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In 1997, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched the PISA programme, which assesses the skills of 15-year-olds in the fields of reading, math and science, and the skills of students in applying what they learned in school to real-life situations.

The aim of the programme is to provide an ongoing insight into educational policies and practices that directly affect students’ knowledge and skills in different countries and in different demographic subgroups in each country. Through the PISA results, policy makers can assess students’ knowledge and skills in their countries compared to those in other countries, set policy goals compared to measurable goals achieved in other education systems, and learn from the policies and practices of countries that have shown improvement.

Since the first testing cycle, in 2000, to the present day, the students representing more than 80 countries and economies have participated in the research. PISA assesses the extent to which the 15-year-olds who, at the end of obligatory education or had already completed it, have acquired the key knowledge and skills necessary for full participation in modern societies. The assessment not only confirms whether they can reproduce knowledge, but also examines how well they can extrapolate it from what they have learned, and apply it in unfamiliar situations – both in and out of school. This approach shows that modern economies value individuals by what they know and what they can do with what they know.


Bosnia and Herzegovina participated for the first time in the 2018 PISA research. It covered 6,480 students aged 15, from 213 schools across the country – selected by random sampling. The students did a two-hour test that was not directly related to the curricula in BiH, but rather competency-based and comparable internationally. In addition to the tests, the questionnaires were also filled in, which were also used to interpret the results.

The PISA programme for BiH is of particular importance because it will allow BiH to gain am insight at the international level of its education systems and decide in which direction they can be improved. The PISA results are a reference report on the quality of education in a country, so this is a great opportunity for BiH to define the actual quality of education. The assumption is that the generations now educated in BiH will be EU citizens – so it is important to determine the extent to which education prepares them for the future. Furthermore, the PISA results show how much the education systems support economic and social development in BiH. Insights will be given at what level the educational accomplishments of the students reflect the conditions in which the educational systems operate and the level of equity of education.

Dijana Pejić: It is necessary to change the education system as soon as possible

“After the PISA research results were released, I think it became perfectly clear to everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina how alarming the situation in all of our education systems is. The mere fact that our 15-year-olds, in terms of reading and mathematical literacy, are three years behind most of their peers, is already distressing enough for all of us to be alarmed. Every second student is functionally illiterate, which means that their ability to solve problems is significantly lower than of their peers in the OECD countries. And given the fact that BiH was ranked 62nd out of 79 positions (for 79 countries whose results were processed as part of the PISA 2018 research) that speaks volumes about the fact that our students are not able to apply the knowledge gained at school in their everyday life. One of the conclusions of the research is that, due to the low level of literacy, students will have difficulties in continuing their education, employment, professional advancement and social management. While in the OECD countries the percentage of such students is between 21 and 25, in BiH it is around 50 percent.

The Genesis Project, as an organisation that puts a lot of effort into non-formal education of children and adults, has been working for a long time to raise awareness, among the population in local communities across BiH, on the importance of international educational research and education, as part of the “Dialogue for the Future” project and about all the lessons learned that can be attained by interpreting the results of these researches, like the ones from today. Accordingly, from the beginning of next year and with the support of the “Dialogue for the Future” project and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway in BiH, we continue to work intensively through educational dialogue platforms in 10 municipalities across BiH (Travnik, Bugojno, Bijeljina, Istočno Novo Sarajevo, Doboj, Sarajevo, Trebinje, Tuzla, Banja Luka and Novi Travnik).

It is planned that this activity includes at least 300 different local actors who are coming from schools, student councils, parents’ councils, the business sector, the media, non-governmental organisations, all with the aim of making education a priority throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our goal is to animate the citizens to actively advocate the need for reform of education systems in BiH, and that steps need to be taken which would directly lead to improving learning outcomes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We believe that the results of the PISA 2018 research will be a guiding principle for all of us, helping us to provide our children with better education and a better future, which I believe is the goal of all of us. Despite the fact that we expected the results like this, we should all have to take responsibility for them. We must also acknowledge the need to change the system, at least the education system, as soon as possible.” G.P.

Equitable education

An equitable education system is one that minimises the impact of personal and social circumstances beyond the control of the individual ones (such as gender, ethnic origin, or family background) on the opportunities for quality education and, ultimately, on the learning outcomes that the students can potentially achieve. In this context, equity in education is discussed in relation to providing five key foundations for success: an inclusive environment, quality teaching, time for learning, material resources, and family and community support.

An inclusive education system ensures that all young people reach at least the minimum level of achievement, success, well-being and engagement required to participate in society. Although the achievement barriers, results and health do not necessarily come from educational institutions, the focus on inclusion requires that educational policies remove these barriers where they exist so that children can follow what is important to them in life.

Given that a culture of decision-making in education based on empirical data has not been developed in BiH and due to the lack of regular mechanisms for monitoring the quality of education, the PISA data are of particular importance for determining the real situation, with opportunities for improvement and intervention where necessary.

For BiH, the PISA findings are of particular importance for:

  • developing a curriculum focused on the acquisition of key competences;
  • improving teaching practices that imply quality teaching and interaction with students, as the most important influences on cognitive, emotional, social and behavioural outcomes of education;
  • better insight into the current capacity of education systems to ensure equal opportunities for all children and guidance on improving the impartiality and equity of the education system in the country;
  • the relation between the educational attainment and the labour market, to determine the knowledge and skills necessary for career development.

What does PISA test?

Each cycle of the PISA programme measures students’ reading, math, and science skills. A particular emphasis is placed on their ability to apply knowledge and skills in real life contexts: they must demonstrate that they can analyse, understand and communicate effectively in the process of identifying, interpreting and solving problems in different situations.

Definition of reading literacy in the PISA 2018 cycle: Reading literacy is the understanding, use, evaluation, reflection and engagement in the texts to achieve their goals, develop knowledge and potential, and participate actively in society.

Mathematical literacy is defined as the ability of an individual to formulate, use and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. That includes mathematical thinking and the use of mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and means to describe, explain and predict the occurrences. It helps individuals recognise the role that mathematics plays in the world, and make informed conclusions and decisions necessary for the lives of constructive, engaged, and thoughtful citizens.

Literacy in the natural sciences (scientific literacy) is defined as the ability of an individual to deal analytically with issues related to the natural sciences and ideas of science. A scientifically literate person is willing to engage in reasoned discourse on the natural sciences and technology, which requires the ability to scientifically explain the occurrences, assess and design research in the natural sciences, and interpret data and evidence in the natural sciences.

The easiest way to summarise students’ results and to compare the relative success of a country with other countries is to use the average achievement (average) of the students in the country and in the area tested by PISA. However PISA also measures students’ results by skill level, with the highest being six and the lowest one. It is especially important to identify in each area a basic level of success (level 2), which is also considered to be a minimum level of proficiency in reading, math and science. In all three areas of PISA, the basic level is the one where the students can approach the tasks that require minimal ability and aptitude for thinking independently.

In reading, a basic skill level is defined as a level at which the students are able to read simple and familiar texts and understand them factually, but also to demonstrate, even in the absence of clear instructions, the ability to link several information, to draw conclusions that go beyond what was explicitly mentioned and to link the text with personal experience and knowledge.

In math, a basic skill level is defined as a level at which the students are not only able to perform routine procedures, such as arithmetic operations, when given all the instructions, but are able to interpret and recognise how a straightforward situation (e.g., comparing the total distance to two alternative routes or converting prices to another currency) can be represented mathematically.

In the natural sciences, the basic level of knowledge corresponds to the level at which the students can rely on their knowledge of basic scientific content and procedures for interpreting data, identify the issue being considered in a simple experiment, or determine the validity of a conclusion based on available data.

By comparing the number of students below and above the basic level of knowledge, and the number of students who achieve the highest levels of knowledge, one can estimate the average level of achievement (shown by the average scores in BiH) and the capacity of BiH education systems to support excellence and to ensure minimum standards of the achievements.

Achievements and performance of students in BiH

Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked well below the OECD average in all three areas and is in the last quarter of a total of 80 countries, along with Northern Macedonia and Kosovo, out of the countries in the region.

The difference in points between BiH and the OECD average in reading is 84 points, in mathematics 83, and in the natural sciences 91 points, which represents almost three years of education.

The best-ranked country in the region is Slovenia, whose score is better than the OECD average, followed by Croatia with 15 points behind the OECD average in reading, 25 in mathematics and 18 in the natural sciences.

Serbia is behind with 41 points in mathematics, 48 ​​in reading and 49 in science.

Followed by Montenegro, Albania…

The worst ranked countries in the region are Albania, BiH, Kosovo and Northern Macedonia.

The question is – if, at the age of 15, the students in BiH are already behind their peers from the European countries by as much as three years of education, how can our country overcome this gap and provide long-term economic development that would be competitive with the other surrounding countries and Europe?

The table shows the average results for all countries participating in the PISA 2018 programme.

Text source:

Forest school

Puppets & empowerment

Whose are the angels

Games of forest dwarfs

Unicef and Genesis