quote

Head teacher from Konjic

This grey hair that I have didn't grow overnight”

End Quote Halid Mustafic Head teacher, Konjic First School

In 2005, the two schools merged under the leadership of head teacher Halid Mustafic who remember the moment he unlocked the door for the schools to merge. He led, he says, by focusing on the providing the best education for the children. He recalls many problems on the way and blames Bosnia's politics for his "grey hairs".

It was the agreement of parents and staff to bring the schools together which won the day and Konjic First School has a single head, a unified staff and extra curricular activities for all the pupils together.

But despite the desire of the staff to unify learning, they are still required to teach the curruicula separately and pupils are separated in class. In this school, just 5% of pupils take the Croatian curriculum, with only one pupil in Year 5 is the only child studying in Croatian.

While segregation continues, attitudes to working together in Konjic First School are positive and staff and pupils look forward to complete integration, slowly leading the way for other schools in the district affected by the discrimination case.

A co-production between the BBC and The Open University.

See what Bosnian pupils think in Two schools under one roof

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