ICT Standards in BiH Education Systems Ensure Efficiency and Continuity of Learning for All Children Equally
Defining basic ICT standards in education is a prerequisite in education digitalization process, addressing the digital divide exposed by the COVID19 pandemic.
In the context of COVID-19 pandemic induced school closures, digital distance education platforms have become essential for ensuring continuity of learning for all. Students and teachers in BiH have not stayed immune to challenges arising from the switch to online teaching modality, as they have been lacking adequate access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices and quality internet connections. These challenges prevented them to continue their learning trajectories and participate smoothly in distance and blended learning.
Strikingly, the lack of learning continuum affected over 9,700 children in primary and secondary schools in BiH, as well as 523 primary and secondary school teachers (including TVET) who did not have access to ICT. Moreover, UNICEF’s U-report showed that 45% of youth experienced challenges with access to learning, such as sharing devices with other family members, or lacking appropriate space and environment for studying. At greatest risk of being left behind are students from marginalized groups, remote rural areas, and low-income households, as well as students with disabilities.
The rapid shift to distance learning caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 highlighted the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the digital skills of teachers for e-learning and blended learning. Decentralised education systems in BiH resulted in a diversity of approaches to distance learning and a lack of common quality criteria for e-learning and shared e-learning platforms. Hence, most administrative units did not develop guidelines for e-learning and the teachers did not receive adequate training in this area.
"Re-imagining Education for Marginalized Girls and Boys during and post COVID-19" project in BiH recognized that defining basic ICT standards in education is one of the main prerequisites in education digitalization process. With this in mind, educational policies must offer standards to educational institutions, defining the recommended infrastructure for ICT, including equipment, stable and accessible Internet connectivity, as well as the necessary security measures. The activity set the norms and standards for computer equipment and supported infrastructure in educational institutions in BiH. The minimum standards determined the lower limit of ICT acceptable equipment which helps education authorities to achieve the goals of standardization of ICT to be used in educational institutions across all administrative units of BiH.
The UN implementing agencies created the working group consisting of education authorities to work on defining basic ICT standards in education systems in BiH. During the implementation process, UNICEF and UNESCO provided technical assistance to the working group. This normative support envisages further assistance to education authorities and institutions in implementing the defined ICT standards through their incorporation into legal documents (rulebooks, strategies, manuals, etc.) of educational institutions.
Besides, analysis of the existing ICT infrastructure elements for primary, secondary and higher education in all administrative units of BiH was also conducted, serving as a starting point for insight into the current situation of ICT equipment as well as for comparison with the defined ICT standards. The analysis found that 53.29 % of primary schools do not have a permanent internet connection, while 66.04 % do not have a computer classroom. Moreover, number of educational institutions in BiH that use more accessible forms of ICT technology in teaching such as Netbook and tablet computers is relatively low at all levels of education.
Defining ICT standards served as a prerequisite for equipping vulnerable children, students and teachers with necessary ICT equipment and internet connections. This included Roma, disabled children, children from rural areas and poor socio-economic families, as well as teachers at TVET and university level where practical teaching process is assumed.
“COVID-19 crisis has further deepened inequity and exacerbated an already existing learning crisis as many children, youth and adults were prevented from equal access and opportunities to continue learning. Defining ICT standards in education systems and then ensuring that these standards are followed for delivering ICT equipment to schools is one of the crucial steps in BiH. This would allow all children in BiH to continue learning and participate smoothly in distance and blended learning. Apart from increasing efficiency and resilience to the future shocks in the education systems, this activity promotes and strengthens equity for all education institutions benefiting all teachers and children, leaving no one behind.”
Joint statement by Dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Siniša Šešum, Head of UNESCO Antenna in Sarajevo, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, and Ms. Lejla Tanović, ILO National Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Apart from the engagement of UNICEF and UNESCO, procurement and delivery of ICT equipment and internet connections considers interaction with and engagement of private sector stakeholders i.e. Microsoft, in a view of expanding and enhancing the overall implementation effectiveness through formation of public-private partnership. Concretely, Microsoft will be providing authorities with the “Shape of Future Letter” document enabling education authorities to purchase ICT equipment under favourable conditions.
The intention now is for the Council of Ministers of BiH and all relevant education authorities to adopt the document, and to synchronize ICT equipment for the needs of the education sector. In this way, the activity hopes to result in the provision of a long-term solution for stable and continuous internet connections for schools, necessary not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for enhancing the overall digitalisation of education systems in BiH.
 Analysis of the existing ICT infrastructure elements for primary, secondary and higher education, UNICEF-UNESCO, October 2021
 Rapid Needs Assessment- Education, UNICEF BiH, March 2020
 Rapid Needs Assessment-Education-Phase II, UNICEF-UNESCO BiH, August 2020