Education in divided societies: Developing and researching shared education in the Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Education


It is generally accepted that education has a significant role to play in societies transitioning from conflict. Indeed, the education system potentially represents the single most effective agent of social change with the capacity to bridge ethnic division in conflict affected countries (Petroska-Beska & Najcevska, 2004). In Northern Ireland (NI), the education system is distinguishable by the degree of separation that exists between Catholic and Protestant faith communities. Currently, 93% of pupils attend predominately 'own' religion schools. Similarly, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, wider ethnic divisions are now reflected in separate education systems in the Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Croatia. In post-conflict societies, these divisions can contribute to social fragmentation and inhibit the development of a 'shared society'.

In 2007 an innovative approach to facilitate reconciliation through schools separated on ethnic or religious lines was developed in NI. Informed by intergroup contact theory (Allport, 1954), shared education aims to break down boundaries between separate schools by providing sustained, curriculum-based engagement between pupils. A corpus of research demonstrates the effectiveness of the programme in promoting harmonious intergroup relations. Shared education has received significant political support in NI, and from 2015, is being extended across the region via a Signature Programme coordinated by the Department of Education. Outside NI, shared education is being implemented in Israel and Macedonia and the model has attracted interest from academics and policymakers in other divided contexts, including South Africa, BiH and Croatia, although to date it has not been instigated in these countries.

In view of the increasing internationalisation of the shared education model, we propose the creation of a strategic network across four jurisdictions (NI, Macedonia, BiH, and Croatia) of academics, practitioners, NGOs, and policymakers whose work contributes to peace building through the promotion of intergroup contact and intercultural dialogue in education, with a view to facilitate, promote, and develop models of shared education for each jurisdiction. The project employs a multi-stage design, beginning with a knowledge exchange seminar in NI providing network members an opportunity to learn more about the model and to see the implementation of the programme in NI schools. Further, it will facilitate initial thinking on the implications of shared education for partner countries, particularly regarding structural changes needed to facilitate programme implementation. This will be followed by a series of in-country knowledge exchange seminars in the participant States and capacity building activities to develop and support the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of shared education programmes; including, but not limited to, professional development for teachers and practitioners, workshops on developing and enhancing research skills key to programme evaluation, and on using research findings to advocate for policy change.

The knowledge generated from these phases will inform the development of a research agenda to move forward shared education initiatives in each country, the establishment of a shared education advocacy group to advocate for policy change, and proposals to pursue pilot programmes in BiH and Croatia. Additionally, a comprehensive comparative research and evaluation programme will be developed to examine the impact of shared education in different educational and societal contexts, with a view to refining the model and developing best practice nationally and internationally. Ultimately, building the capacity of key stakeholders to develop and initiate shared education has the capability of fostering more harmonious intergroup relations to transmute the social landscape of participant societies.

Planned Impact

In regions emerging from violence, systems of separate education for different ethno-religious groups are common and can have a detrimental effect on social attitudes, perpetuating division and therein threatening social cohesion. In Northern Ireland (NI), an innovative model of 'shared education' offers an effective mechanism to facilitate engagement between pupils, reducing prejudice and promoting more harmonious intergroup relations. Interest in the model has spread, with initiatives at differing stages of development in the Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Croatia. This project will create a strategic alliance of academics, practitioners, NGOs, and policymakers within each jurisdiction. We will:

1. Establish a network to capitalise on the expertise within and between each jurisdiction and facilitate engagement between academics and other educational stakeholders (the policy community, teachers, practitioners etc.) that can help create the environment for initiating shared education (BiH, Croatia); and where initiatives have been developed (Macedonia) consider, through the network, how they can best be supported and extended.
2. Identify areas where capacity building events will be conducted to support and develop skills needed to effectively implement, monitor, and evaluate the shared education programme. For example, we will organise training and workshops which will help researchers in the partnering countries to develop the skills needed to undertake research on educational interventions. We will also share knowledge about how Shared Education has operated and been evaluated in NI and, to a lesser extent Macedonia, and identify the challenges involved in developing and researching interventions in BiH and Croatia. This exchange of knowledge and skills will ensure that researchers in each jurisdiction are better equipped to undertake research on educational initiatives that promote peace in post conflict societies.
3. Support the establishment of advocacy groups to promote the shared education model to policymakers and government officials. The PI was a founding member of such a group in NI which has proven effective at engaging with policymakers and government officials in a meaningful way. Sharing experiences from this context will help to support similar approaches in the other jurisdictions, with the ultimate goal of influencing policy and decision making across the Balkan region.
4. Host a project website which will highlight how the strategic network ultimately constructs a powerful framework for delivering and researching shared education, as well as shaping education policy on the problem of separation. Links to the website will be placed on various social media platforms. The promotion of the network and its activities to a wider audience offers the possibility of forming new alliances with partners within each jurisdiction, as well as forging connections with partners in countries outside of the current network; therefore extending the use of the shared education model to other historically divided societies, across the Balkan region and beyond.
5. Publish a policy-oriented final report outlining the potential for shared education in each of the regions that will be disseminated via the website and directly sent to a wide range of stakeholders (teachers, school leaders, and policy makers) within each jurisdiction. A link will also be made to the online UNESCO Chair platform, hosted by UNESCO via Hughes.
6. Develop a research agenda to address the global challenge of education in divided societies, including pilot programmes for shared education activities in BiH and Croatia, and a programme of research to undertake a comprehensive comparative research and evaluation programme to examine the impact of shared education in different educational and societal contexts, with a view to refining the model and developing best practice nationally and international


10 25 50
Description Of the five jurisdictions in the network, three are on the DAC list: BiH, Macedonia, and Kosovo. In the wake of interethnic conflicts that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, BiH has seen the demise of a formerly integrated school system, in Macedonia pre-existing divisions have moved towards full separation, and in Kosovo a parallel system of education exists with state and Serbia run systems. In each case, children and young people belonging to different communities are now educated separately, offering few opportunities to interact or form friendships, explore issues of difference and diversity, and/or learn each other's language, culture and common history.

The project has afforded the generation of distinctive insights and perspectives to inform a broader discussion around the role of education in divided societies to act as a vehicle for improving intergroup relations. The infrastructure has led to the matching of schools in Macedonia and NI and the creation of a communication platform for engagement within and between teachers and pupils in Macedonia and NI on identity and diversity issues. This initiative is being supported by the Department of Education and Education Authority in NI. The matched schools model has the potential to extend to other jurisdictions.

Within BiH, a strategic meeting was held between Mr Edward Ferguson, British Ambassador to BiH and members of the core network to help him prepare a bid at the fifth Western Balkans Summit to be held with the UK government. The bid was in respect of financial support for a pilot initiative for schools in BiH to engage in shared education initiatives. In this project with the Nansen Dialogue Centre Sarajevo as the key implementing partner the BIH team aims to apply the Shared Education Model during 3 years long project, 2018-2021. The project will be implemented in 12 communities from both entities, covering 24 schools, 1200 pupils, 240 teachers and 240 parents as direct beneficiaries and at least 7200 pupils, 480 teachers and 720 parents as indirect beneficiaries. The project goals are improving intergroup relations through implementation of shared activities using non-threatening and common-oriented approached which will develop cross-group friendships and reducing intergroup anxiety
The implementation will be monitored and evaluated during the whole course of the project duration by a M&E team led by Dr Sabina Cehajic-Clancy from Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. Boris Divkovic Foundation (BDF) will be responsible for development of policy and legislation proposal on Shared Education. In particular, BDF will analyze and prepare amendments for changes to legislative framework at various state level based on the SE Act of 2016 adopted in Northern Ireland. BDF will conduct advocacy activities with MPs and policy makers in ministries at all levels of government

In Kosovo, being part of the network has led to the identification key education stakeholders who are willing to pilot of shared education programme. This includes the head of an ethnically mixed municipality in East Kosovo (Kamenica) and the Department of Education within Kamenica who have recruited two schools to participate in the pilot. The former President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga (Jahjaga Foundation) has been approached and expressed support for the adaptation and implementation of the shared education model in Kosovo.

The role of education is central to a reconstruction and peace-building agenda in BiH, Macedonia, and Kosovo, and schools are potentially key delivery agents (Gallagher, 2004; Salmi, 2000). Education systems that avoid the replication of existing structures of division and introduce mechanisms to promote social cohesion are paramount to supporting not only peace building efforts (UNESCO, 2000; EFA Monitoring Report, 2002), but also economic functioning. Ultimately, the network has the capacity to be socially transformative as the model has the capability of fostering more harmonious intergroup relations and transmute the social landscape of these divided societies.
Exploitation Route The project has afforded an opportunity to critically reflect on the theoretical elements that underpin shared education initiatives, through consideration of how the shared education model can be applied in a range of post-conflict societies. The project confirmed that stakeholders recognise the importance of intergroup contact between young people in divided societies and that there are clear opportunities and challenges across these diverse settings for shared opportunities to bring young people together. At the network level, in considering how we progress in respect of operationalising and delivering school based contact initiatives, a range of effective working practices and challenges were identified.

Effective ways of working
• The global challenge dimension of the GCRF network call has been critical to the effectiveness of our project. By facilitating jurisdictions with similar post-conflict challenges this has led to the development of collaborative working partnerships to explore the potential for school-based contact initiatives that tackle ongoing issues of division and intergroup hostilities.
• The unique interdisciplinary, intersectoral, and international aspect of the network created a safe space for sustained discussions around this global challenge. Traditionally these different sectors and discipline often work in silos, so in creating a knowledge-exchange forum members of the network were better able to understand both the potential and challenges of different stakeholders. This allowed for the generation of creative ideas about how to take the school-based initiatives forward in each jurisdiction.
• The composition of in-country networks included representatives from different ethno-religious groups. This and the nature of activities undertaken (in-country events, virtual environment, etc.) offered opportunities for critical reflection on contentious issues relating to on-going divisions. These dynamics were mirrored at the full network level where different stakeholders felt comfortable to share their experiences and aspirations.
• Adopting a full-cycle, policy-oriented strategy permitted consideration of a more creative, multi-faceted and holistic approach in responding to the challenge of divisions within post-conflict societies. From an academic perspective, this underlines the importance of a more flexible approach to methodology where research questions emerge organically.

Challenges/moving forward
• Current national research funding arrangements tend to create unequal partnerships where the host country has financial control. This is exasperated by the privileging of income generation by UK universities. In our view, and based on the network experience, national research foundations need to work together to determine strategies for elevating opportunities for DAC partners to engage as equal members.
• A project such as ours, which focused on capacity building and intersectoral engagement (both of which are fundamental to addressing global challenges) is in tension with the current emphasis on REF and peer-review publication output as a measure of research success. The time and effort required to support this type should also be recognised as a measure of research endeavour.
• Moving forward a consideration for our project is how we will disseminate lessons learned to facilitate a broader discussion on how to address division within post-conflict societies. A related consideration for research councils is how they can support the dissemination of best or next practice to address global challenges. For example, global network events/fora that promote interdisciplinary, intersectoral, and international knowledge exchange.
• Our project generated ideas for spin-off and innovative activities and we have been able to find through the network limited resource and funding to support these, including school matching across jurisdictions (Macedonia and Northern Ireland) and the development of related teaching materials. However, there is risk in raising expectations about the delivery and sustainability of such activities in the longer term. There needs to be a more strategic and joined up approach at the national and international levels where key government agencies and research councils work collaboratively to effectively address global challenges.

A body of research supports the value of shared education and this project has identified avenues for the model to be adapted to different societal contexts. The network has generated new understandings, research questions, and innovative approaches for taking school-based contact initiatives forward. An innovative funding call, which recognises the value of intersectoral collaboration and a full-cycle approach, would make this possible.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The networks established through this award have led to the development of partnerships between schools in NI and the FYROM with the aim of enhancing shared education practice. The partnerships were established as an outcome of the network meeting in FYROM where, on return, network officials from the Department of Education (NI), the Education Authority (NI) recruited shared education schools in NI to connect with matched schools in FYROM. Further meetings between the network partners involved will take place in April 2018 at part of our planned grant activity. This will be followed by a virtual symposium to connect teachers and principals from the participating schools.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Advisor to British Academy
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Advisor to British Council
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Advisor to Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Salzburg Global Summit
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description British Council Education, Security & Stability Research Call
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
Description GCRF - shared education kosovo: Developing and researching shared education in Kosovo
Amount £17,920 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 04/2019
Description Network creation and knowledge exchange partnership 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Department of Education
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In line with our grant aim to develop a strategic network across four jurisdictions (NI, Macedonia, BiH, and Croatia) of academics, practitioners, NGOs, and policymakers whose work contributes to peace building through the promotion of intergroup contact and intercultural dialogue in education, we identified and recruited individuals from stakeholder groups in the 4 countries and facilitated the first knowledge exchange events in Belfast and FYROM. In the case of the Belfast event this entailed the organisation of a one day symposium, followed by visits to shared education and integrated school sites, and the facilitation of workshops to consider the potential for shared education in the Balkan states. In the case of FYROM, we worked with colleagues from FYROM to develop a programme for the knowledge exchange event that took place there.
Collaborator Contribution Academic leads in FYROM, BiH, Croatia each produced a written review of inter-cultural education in their country, comprising an overview of relevant policy documents and relevant empirical studies. These reviews were produced in advance of the first Belfast meeting to inform participants of the educational landscape in each jurisdiction. Ahead of the meeting in FYROM our partners there recruited senior officials from the Ministry of Education and other influential stakeholders to attend the knowledge exchange event. They also organised visits to schools that were implementing shared education (based on our previous work in Macedonia), and identified schools that could be matched with NI schools in international shared education partnerships. The schools partnership initiative is being led by the Department of Education (NI) and Education Authority (NI) network leads.
Impact Two knowledge exchange events in Belfast and FYROM
Start Year 2017
Description N Ireland engagement seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a collaborative event across post-conflict societies in the countries of Northern Ireland, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo. At the event, we invited policy-makers and other constituents from Northern Ireland that work in shared education or that have a direct impact on education policies with in N. Ireland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Shared Education Network Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We continued our series of engagement with policymakers in Skopje, Macedonia. Our presentations were done for the policy-makers and other education practitioners in Skopje. Our group was able to also tour some of the schools in the area to see how shared education objectives were being carried out in those contexts. The group had meetings and discussions for the upcoming visits in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vukovar, Croatia. These presentations followed similar formats to the one in Belfast and this one in Skopje.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018