I met a mother and her daughter in a large bookstore in the center of Sarajevo in June. They were buying three textbooks for the eighth grade. Since it’s almost impossible to find textbooks in June, I drew their attention to the fact that they don’t need to buy them because schools are giving out free textbooks. The mother replied that they had to buy new ones because her daughter made notes and underlined important facts in the free textbooks, and they were told they had to return the textbooks new, intact.
I remember this event as I prepare for the start of the new school year and hear that the Ministry of Education is providing free textbooks in the entire Sarajevo Canton for students from the first to fifth grade of primary school (last year they bought books for the fifth up to ninth grades). And naturally I asked myself, what’s the purpose of textbooks if students cannot really study from them? We all learned by underlining our textbooks. If the textbook is undamaged, then there was no learning from it. So how do we use it? For what? How can it stay undamaged? And what does undamaged even mean — that it isn’t torn or destroyed, that there are no pages missing... is it really so terrible if something is underlined or written inside…
Last year in September, we received a huge amount of textbooks for all students from the first to ninth grades, for about fifteen subjects per class, and for some subjects even up to three textbooks. A huge army of teachers, under the guidance of our school librarian, spent days sorting them, stamping them, placing them into the catalog and distributing them to students — who must return them at the end of the school year. As a reminder, before this process even started, we had to register the exact number of students who’ll attend the next school year, so we would get the exact number of textbooks. If one student goes to another school and returns their textbooks, and by some chance two join the school — the school obviously won’t have textbooks for both of them. In addition to that, I should mention that there were very few textbooks that could be bought in bookstores, and there were almost no workbooks — everything that the bookstores received got bought up in the blink of an eye.
However, I’ve been working in a school since the last century — I know that some textbooks have been used for almost twenty years. I think it was absurd to throw away the old textbooks (at best, they ended up recycled), identical to the textbooks we learned from the year before, just because we got new ones — in fact, even before we got the new ones. For example, between Čitanka and Naš jezik (Mother Tongue Language and Literature textbooks) for the ninth grade, only Naš jezik was approved. If generations learned from that textbook, why was the surplus thrown away? No one thought that it could happen that a year later, two ninth grade classes of students would graduate from primary school, and that three classes would go from eighth to ninth grade — which is why we now have 24 students without textbooks. The textbooks that were in use two years ago would be usable this year as well, because new ones were never written — they do not exist! There are only new editions, or new printings of old textbooks!
So, we gave 4.4 million BAM for new textbooks, which is great — but they are not actually new, but rather old textbooks that have only been reprinted. Those textbooks are unusable and they don’t follow the curriculum. Before this school year (2023/24), the curriculum was developed for the first three grades and the fifth and sixth grades of primary school, as well as for the first grade of high school — but the textbooks we received don’t follow this “new” curriculum.
What about unusable textbooks for upper classes? Although only one school in Sarajevo Canton has German as a first language, they all received a textbook for German as a first language and had to use it, even though it was of course unusable for their particular circumstances.
What’s the matter now? Is budget money being laundered, is someone favoring certain publishing houses because they were told to print so many textbooks on that subject and just wait for everything to go through the tender? Maybe there’s a third thing at stake — perhaps the goal of all this was that the Canton, the municipality, or whoever made it happen, could boast that they helped the parents and their children get free textbooks…that so much money was given, and that everyone will get the same, regardless of the financial situation of the family?
I'm glad that parents don't have to buy textbooks — neither do I for my children. Before, we’d buy them at the flea market for 6 BAM, but there was always a question as to whether you’d find any. But, I wonder, if the curricular reform has already been done, why wasn't something done with the textbooks as well? Why, for example, were teachers not told to use any textbook that’s approved and available? Why didn’t the Ministry of Education in the Government of Sarajevo Canton allocate certain funds to schools so that they can innovate teaching, create their own materials, and create portfolios for all students?
Curricular reform in the Canton of Sarajevo has been in full swing for several years. In a certain period, I worked on reforming the curriculum for one subject for which there is still no textbook. I then explained that certain parts of the material from that subject, according to the new curriculum, were impossible to do according to the current textbooks. Then we were all told that we are just to keep teaching according to the curriculum, and that the textbooks would come later. At the time, it looked to me like we were building a house and only subsequently putting in pipes and electricity, water, and gas.
As I understand it, reform and textbooks should be synchronized. It would’ve even made sense if we worked a certain period of time without textbooks, but only so people would find out what should be in the new textbooks from practice tests…
Now the reformed curricula have been implemented in several classes and we in the schools are supposed to use textbooks, some of which were printed in the last century. The exception, of course, is those that are missing for computer science altogether. There is a special problem in high schools — the literature books were written in 1998, and I guess they just reprint them, if they even do that (a few years ago I couldn't find the literature book in a bookstore — I was told that they haven't been printed for a long time). I mean they’re produced without editing or correcting the existing errors, most of which were noted long ago. The conclusion: there are actually still no free textbooks for high school students.