The twenty-first century imposes the need of a good-quality education and life-long learning. Being uneducated implies the risk of poverty and social exclusion. However, we still witness that a certain number of children drops out of the education system in our country, due to which they face the risk of marginalisation at an earliest age.
In the previous three years, the organisation Save the Children implemented the Bright4All project with the aim to prevent early school leaving in BiH with financial support from the European Commission. Mrs Aida Ivković was the head of a team responsible for successful implementation of the project and introduction of systemic solutions in the cities of BiH, where the problem of early school leaving was the most present - Bihać, Brčko and Bijeljina.
Who are the children dropping out of school and what are the reasons for it?
Ivković: Despite the fact that the primary education is obligatory, we have a situation that all the children do not go to school, some children are late with education in terms of their age, while some children leave school prior to completing the primary or secondary education. Such phenomena are the result of influence of a number of factors that often result from the educational environment and social system at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or these are the result of individual and family circumstances and the structure and systems are unable or cannot respond to.
For example – when a child with special educational needs leaves school, this is not because the child has special educational needs, but it is more probably because the school and other services are not equipped to adequately support this child. Or when a child who reaches the age for obligatory going to school does not enter the primary education system at the time, this, on one side, is a decision of the parents, however, on the other side, the system has not managed to identify and work with this family.
When compared to their peers, children having a significantly higher risk from earlier school leaving are the children coming from marginalised groups of population – children of the Roma population, children with developmental disabilities, children with chronic diseases, children coming from the families of the poorest social and economic origin – whether in urban, sub-urban or very remote rural areas, children from dysfunctional families, children whose parents have legal issues, children coming from migrant families and families without citizenship, etc.
In 2017, a research was done as a part of the Bright4All project showing that children, who more frequently drop out of the educational system, come from socially jeopardised families with no working members, the families living remotely from school as well as families with domestic violence and in which children have been neglected. According to the same research, the responding children, who have left school, stated their most frequent reasons for leaving school were disinterest in education, lack of parental support, lack of material resources and also moving places and the need to work in order to survive.
How did Bright4All approached this problem and what were its goals?
Ivković: Education is a fundamental right of every child and it is the duty of parents and society to enable their exercising of this right. The Bright4All project is focused on identifying the rate and cause of early school leaving in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the aim to prevent this from happening.
The aim of this project was to enlighten the question of leaving school in the five targeted areas (Una-Sana Canton and Tuzla Canton in the FBiH, Prijedor and Bijeljina in the RS and the Brčko District of BiH). Equally, we wanted to warn about the lack of a systemic approach to this problem and initiate systemic solutions to prevent early school leaving of the children from vulnerable groups.
The project was financed by the European Union through the European instrument for democracy and human rights.
We started the project in 2017 by the aforementioned research to identify the basic causes behind early school leaving and establishing the scope at targeted locations. The research report was made after public debates including local, cantonal, entity and state government, educational and pedagogical institutions, social protection, police and healthcare representatives, civil society organisations, school councils and all other stakeholders.
The project implementation was continued at three targeted areas: Una-Sana Canton, Brčko district and the area of Bijeljina. With the partner organisation Women from Una from Bihać and Vermont Youth Centre from Brčko we continued acting on establishing an inter-sectoral cooperation and referral mechanisms to react in case of early school leaving, i.e. to prevent and decrease dropping out of school from happening.
In parallel, we worked and cooperated on building capacities of civil society organisations to work on lobbying, providing of services to jeopardised groups of children and local mobilisation through specialised training and workshops. We ensured training and small grants for local civil society organisations to actively participate in the community with the aim to support children at risk from leaving school. All activities are monitored and covered by media campaign to raise awareness of the public about the school leaving problem, with a particular focus on gender and cultural perspectives.
You have managed to bring together different governmental institutions into solving the school leaving problem, so that all the efforts are synchronised. How did you achieve that?
Ivković: The public debates were participated by over 150 participants, where the multi-disciplinary approach was emphasized as a necessity in the preventive work. The multi-disciplinary approach is used to strengthen care about the child, because the child is looked at from the point of view of different professions.
All the relevant stakeholders in the areas of education, social protection, healthcare, police, local government and non-governmental sector were gathered in Brčko, Bijeljina and Bihać, which means that inter-sectoral cooperation and mechanisms of work were established. Such a way ensured practical solutions contributing to a better monitoring of enrolling in and attending the primary education, improving the inclusion of children who did not enrol in the primary school, also ensuring monitoring of children leaving school and acting upon it.
In Bihać, Bijeljina and Brčko, the locations with the highest presence of this problem, you acted together with the local partners. How were they involved?
Ivković: Partnership organisations Women from Una from Bihać and Vermont Youth Centre from Brčko were actively involved in planning and implementation as partners. They both have many years of experience in working with children and other jeopardised groups, managing of the daily centres for street children and children at risk and also having experience in the implementation of projects financed by the EU.
We have jointly planned for the Bright4All project intervention, implemented the local action research, developed the Public Lobbying and Communication Strategy, including action planning, we have jointly identified the priority areas to continue the intervention on establishing a mechanism to monitor enrolling in and attending the primary education at a local level. We have jointly animated the other local non-governmental organisations to recognise their role in solving the school leaving problem, prepared the program of training and implemented training and workshops.
Equally, both partnership organisations have been actively engaged in the process of mapping and developing of the document titled Guidelines for establishing of a multi-sectoral model for the prevention of early school leaving in local communities.
What were the reactions of children, parents and teachers like?
Ivković: Already in the beginning of implementation we had a very good response from teachers, parents and children for local action research about the extent and causes of leaving school – 1229 children (631 girls and 598 boys) and 128 professionals participated in the research. Even during the research, four children were returned to the educational system.
During a further implementation of the Bright4All project intervention, 543 children (281 girls and 262 boys), mainly from the risk groups, have obtained a direct support through the services within the project, which has also positively affected their parents.
Parents from the risk groups (Roma families, socially jeopardised and/or excluded families) have realised the significance of education for their children and they found out where can they get support for education of their children.
Also, I would like to emphasise that the teachers gladly responses to all the activities, while some of them have given their contribution in the preparation of local referral mechanisms and initiated activities with children and parents in cooperation with partnership organisations.
Thanks to the teaching staff, amongst other, some parents have changed their opinion and invested additional efforts for their child to participate in the regular educational system.
What are the concrete results and long-term benefits that this project has brought to the BiH society?
Ivković: Ensured commitment to solving the school leaving problem through referral mechanisms and further engagement in this field.
Specifically, a Protocol on acting in cases of leaving school (October 2019) was signed at the Una-Sana Canton, while the cantonal Ministry of Education took over the competence to monitor its implementation in all the eight municipalities of this canton.
In Bijeljina, the local governance supported the Mobile Intervention Team/MIT that cooperates with all the other relevant institutions and is in charge of the regular exchange of information about the cases of children at risk from early school leaving, as well as to initiate a timely and adequate response for the remaining of children in the educational system.
Although the process of adoption of a local referral mechanism at the Brčko District of BiH was slowed down due to the contingency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont continues to act towards the Government of the Brčko District of BiH – to operationalise the Protocol on acting in cases of leaving school at the Brčko District.
We have also prepared 12 graphic workflows for professionals from the education, social, healthcare and police sectors, which serve as an instrument for timely operation.
Guidelines for establishing of a multi-sectoral model for the prevention of early school leaving in local communities were developed with the purpose to offer a possible framework for the acting precisely at the level of a local social community where the problem occurred and where children live, grow and develop.
The Bright4All project has proven to be a very relevant in the improvement of professional skills and capabilities of practitioners in different sectors with the aim of prevention and decrease of school leaving and respecting the right to education of every child.