10. West Herzegovina Canton

Prior to the early 1990s, the region presently known as West Herzegovina Canton was one of the poorest areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), while today it is one of the richest. It has an important agricultural sector, and it has embarked upon an active investment promotion strategy, focusing on the processing industry, trade and civil engineering (HERAG, 2019[1]). West Herzegovina Canton has the sixth largest population among the cantons composing Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) (Table 10.1); its primary and secondary school cohort is also the sixth largest. Correspondingly, the canton also comes sixth in terms of the size of its network of primary and secondary schools. The canton’s Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports governs education policy. The ministry has around 25 members of staff, five of which cover education. This profile examines the context and features of West Herzegovina Canton’s evaluation and assessment system for education and highlights policy recommendations that can help strengthen this system to improve teaching and learning.

Since 2018, the canton has a pedagogical institute, the Institute of Education, which it shares with a neighbouring canton, Canton 10, which is similar in population size to West Herzegovina Canton, but covers a much larger area. Such efforts, through which the two cantons co-operate and pool resources, should generally be regarded as a positive initiative. The Institute of Education is responsible for a range of tasks, including curricula design, textbook selection, teachers’ professional development and the development of guidelines for teachers. It has around five staff (three of which are administrative staff) and 15 external associates who are education experts.

Funding for pre-schools and capital expenditure for primary schools (basic education in BiH) comes from municipal or city budgets in West Herzegovina Canton, while the operating costs of primary and secondary schools (e.g. salaries, social contributions, utility costs) are covered through the cantonal budget. In addition, the ministry provides funds to cover the cost of pre-school attendance for children with disabilities, the cost of assistants for children with special needs, and the procurement of textbooks (which are free for all primary school students). The draft cantonal budget is developed for a three-year period according to established guidelines. Schools must submit their budget requests to the cantonal Ministry of Finance, which prepares a budget proposal for the entire canton. Most of the funds requested by schools concern salaries and employee benefits (for secondary schools, capital costs are also included). In certain cases, schools can also apply for exceptional funds outside the ordinary funding mechanism – for instance, for emergency procurement or building repairs. In these cases, the Finance Ministry must approve the request, which a Cantonal Government decision then grants.

The Cantonal Development Strategy of West Herzegovina (2021-27) includes education improvement as one of the canton’s strategic goals. Specifically, it identifies three priorities: i) investment in educational infrastructure and modernisation of the education system; ii) strengthening the quality of inclusive education; and iii) aligning education and labour market needs. The canton is now in the process of developing a dedicated strategy for education, which will focus, among other topics, on: i) developing social science, humanities and other subject curricula that will be aligned with the Common Core Curriculum Based on Learning Outcomes; and ii) digitising the education system, which includes creating an e-class register, an e-log, e-applications, and e-learning modules.

Schools in West Herzegovina Canton have limited de facto autonomy, as in other cantons. Cantonal law prescribes that primary and secondary schools are managed by a school principal and governed by a school board. However, the ministry maintains significant influence over key management and governance decisions. To hire a new teacher, for instance, a school board is required to obtain permission from the ministry to announce the vacancy, and must first accept any candidates suggested by the ministry, from a pool of unassigned workers in the canton (World Bank, 2021[2]). There are some exceptions to this process for posts that need to be filled urgently. Cantonal ordinances restrict schools’ pedagogical autonomy through specifying in very detailed manner the content and cadence of instruction, and the canton’s pedagogical institute retains a central role in overseeing implementation of curricula, the use of textbooks and other school and classroom practices. At the same time, West Herzegovina Canton is one of the few competent education authorities in BiH that does not have a collective agreement regulating the employment of teachers; although new agreements are currently being approved.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHC) adopted specific regulations and bylaws to facilitate schooling during the health crisis. Education authorities also issued guidelines to schools, allowing for more flexibility in the evaluation of students: for instance, numerical grading was made optional in lower grades of primary school (corresponding to ISCED 1), while real-time written assessments were suspended in upper grades of primary school and in secondary schools (corresponding to ISCED 2 and 3). The ministry also created working groups tasked with developing curricula and determining which teaching materials should be used in distance learning. In the context of school closures, West Herzegovina Canton also organised online trainings dedicated to the professional development of teachers, to address such issues as online learning (UNICEF, 2020[3]). Trainings were also held to improve staff information and communications technology skills in the pandemic context.

West Herzegovina Canton has taken important steps to improve its evaluation and assessment framework over the past few years. Following adoption of the state level Common Core Curriculum Based on Learning Outcomes (CCC) in 2018, the canton has established a dedicated pedagogical institute, in partnership with the neighbouring canton, Canton 10, which has started to develop performance standards for teachers, pedagogues and principals. In addition, it is developing a dedicated education strategy for the first time, and it is upgrading its education management information system (EMIS), which will enable it to compile granular data on the performance of students, teachers and schools. However, implementing system-wide guidance and rewards to improve quality in education remains a challenge, as schools have limited autonomy and supports to drive their own development.

Over the past few years, particularly since establishment of the Institute of Education, West Herzegovina Canton has begun to formulate standards for teachers, pedagogues and principals. A set of teacher standards were finalised in 2019, primarily to support teacher appraisals. In addition, school self-evaluation is mandatory for public primary and secondary schools, and must be carried out every three years to guide the school’s three-year plan and annual work programmes. To complete the evaluation, schools can make use of an Inclusion Index Methodology, developed by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as Guidelines for assessing school inclusiveness, using feedback collected from students, parents and teachers. The former does not exclusively focus on the quality of education for children with special educational needs, but covers a variety of important dimensions of school quality, such as whether teachers strive to adapt the content and pace of instruction to the needs of individual students, and whether schools adopt annual development plans for increasing inclusivity.

The canton is developing its tools for system-level planning. In addition to preparing its first sector-specific education strategy, which signals a political commitment to education improvement and may help to build policy focus towards achieving long-term education goals, the canton is also upgrading its EMIS, in partnership with the University of Mostar. This upgrade will introduce student Identifiers (IDs) and teacher IDs linked to a civil ID, as well as other functionalities. West Herzegovina Canton benefits from active collaboration with other Croat-majority cantons and the University of Mostar – through institutions such as the Institute of the Schooling System in Mostar and the Co-ordination of the Croat Cantonal Ministries of Education in the Federation of BiH, among other bodies and initiatives.

The canton has also articulated a clear political commitment to advancing inclusivity goals. This is not only one of three education priorities outlined in the West Herzegovina Cantonal Development Strategy 2021-27, but it is also a consideration in the ministry’s budgeting. The ministry currently funds the cost of pre-school education for children with special needs, and it also funds the salaries and social contributions of teaching assistants for children with special needs.

West Herzegovina Canton does not have standards in place that define the knowledge and competences that students should have achieved by the time they complete key stages in their schooling. The canton is developing new curricula that will establish expected learning outcomes. Once it has begun to implement these curricula, the canton also plans to review its Ordinance on the Manner of Progress Tracking and Assessing Students in Primary and Secondary Schools, in order to set out evaluation criteria based on learning outcomes and methods for formative assessment. As things currently stand, however, teachers, students and schools do not have learning standards to guide the educational process and review student performance.

West Herzegovina Canton has developed a number of rules and tools for evaluation and assessment, but many have not yet been implemented. For example, cantonal legislation prescribes the use of regular performance appraisal and appraisal for promotion of teachers, but the canton has not yet established guidance on how to conduct these procedures. In addition, the canton reports that it would require a collective agreement to establish performance-related promotions and salary increases, or to define rules for these through another regulation. While it is positive that the canton has defined teacher standards, it is unlikely that these standards will be impactful without guidance on their use and a clear link to the teacher career structure. The absence of regulation governing the rights of, and expectations for, the teaching profession may also hamper the adoption of teacher standards, particularly given the governance culture in the West Herzegovina Canton, where school autonomy is limited. According to cantonal legislation, the successful adoption of teacher standards is a pre-condition to drafting a new rulebook on teachers’ career development.

Finally, external evaluations of schools are not required by law in West Herzegovina Canton and are not conducted – partially due to the limited capacity of the pedagogical institute, as things stand currently. While schools do receive feedback following a general school supervision, they are not required to use this feedback to make pedagogical or operational adjustments, nor do they receive support to do so. As a result, the use of feedback to improve school performance is highly dependent on the school’s leadership capacity and available resources. Other instruments that could generate information on how specific sets of students and schools are performing, such as external assessments of learning, are not present in the canton – though results from school-level assessments are available through the ministry’s EMIS.

This review provides recommendations that are relevant for West Herzegovina as for other competent education authorities in BiH. However, the following points may be particularly salient for this authority:

West Herzegovina Canton’s efforts to upgrade its EMIS will provide improved data on how different parts of the education system are performing. This could be an important resource for developing and monitoring the implementation of the canton’s new education strategy, and it could also provide important information to help the Institute of Education develop and implement new quality standards and guidelines for the education sector. In order to make full use of this data, however, the ministry should identify the different indicators that they would like to track, linked to both the education strategy as well as BiH-level goals, once defined. For instance, West Herzegovina Canton could construct indicators to help it monitor performance against inclusivity goals, for which it apportions special funds and which is identified as a priority in its Cantonal Development Strategy. This report, which the ministry could publish as an annual bulletin, should be openly accessible to the public, in order to strengthen public trust, and to demonstrate a commitment to policymaking based on evidence.

As West Herzegovina Canton continues to build up its institutional architecture for education policy, it should explore the development of external standardised examinations as a priority. Currently, no such instruments exist in the canton, meaning that students have no objective measure to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and competences that they have acquired, including by the time they complete compulsory schooling. As a starting point, West Herzegovina Canton should consider participating actively in any processes to develop an optional BiH Matura (Chapter 2). The ministry should help to engage the University of Mostar and important local employers in this process, in order to ensure these stakeholders view the new exam as a reliable and sufficient certification tool. At the same time, the canton should begin to build up its technical capacity to implement and use standardised assessments – potentially paving the way for a canton-level or multi-canton external standardised assessment for system monitoring purposes in the future. In this respect, it could take guidance from other neighbouring countries, such as Slovenia, potentially in the context of an EU initiative, or from other BiH cantons that have experimented with system monitoring assessments, such as Sarajevo Canton.

West Herzegovina Canton does not conduct external school evaluations, and self-evaluation is only mandated once every three years. At the same time, schools have limited autonomy to drive their own development, and they are not required to make pedagogical, personnel, or operational adjustment following a general school inspection. Since 2018, the canton has a pedagogical institute to provide expert advice and support to schools in order to improve their performance. This Institute will have a large remit, since it is shared with Canton 10. In order to help the new Institute and the ministry monitor and improve school quality, the canton should identify desirable school quality indicators, which could remain local or later be picked up by other authorities as part of state-level core framework (Chapter 4). Once it has defined these indicators, the canton should map existing data, to limit any duplications in school reporting. A variety of data may be already available through the ministry’s new EMIS, and this information could be shared with other cantons, as they begin to upgrade their own EMIS.

In OECD countries, school leaders are often the best judges of their school’s particular hiring needs, and autonomy over key management decisions, such as the hiring and promotion of school staff, can help to build self-efficacy among school leaders. This autonomy can also help to encourage high performance among teachers by providing opportunities for career progression through contributions to improving school quality (OECD, n.d.[7]). The ministry should consider abandoning the requirement that schools must first accept new hires suggested by the ministry – a requirement that may prevent schools from hiring the most suitable candidates. In addition, West Herzegovina Canton should continue to work towards the adoption of performance standards for the teaching profession, as well as to implement appraisal procedures based on these standards. The canton could consider supporting a sample of schools to implement these standards and procedures at first, for instance, in the canton’s primary schools, and/or in specific subjects linked to the CCC. It could also provide opportunities for the canton’s teachers to exchange lessons on how they have improved their practice with other cantons, such as Canton 10. Over time, the canton should begin to introduce new appraisal for promotion procedures based on the new teacher standards, and these procedures should recognise teachers that have led key improvement areas in their school.


[5] BHAS (2021), Bosnia and Herzegovina in Figures 2020, Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, https://bhas.gov.ba/data/Publikacije/Bilteni/2021/NUM_00_2020_TB_1_EN.pdf (accessed on 28 January 2022).

[4] BiH (2021), Country Background Report for the OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Unpublished.

[1] HERAG (2019), West Herzegovina Canton: Investment Brochure, http://www.herag.ba/images/brosure/pdf/zupanijska_ENG.pdf.

[7] OECD (n.d.), Education and Training Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/19901496.

[3] UNICEF (2020), Rapid Situation and Needs Assessment - Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, https://bosniaherzegovina.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/UNICEF_UNESCO%20RNA%202%20Phase%202_final.pdf.

[6] World Bank (2022), World Bank Open Data, https://data.worldbank.org/ (accessed on 17 January 2022).

[2] World Bank (2021), Bosnia and Herzegovina: Functional Review of Education Service Delivery: Phase II - Strengthening Institutions to Create a More Effective Education Workforce, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/365261617260855095/pdf/BiH-Phase-2-Education-Functional-Review-Report.pdf.

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