By connecting schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Internet, enable education of the 21st century

Sarajevo, 5 October 2023: As part of the Digital Summit of the Western Balkans UNICEF BiH and the Ministry of Communications and Transport of BiH organised a joint panel “Enabling education of the 21st century: Connecting BiH schools to the Internet”.

The event brought together representatives of education and communication authorities, together with internet service providers, the companies Mtel, BH Telecom, HT Eronet and Telemach with the aim of considering the current state of networking of schools in BiH, and identifying potential financial, legal and operational modalities for investment and cross-sectoral cooperation. All efforts are aimed at ensuring access to the Internet, and thus information and education opportunities for every child.

At the opening of the event, Jelena Perić, a student and member of the IT Girls Club of the School of Economics in Brčko, spoke about the benefits of Internet access in learning, as well as Tajra Hasović, a student of the Elementary School “Solana-Miladije” Tuzla:

“I am one of the 14,000 children in BiH who do not have access to the Internet in schools. When we have internet in schools, we can research and quickly find answers to all questions. It makes learning more exciting; it allows us to be creative. So please can we have internet in our schools? It will help us learn better, stay connected, be creative and explore the world,” said Taira.

After the presentation of the map of internet networking of schools in BiH and the global Giga initiative, the main findings of the investment study for connecting schools without internet access were also presented – for every 1 KM invested in internet infrastructure with the aim of connecting schools, the BIH society realises a return in the amount of almost 5 KM in a period of 2.1 years. The total amount of investment for the construction of internet infrastructure for 500 schools amounts to 9.12 million KM.

“Everyone who is attending the event today is interested in this topic, so we don’t have to talk about what we all agree on, but determine what we need to do to connect all schools to the Internet. That’s why we’re all here today, and that’s why we’ve invited public and private Internet service providers, and regulatory agency representatives. Whatever we agree on today will happen. Let’s budget this, tell us what we can do at the state, entity and local level, tell us what you can do, and let’s find the money”, said Edin Forto, Minister of Transport and Communications of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The director of the Mtel company Jelena Trivan said that as a member of the Business Advisory Council of UNICEF, she had the opportunity to see the presented research on the networking of schools, which was validated through field visits and cooperation with the basic authorities in the Republic of Srpska. For 76 district schools in the Republic of Srpska, mobile internet access will be provided.

Although mobile Internet is not the optimal solution for carrying out the teaching process and learning for the 21st century, while the issue of infrastructure that would provide a broadband network, this remains a temporary solution.

The head of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for Europe, Jaroslaw Ponder, underlined the multiple benefits of connectivity:

“We are already looking forward to concrete engagement after this event, and we are glad to see both representatives of the private sector here today at the round table, which is a spirit that the ITU values ​​very much. It is not news that connectivity is the backbone of everything we do these days, and connecting schools increases and brings enormous and multiple benefits.”

The panel discussion ended with a call to action and commitment of those present for the following agreed priorities and actions:

  1. A coordination group for digital transformation in education will be established, which will bring together representatives of the education sector, communications, regulators, internet operators and other interested parties who want to contribute to the continuous process of information and resource exchange, coordination of interventions and investments in this area. The first task of this group will be to solve the issue of unequal access to quality internet for all schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  2. The BIH Communications Regulatory Agency will recommend all operators to adjust their service prices according to schools, considering the number of students per school and the best interests of children.
  3.  Schools, regional and central, are recognized as a special category of beneficiaries and will continue to be observed as such in the process of monitoring, following trends and reporting.

On this occasion, UNICEF in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrated the importance and potential of multilateral partnerships, continuous communication and exchange, which must be the basis of the galloping digital transformation process. Investing in education is not only an investment, but an obligation – everyone agreed.

The press release was originally published by UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Photo credit: UNICEF/Đemidžić.