6. Brčko District

With a population of over 80 000, Brčko District represents less than 1% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and is on average more densely populated than the rest of the country (Table 6.1). Nearly half of the district’s population lives in the city of Brčko, the centre of the administrative unit. The District is one of the richer regions of the country, and its economy is more closely linked to trade than that of many other regions of BiH, as Brčko District has historically taken advantage of its strategic location near the three-party border of BiH, Croatia and Serbia. Due to its unique structure of governance within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brčko District faces particular challenges, especially when it comes to education. From the outset, the district ensured a harmonised curriculum for its population, while in some other parts of BiH, curricula is still administered differently among ethnic lines. The district’s education system, however, displays a similar structure of governance to that of other self-governing administrative units of BiH of similar size.

Education policy in Brčko District is governed by the district’s Department for Education. The Pedagogical Institution, which is situated within the Department for Education, is responsible for a broad range of tasks, including the pedagogical supervision of schools, teacher appraisal and planning teachers’ professional development. The institution is also responsible for developing curricula and monitoring their implementation, proposing strategies for the development of schooling, and planning activities for children with disabilities. The Brčko District education system is fully funded by the district’s public budget and spending is not differentiated by education level, except in cases where secondary school may require additional funds to cover the costs of practical classes.

Over recent years, education spending in Brčko District has increased, mainly to cover the salaries of a growing teacher cohort and the operational costs of school buildings constructed by the Department of Education. According to district authorities, the government spends the equivalent of over 18% of the region’s GDP on education, one of the largest shares in the country when compared to other administrative units of BiH. The Brčko District recently established its first development strategy, covering the 2021-27 period, which defines improving access to quality education and training as one of its strategic goals. Specifically, its main priorities include modernising schools and teaching methods, curriculum reform, reaching full participation in quality pre-school education and improving the district’s lifelong learning system. The district also has an indicator framework with a set of targets to help monitor progress towards strategic goals for overall development and sectoral improvement. Specific indicators include progress towards cutting the cost of maintaining school facilities.

Schools in Brčko District have very little autonomy. The Department of Education is responsible for overseeing the recruitment of principals, pedagogues and teachers, and appointments are made by the mayor, based on the decision of a recruitment panel appointed by the Head of the Department of Education and the School Board. The Head of the Department of Education also decides on the promotion of teachers and pedagogues. The budget for each school is determined through agreement between the Head of the Department of Education and each school principal, based on a proposal that is prepared by the principal, outlining the number of students and teachers in the school, the size and condition of the school, and its specific resourcing needs. Brčko District intends to provide a higher degree of autonomy to secondary schools, as one of its key planned reforms over the coming years. All primary and secondary schools in Brčko District closed from March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and began to implement online remote learning. While schools reopened for the beginning of the 2020/21 school year but with some short periods of closure during November and December of 2020 and April of 2021 – the risk of student disengagement in school and learning loss continues to be a threat. At the time of writing, Brčko District was not planning to conduct an evaluation of the education process or assessments of student learning in the aftermath of the school closure period or in the face of ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of evidence on education during the pandemic may present a challenge for recovery efforts.

Brčko District has signalled a commitment to develop its teacher workforce and its education system more generally. At the same time, the district suffers from a lack of resources and long-term strategic planning, which prevent it from initiating and maintaining the implementation of reforms – though it is making progress, as demonstrated through the launch of its first development strategy. The district has an established history of collaboration with state-level bodies and other competent education authorities. It could continue to collaborate actively in cross-authority initiatives to develop its policies and tools for evaluation and assessment in education.

Brčko District has established criteria for systematic teacher appraisal. The district’s legal framework mandates that all teachers must undergo a six-month probationary period upon joining a new school, and its ordinance on the appraisal of teachers, professional staff, teaching assistants and pre-school teachers stipulates that the district’s Pedagogical Institution should conduct regular performance appraisals. The district has established two professional grades, and promotion is supposed to be decided on the basis of the results of regular performance appraisals. Previously, criteria for this appraisal process for promotion were based on the BiH professional teacher standards, which are aligned with contemporary research and best practices on quality teaching. In line with the Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, teachers also have a duty to develop professionally, and each year the Pedagogical Institution defines a professional development programme for teachers on behalf of the Head of the Department of Education.

Brčko District benefits from regular and productive collaboration with other actors across BiH, including state-level actors such as the Agency for Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (APOSO). This collaboration takes place not only at the policy level, but also among school-based actors. At the policy level, the district reports frequently using templates developed by BiH-level bodies and other competent education authorities to develop its own regulations and tools. At the school level, secondary school teachers regularly attend professional development workshops in other parts of BiH. Numerous stakeholders reported that these activities are beneficial, enabling them to access internal and international expertise and exchange experiences with other education actors across BiH.

The design and implementation of education policy in Brčko District is limited by a lack of resources and information. This context inhibits planning, but it also hampers the application of instructions and tools once they are designed. For example, the Pedagogical Institution has been unable to carry out regular performance appraisals of teachers because it is unable to hire qualified personnel to conduct these appraisals. As a result, no such appraisals have been conducted for the past five years. While Brčko District initially attempted to establish the BiH-level teacher standards as criteria for promotion appraisal, this initiative has been discontinued due to a lack of staff to conduct appraisals and a lack of funds to pay for salary increases linked to promotions.

A key factor hindering the improvement of the education system in Brčko District is that the district does not currently have a clearly defined set of learning standards in place. At the same time, and partially due to the absence of learning standards, Brčko District’s assessment practices remain focused on summative and normative approaches to assessment, rather than assessment for learning and the measurement of more complex, and higher order thinking skills. This focus is reinforced by its rulebook, which was last revised in 2010. As a result, schools and teachers have little experience of using student assessment to improve student learning, and resources or tools are not yet available to help them build this competency.

A further factor limiting a more strategic approach to policymaking in Brčko District is a very high turnover of departmental heads – due to the fact that this is a politically-appointed position, equivalent in status to that of the Minister of Education. Since 2000, the district has purportedly had 16-17 heads of the Department of Education, which at times have only remained in place for three to four months. In addition, the district has access to very little data and research on system performance to guide policymaking, which could help policymakers to obtain a more structured, long-term approach. It does not administer external assessments of student learning, either for monitoring purposes or for certification, which will make it difficult to understand the extent to which students are developing core competences and mastering their curriculum. It has also not established a robust education management information system (EMIS), which could be used to easily access data and monitor system trends. The district has only recently begun to formulate strategic goals for its education system.

This review provides recommendations that are relevant for Brčko District, as well as for other competent education authorities in BiH. However, the following points may be particularly salient for Brčko District:

Financial constraints currently prevent Brčko District from rewarding and incentivising teachers by providing salary increases in line with the progressive career structure. Resource constraints also hinder the district’s ability to hire expert appraisers to evaluate teacher performance objectively, in order to inform career advancement decisions. To address these challenges, Brčko District should adjust local laws to no longer provide salary increases based on years of service alone but direct these resources instead towards supporting a merit-based career and appraisal structure. In addition, the district should ensure that clear criteria are in place to guide the recruitment and promotion process, and that safeguards are present to ensure that recruitment and promotion processes are made on an objective basis. In the case of hiring, for instance, this could be achieved through an examination, or through requiring that recruitment decisions are validated by an external, objective actor.

Clearly-defined learning standards are essential to clarify what students are expected to know and be able to do at different levels of schooling. They are essential to help teachers and schools improve their practice, and student performance. Brčko District’s curriculum emphasises the importance of students developing core competences, which sets the right direction for developing a more formative and competency-based approach to education, as encapsulated in the learning standards developed by APOSO (Chapter 2). Brčko District would benefit from adopting these standards, and reviewing its curriculum to ensure that it is in line with expectations set by them.

At the same time, the district should also ensure that its assessment practices align with goals set out in new learning standards. For instance, it should begin to revise its rulebook on student assessment, to change the focus of classroom practice and recognise a balanced set of assessment purposes that support student learning. Participating in the optional BiH Matura, as recommended by this review, could also help change the focus of classroom practice, providing a way to externally and objectively certify student achievement at the end of their schooling period.

In parallel to these two measures, district authorities should continue to build up teachers’ formative assessment literacy – for instance, by supporting a set of practicum schools to provide training to mentor teachers on student assessment (Recommendation 2.1.3), and by providing resources to support teachers in implementing different types of assessment.

Brčko District has limited information to inform education policy and provide public sector accountability. While some school-level data is compiled through the submission of schools’ annual work plans, the Department of Education requires more- and better-quality data to effectively steer improvement in the school sector, as well as to progressively build schools’ capacity to assume more leadership for improvement. In order to ensure that it has the information it needs, the Department of Education should identify a framework of critical indicators for system evaluation. This should be used to inform its data development efforts, as well as to reduce the burden of data reporting on schools. The district may decide to include core school quality indicators (Policy Issue 4.1) in this framework, helping to compile data that would provide insights on school practices and performance. These new indicators could help authorities to track how the education sector is performing against the goals of the district’s new Development Strategy, and to identify intervention priorities. Brčko District should therefore also participate actively in any state-level initiatives to develop these indicators, which it could first pilot in secondary schools.

At the same time, in order to ensure that it can effectively use the data it compiles, the Department of Education should ensure that it has an adequate information system in place to store this data and provide for easy access. This system will be essential to ensure that data can be used to design policy and monitor system performance. It will also be a resource for external researchers, who could make use of this and other data to produce policy insights for Brčko District. As a priority, therefore, the Department of Education should work to improve its information management system. In the longer run, this could be realised through a dedicated interface linked to a BiH-level EMIS (Recommendation 5.3.1).

References

[2] 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).

[3] BHAS (2021), “Statistical Bulletin of Brčko District of BiH”, https://bhas.gov.ba/data/Publikacije/Bilteni/2021/BRC_00_2021_B4_1_BS.pdf (accessed on 28 January 2022).

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

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

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