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Depoliticization of Education

Out of 121 laid-off school principals who filed a lawsuit, 81 did so against their own school

Smiljana Vovna

12.02.2023

This harmed children, parents, and the educational process, but not school leaders who - apart from their titles - frequently also have a political party card.

Ilustracija: PredragLasica / Shutterstock.com

As we wait for the new government to form in Tuzla Canton[1], let's remember that this Canton, in the mandate from the government for 2018-2022, was probably the record holder for school principal replacement. Throughout government changes from February 2018 to July 2019, then July 2019 to January 2021, and January 2021 to February 2022, there have been more than 300 replacements in this region alone. The coalition partners made personnel lists, appointment plans, and other lists at private, informal gatherings, far from the real world and needs of citizens and the institutions of the government system, where such discussions belong.

But let's start from the beginning!

Immediately after the 2018 elections, the green-orange coalition (SDA, DF, SBB, SBiH, and three independent candidates) led by Prime Minister Danijel Tulumović, Ph.D., captured electoral victory. Employed directly through the employment bureau, Fahreta Brašnjić became the head of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture. Her tactic: start with the reform of education via the dismissal of school boards. Supposedly, that was the most urgent thing that needed to be solved in education policy, all presented through mouthfuls of depoliticization. In that wave of reform, the first task of the newly appointed non-political school boards was to name new principals in primary and high schools. In that process, the previously-unknown background players actually played the key roles. Discussions about the selection and appointment of principals were not held publicly. Thus, the leadership positions in educational institutions were filled by the obedient candidates, who were tasked with carrying out future actions to reward the politically expedient.

While the government divided positions up, the opposition didn’t sit idly by. They also organized themselves. Alas, it looks like more of the same!

The pandemic slowed the course of events; the ruling majority got busy procuring medical materials and other necessities. Still, there was a change in the parliamentary majority and the fall of the Government of Tuzla Canton. Ministers left as if they had never been ministers, some to their old positions, some to face the judicial authorities and prosecutors, and Minister Brašnjić to the role of advisor to the Federal Ministry of Education and Science.

The new government (SDP BiH, PDA, SBB, Naša stranka [Our Party], and one independent candidate) supposedly changed laws and regulations overnight so everything would be according to the law. They replaced the elected principals and appointed their own. They established new depoliticized school boards and prepared calls for the appointment of new principals. After the dismissals, lawsuits and criminal charges began. The old government became the opposition, and they warned the boards that the new course of action did not follow the established law - as if everything before did.

The second circus cycle in executive and legislative power change in Tuzla Canton lasted only a short time, just 6-7 months. The government was replaced again! Those who were in the government, then the opposition were now the government again (SDA, DF, SBiH, and five independent councilors), and returned to their hard-earned positions. Lawsuits from those dismissed followed, because of course they had the right to do so. Along with lawsuits came requests for compensation for damages from the government budget.

And so, we went round and round, with one shift causing another and allowing everyone who sued their schools to seek compensation for the material damage caused by their dismissal. There have been cases where the present principal sues himself as an employer, and then takes money out of funds that are already insufficient for the functioning of the school - money from the chalk and sponges fund, for instance - for the mental pain he suffered. They say it's hard to be a school principal; the only thing harder is not to be one.

Thus, in the middle of 2022, we learned the following. 121 principals - primary and high school - were all dismissed in one day, based on amendments to two laws, one of which has already been declared unconstitutional. The lawsuits related to these 121 school principals could cost the citizens of Tuzla Canton several million marks. Namely, according to representative Midhat Čaušević in the Assembly of Tuzla Canton, and the chairman of that Assembly, Žarko Vujović, out of 121 principals who initiated lawsuits after dismissal, 81 sued their own schools. In addition, in the middle of 2022, the decisions of the Cantonal Assembly on changes to unconstitutional laws created the conditions for all of them to return to work.

Meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer students in Tuzla Canton schools. They scattered around the world looking for any other school under the sun, and around 200 educators who were previously hired full-time suddenly don’t have enough classes to fill their job requirements.

Schools have become political prey for school leaders, damaging children, parents, and the educational process. In addition to their titles, they usually have a document valued more than any other today - their political party card. It’s increasingly clear that the importance of one party card holder in the educational system is of higher importance than education - which is slowly, under the pressure of politics, losing its role and meaning.

This is a grassroots problem: regulations and laws on primary and high school education should be changed, new amendments should require minimizing political influence on the selection of authorities in schools, and the government and ministry should be excluded altogether from the process of appointing principals in primary and high schools. The only correct path in this story, if we intend to stay afloat, is an entirely depoliticized school and the educational process. According to their habitus[2], teachers should be loyal only to their classrooms and the children sitting in front of them, and not to a political party and its organs. We, those who hold the class register in our hands, remain silent because we depend on politicized authority. We adhere to the politics of the winners because we are aware that they can humiliate us in a heartbeat, and that based on just one school lesson preparation, they may not evaluate us adequately and thus degrade us.

These days, educators in Tuzla Canton are waiting for the results of negotiations and the formation of new political majorities. They’re protesting to improve their status following the appointment of the new government. Who knows what color the political cards of the latest suitable principals will be. We know, however, that they’ll once again fill the schools with party personnel, and they’ll do so away from the public eye. Looking back at these tumultuous shifts, we’ll especially remember the quarrels between DF and SDA, and Amela Begić - the wife of Zlatan Begić from DF - throwing doctoral dissertations or copy-paste textbooks at a political opponent while saying, “I’ve written more than you've read.” Of course, the new political opposition have quickly forgotten all this, joined old opponents at the same table, and come to understand each other perfectly.

 

 

[1] Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) consists of two entities, Federation of BH and Repulika Srpska, and a third unit, Brčko District. Federation of BH consists of 10 cantons. Tuzla Canton is one of them. 

[2] A sociological concept that entails ways that people perceive and respond to the social world they inhabit.

 

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