Executive summary

Education has a key role to play in supporting COVID-19 recovery efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and helping the country to achieve more inclusive and sustainable growth. In recent years, BiH administrative units have taken steps to improve their various education systems by integrating the Common Core Curriculum Based on Learning Outcomes (CCC) and by participating in international assessments of student learning, like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). However, BiH continues to face sizeable educational challenges. While the country achieves good levels of participation in schooling, data from PISA reveal that the average learning outcomes remain lower than in EU countries and large shares of students leave school without mastering basic competences. Moreover, the country’s decentralised governance structure and limited co-operation among government partners creates significant challenges for setting strategic objectives, policy coherence, and ensuring the effective delivery of public services.

Evaluation and assessment policies can provide a lever for improving teaching and learning across BiH. A sound evaluation and assessment framework will establish standards and expectations for different actors, allow them to periodically review performance and help identify where adjustments may be needed. This review examines policies and practices related to evaluation and assessment in BiH’s school sector with the goal of providing recommendations to help develop reforms and prioritise future investments that support all children in mastering the competences they need for success in education, work and life. In particular, this review calls upon policymakers in BiH to prioritise a targeted set of sustainable policy reforms that extend beyond election cycles. By providing BiH with technical recommendations for the short and long-term, this report aims to influence the political debate around education in the country to focus actors on what matters most: student learning.

Education systems in BiH have taken steps to introduce new competence-based curricula and some have introduced formative student assessment policies, such as the use of qualitative descriptors to accompany quantitative scores. However, these reforms have not led to real changes in classroom practices, in part because they have not been accompanied by adequate tools and support for teachers. As a result, classroom assessments do not encourage student learning as well as they might and there remains a narrow emphasis on summative testing. Expectations of student learning outcomes are also not clearly or consistently signalled and measured, as there are very few examples of standardised external assessments and examinations within BiH. Finally, limited state-level co-operation also prevents the country from securing regular participation in international assessments, such as PISA. As a result of this context, grade inflation is a major concern, especially at transition into secondary education (ISCED 3), when teachers face pressure to provide grades that enable students to access their study programme of choice. BiH needs more objective and reliable assessment measures to support students in their learning and signal to employers and higher education institutes their mastery of core competences. Addressing these challenges and leveraging the educational value of assessment will be key to raising learning outcomes and developing human capital across BiH education systems.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, competent education authorities are beginning to promote the more student-centred teaching and learning approaches that are becoming increasingly common across OECD and EU countries. However, teaching practices have been slow to change, largely due to a lack of supports and incentive structures that would encourage the adoption of new approaches to help all students develop core competences. Resource and capacity limitations make these efforts even more challenging. For example, the bodies responsible for organising or delivering training to teachers in BiH – typically a pedagogical institute or equivalent – often lack sufficient staff and funding. Competent education authorities therefore need to be both efficient and systematic in supporting teachers to develop modern approaches to pedagogy. Professional teacher standards can serve as a foundation for building the supports and incentives that encourage desired teaching practices. For example, they can serve as a reference for providing more relevant initial teacher education programmes and continuous professional development opportunities. Competent education authorities can also leverage the potential of digital technology and in-school learning activities to help as many teachers as possible develop their practices. Furthermore, new formative and summative teacher appraisal processes, if well designed, can help teachers focus on developing their practices and reward them for their efforts.

In recent years, several competent education authorities in BiH have moved away from an administrative, compliance-orientated approach to school quality assurance towards more evaluation-based procedures focused on developing instructional practices. In OECD countries, such evaluations also generate information that can be used to inform school improvement policies and provide a system-wide perspective of school quality. However, most of the education authorities in this review conduct “snapshot” reviews of schools in lieu of external school evaluations that would yield this type of data. Specifically, the reviews are not based on consistent standards of school quality, which makes it difficult for authorities to form reliable judgements about school performance and to determine where to direct school improvement supports. Given the considerable resource and capacity constraints facing many competent education authorities, education officials will need to use resources pragmatically and prioritise schools that are most in need of support to assist student learning. Specifically, all competent education authorities should develop consistent school quality indicators to identify and target supports to at-risk schools. This in turn requires authorities to build the capacity of pedagogical institutes or their equivalents to provide hands-on support to schools. Furthermore, authorities should encourage schools to conduct self-evaluations to drive their own development. Such efforts can help improve teaching and learning environments in BIH to raise outcomes for students.

There are many examples of individual policies within BiH that aim to improve the quality of education, such as the school quality standards in Republika Srpska or the performance-based appraisals for teacher promotion in Central Bosnia Canton. However, all competent education authorities face system evaluation challenges and the lack of co-operation at the state level reduces their ability to collectively set meaningful goals and use evidence for accountability and improvement purposes. In particular, there are no current strategic documents or platforms at the BiH-level related to primary and secondary schooling. Moreover, previous attempts at state-level initiatives, from implementing the CCC and occupational teacher standards to establishing a country-wide education management information system (EMIS), have not been met with the support and buy-in needed to have their desired impact on the education sector. Competent education authorities could strengthen system evaluation through greater collaboration and co-ordination at the country level, which would enable them to pool resources and share experiences. Generating richer education data to support benchmarking within and beyond BiH, and using this data to inform a more transparent and evidence-based dialogue around addressing the country’s education challenges will be an important first step but will require a large degree of political will. BiH should strive to set long-term goals for the sector that extend beyond individual political mandates and help establish common ground among stakeholders about what matters most: supporting all students to develop their core competences.

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