Religious Education in Public Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina…

Ahmet ALIBASIC

Religious Education in Public Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina:Towards a Model Supporting Coexistence and Mutual Understanding

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Executive Summary

This paper is an attempt to define the status of religion in public schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina (heretofore, BH) that will be compatible with relevant international Human Rights documents and that will enable religion to contribute to the successful management of pluralistic democratic BH society. The paper puts forward a formula through which religion might cease to be a problem and rather become a part of the solution by helping children or young people build inter-religious competence while preserving their particular identities. It takes a road less traveled in this area. It argues that despite present deficiencies of confessional religious education (heretofore, CRE) in the BH public school system, such education plays a strong and important corrective role in relation to much more exclusive religious messages that are taught inside some religious communities. CRE in schools is seen as a window of opportunity for alternative opinions from the same religious tradition that might act as an antidote to powerful though at times exclusivist messages coming from within some religious communities.

To test this hypothesis the author conducted content analysis of the textbooks and materials used in religious instruction inside religious communities; analyzed CRE textbooks that were in use when CRE was first introduced into public schooling system in 1990s; compared those findings with the available expert assessments, reviews, and content analyses of CRE textbooks used currently in public schools; spoke to stakeholders, and did extensive literature review.

It was found that current CRE model enjoys very high rates of approval, satisfies the demands of religious communities, and is aligned with national laws and international obligations of BH. However the way it is implemented raises legitimate concerns about its negative impact on general social cohesion, discrimination of minorities and at times, age inappropriateness of the materials fed to pupils.

Taking into consideration the high levels of CRE attendance, the high CRE approval rates among parents and pupils as shown by poll opinions and surveys, as well as the existing legislation and international agreements with the Vatican and the Serbian Orthodox Church respectively, it seems that the only feasible and socially acceptable option for correcting the deficiencies of the current CRE model is its fine-tuning.

Radical changes in this policy area do not seem to be feasible. On the other hand, an upgrading of the current policy carries the promise of success. Such fine-tuning would include: 1) revision of CRE curricula, textbooks and teaching methods, and continuous CRE teacher training in order to make it more dialogically predisposed, 2) development of an alternative course, and 3) introduction of a mandatory religious studies course in one year of primary and/or one year of secondary school, as well as strengthening of the partnership with parents and religious communities.

The advantages of this combined approach are its social feasibility, wrestling of the powerful religious message from the hands of often exclusivist clerics and parents and contribution to social healing and cohesion. The author believes that with the support of public educational authorities, school principals and pedagogues, the CRE teachers can be reasonably expected to do a better job than either religious officials or parents in explaining religious differences to young generations and in preparing them to manage religious diversity in their lives. By integrating religious communities and religious people into the mainstream, society pressures them to be more socially responsible.

The suggested model also aims to improve the performance of the current model by making CRE truly optional. That could be achieved by introducing an alternative course for pupils not attending CRE. Other interventions need to be directed at content (curricula), means (textbooks and didactic accessories), human resources (teacher training), management (organization), and pedagogies (didactics and methodology) so that CRE become conducive to the development of civil society and social cohesion, and start working for the achievement of the goals set out by the BH Framework law on education.

In addition, CRE should be supplemented by a one year mandatory Religious Studies or Culture of Religions (heretofore, RS) course at a certain stage during the primary and/or secondary education. Intensive cooperation and strong partnership between education authorities and religious communities is vital in this option. In those circumstances we could hope that CRE in schools will very soon start working towards citizenship education. The RS or Culture of Religions course should be an excellent supplement but not a substitute. These two are not mutually exclusive but complementary. This analysis proves that by having CRE and RS courses simultaneously we can have the best of both worlds. It would be a win-win situation for all.

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