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February 1, 1996

School of Education personnel help to rebuild education system

Prior to the outbreak of war in April 1992, the former Yugoslavia had an excellent educational system. All of the country's more than 540,000 children ages 7 – 15 attended primary school and the majority of them continued their secondary education in a variety of specialized schools.

What is now Bosnia-Herzegovina had almost 23,000 primary teachers and 641 primary schools, while the secondary system held another 168,000 students and 8,850 teachers in 243 schools, according to a World Bank report.

After four years of war, only 270 primary schools and 141 secondary schools remain in areas controlled by the Bosnian army. They house fewer than 200,000 primary students and 65,500 secondary students, who are being taught by 8,000 primary teachers and 4,100 secondary teachers. The rest of the students and teachers have either fled the country or were killed in the fighting. The school buildings were destroyed or taken over by refugees or the army.

Confronted by such devastation, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in fall 1994 contacted Seth Spaulding, director of the Institute for International Studies in Pitt's School of Education, to undertake a study of the education situation in Bosnia.

Along with Rob Fuderich, UNICEF education officer for the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Spaulding immediately left for Bosnia, where he spent a month traveling around the country talking to educators about the effects of the war on children and the education system. As a result of that trip, and a follow-up national conference on education, UNICEF in January 1995 asked Pitt's Institute for International Studies in Education to develop, in cooperation with educators in Bosnia, a program for the renewal of Bosnia's educational system.

For the past year, the University has responded to UNICEF's request by having faculty and graduate students throughout the School of Education work on the Program in Educational Policy, Planning and Development for National Renewal in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And today Pitt is the only American university involved throughout the Bosnian educational system. "We are working in each of the cantons [states] and we have ongoing relationships with the critical educational institutions in Bosnia — the Ministry of Education, the pedagogical institutes, the universities, all of the way down to primary schools," said Lynn Cohen, a faculty member in the School of Education and program coordinator in Bosnia. School of Education faculty and students have been working with everybody from children, teachers and teacher educators to educational administrators and policy makers planning Bosnia's future educational system. Last month, the University also hosted a three-day International Agency Conference for Education in Bosnia-Herzegovina that drew representatives from all the major groups involved in the project, including UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID and the Global Information Network in Education.

According to Cohen, Pitt personnel are facilitating training programs in methods of teaching, mentoring and supervision, educational policy and planning, strategic planning, and educational materials development. One of the school's most important immediate contributions may be the development of training manuals to help people who have never had any formal teacher education. The manuals are important because Bosnia lost so many teachers during the war that many people who have no training have begun teaching. That is particularly true on the primary level, according to Cohen.

"The courage of the teachers and the educators to keep the system going during the war has been incredible," she said. "When school buildings have been destroyed or have been unsafe, they've found alternative space, whether it is in homes or garages or storage buildings." Another action that has proven to be of immediate importance is simply putting teachers and educators in Bosnia in contact with their colleagues at Pitt. According to Cohen, Bosnian teachers became very isolated during the war and were left with no way of sharing information within the profession.

Isolation also has increased the sense of trauma felt by children in Bosnia. "They've seen their communities destroyed," Cohen pointed out. "They've experienced shelling. They've seen their schooling interrupted. They've seen their school buildings destroyed. Their fathers might be in the army. Family members might have died or been killed." To break through that wall of isolation, the School of Education has been putting Bosnian children in contact with children in Pittsburgh and arranging exchanges of letters, children's books and newsletters. University personnel also have been working with UNICEF's psycho-social program for kids. Although Pitt became involved in a number of such programs last year, Cohen said that 1995 was a difficult time to work on Bosnia's education system. Throughout most of the year there was a lot of shelling and sniping that greatly affected travel and limited the number of schools that Cohen and others in the program could reach.

"We started out working in Sarajevo, but the security situation got so bad during the summer that we then focused our energies in Zenica and Tuzla, where it was a bit more stable," she said.

Since the Dayton agreement and the arrival of U.S. and other NATO troops in early December, the situation has become much calmer, Cohen noted. "There are a few isolated incidents, but there is not the overall shelling and sniping that occurred up until the fall of 1995." That means more opportunities for Pitt's School of Education to help rebuild Bosnia's educational system. Future areas of involvement, according to Cohen, include management information systems, data collection and analysis. She said Pitt expects to remain on the scene in Bosnia indefinitely.

After all, Cohen pointed out, school is one of the most basic places to address issues of tolerance and diversity, the roots of Bosnia's agony.

–Mike Sajna

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