THREE CENTURIES OF EDUCATION IN BIJELJINA
Modern education and schooling in Semberija began in the first half of nineteenth century, when the first Serbian schools in Bijeljina and surrounding villages were established (in Brodac in 1834, in Janja in 1835, in Bijeljina in 1838, in Gornji Dragaljevac in 1853, in Dvorovi in 1854, etc.). Unfortunately, even the basic information on the work of primary schools in the first decades of their activity is lost.
The oldest preserved document talking about education in Bijeljina is a letter to the Minister of Education of the Principality of Serbia dated 12 May 1865 sent by “superintendent of church and school Dimitrija Marković and teacher of school in Bijeljina – Nikola Evtić”:
MISTER MINISTER OF EDUCATION
We, the undersigned, dared to humbly ask Mr. Minister of Education to grant our request, after seeing that Mr. Minister of Education is helping other schools and sending books to students. Since there are 85 full-time students in our school, who spend whole day at school, but have no books to learn from, except for some books of psalms and books of prayers, from Budim, with very high price. Therefore, we, the tutors of the school and church ask Mr. Minister of Education to help the poor here and send some books, and we will be extremely grateful for your great mercy.
The teacher divided the children in grades, and in the first grade there are 40 children, in the second grade there are 25 children and in the third grade there are 20 children. As for the school, we have provided for all needs, as the teacher instructed us, and that he arranged everything like in Serbia, and Lord Pasha of Tuzla told him that he is doing the best he can, to put things in school in order. He’s done everything; we are just asking you to send us books and the templates for penmanship, a map for geography, through the teacher of our school.
Sincerely yours, humble tutors and clerks of Bijeljina School
In Bijeljina, 12 May 1865
Teacher of Bijeljina School
Superintendent of church and school
Tutors of the school:
Đorđe Eremić, Petar Jovičić, Risto Popović, Sekula Kocobaća
It can be seen from the letter that in the conditions under the Turkish rule, a relatively large number of students are attending the school, and that the teacher is relatively qualified for his job. The teacher is most probably a “Prečanin” (Serb), considering that he writes in the ekavian dialect, and that he “arranged everything at school like in Serbia”. Also, it is noticeable that children learnt only from the church books, because there were no others to learn from.
The author of the text about the school in Bijeljina, published in the Calendar of Serbian Cultural-Artistic Association “Prosvjeta” for the year 1906, claims that the Minister of Education of Serbia reacted positively to the request and the books were sent from Belgrade. That was probably the time when education in Bijeljina started to gain a more secular character in its curriculum. This tendency continued in the development of Serbian schools until they were abolished, although the schools remained under the patronage of the church until the end. The teachers of this school mostly came from Serbia and they were often hired through the ads in the newspapers (like “School Magazine” (orig. Školski list”) which was published in Sombor; in 1882 there was an ad “looking for a male and a female teacher to work at Bijeljina School with a salary of 450 and 350 forints, accommodation and fuel for heating, with a deadline for reporting until 30 September”). According to the first Austro-Hungarian registration of all schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1891, Bijeljina Serbian Primary School had two teachers and 140 students.
Two years after the Austro-Hungarian occupation, in December 1879, the new government opened the so called Communal School, mostly attended by the newcomers, and, in the beginning, a small number of Muslim children, as well as children from surrounding villages. In a desire to draw as many children as possible to the Communal School, the government decided to build a modern building for the school. It was completed in 1886 (today, this building hosts the Department of War Veterans and Disabled Persons’ Protection and the Department of Spatial Planning of the City Administration of the City of Bijeljina). The new school building had eight classrooms, apartment for the manager and other necessary rooms. The cost of construction in the amount of 48,000 crowns was borne by the Municipality. Although aided by the government, in a new, attractive building, the Communal School could not attract a significant number of students who were of Serbian orthodox and Muslim religion. Serbian children mostly went to Serbian Primary School, although it was in an old and worn out building.
THE RISE OF SERBIAN PRIMARY SCHOOL
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Serbian-orthodox church-school council in Bijeljina and the people of Bijeljina made a decision to build a new building for the Serbian Primary School at the place of the old building, which was prone to collapse. Authorities were not happy with the desire of the people of Bijeljina to build a new building for the Serbian Primary School, but gave in to the persistent insistence. The “Kotar” (county) office wanted to know which funds would be used to build such a big building, and the President of Serbian-orthodox church municipality in Bijeljina, Simo Jovanović answered
“… that for building of school we have the necessary bricks, stones, lime, sand, and 10,920 crowns in cash. We wanted to use that to build the school up to the roof by this autumn, and the assembly concluded on 10 January this year that the remainder of funds to finish the school next year should be obtained by apportionment.”
The letter was dated 12 April 1901. The funds were raised through donations, but there was also an obligation – by apportionment. Kotar superintendent, with enclosed letter by Simo Jovanović, informed the higher administrative authority about the intent to build a school building by will and efforts of the people, and suggested to approve the construction, because, as he said, the intent is solid and a political problem would emerge if the construction is blocked.
The school building was completed at the end of August 1902, more beautiful and bigger than the Communal School. This ensured the survival of the Serbian Primary School and it became a new, not only educational, but also a cultural centre of Bijeljina. Various cultural-entertaining plays for students and citizens were held in its spacious hall, and it also became a practicing ground for the youth. The rise of Serbian Primary School happened at the same time as the strengthening of national aspirations for liberation and unification with the people on the other side of the river Drina.
One of the greatest Serbian poets Jovan Dučić worked at the Serbian Primary School as a young teacher. He came to Bijeljina at the beginning of 1893, right after he completed the school for teachers in Sombor, and remained in Bijeljina until 1894. Educated and raised on European model, with a free and restless spirit, Dučić wrote his first important poems in Bijeljina. These poems attracted the attention of readers, literary critics, and police.
Besides working at school, Dučić took part in cultural life of Bijeljina, started many cultural activities, although he spent a brief time in Bijeljina, and left a permanent mark in the culture of this area. With his contemporaries – traders, craftsmen and rare officers, Dučić founded the first amateur drama group which prepared and performed recitals and plays with romantic and national content. Due to his patriotic activities, he was constantly under the police surveillance. After one raid and found patriotic verses, he was charged with disturbance of the public peace and order. After the request of the district superintendent and the Decision of Government in Sarajevo dated 10 July 1894, he was banished from Bijeljina. When Dučić left, there was also a story about unrealized love between Dučić and Magdalena Živanović, a daughter of a rich trader from Bijeljina.
Other Serbian teachers enjoyed a great reputation among the people; they were in the first rows of national activities and founders of progressive associations which gathered young people from the emerging middle class. The period to 1914 is the time of founding and successful work of Singing Club “Srbadija”, Club “Srpski sokol”, Sub-board of Serbian Cultural-Artistic Association “Prosvjeta”, the Circle of Serbian Sisters… The manager of Serbian School at the time, Stevo Nikolić, was, without a doubt, the most favourite and respected man in town. He was among the founders of all national and cultural institutions in town, a member of chairmanship of the Association of Teachers of Serbian Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a delegate for the Serbian teachers in the Great Administrative and Educational Council. Due to these activities, after the Sarajevo assassination, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison after the High Treason Process of Banja Luka in 1916.
Just like the other Serbian schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian Primary School in Bijeljina was closed by the Austro-Hungarian occupation government in 1914, right after the Sarajevo assassination, and all students had to transfer to Communal School.
Scanty data saved in the “Memorial” show that the number of students and teachers in the Primary School for Boys was constantly increasing, and in school year 1937/38 there were 25 teachers and 863 students divided in 18 classes.
The school worked during the first years of occupation, to mid 1943. In September 1943, Bijeljina was liberated for the first time, and partisans’ school was active until the new occupation in March 1944.
The Primary School started working again on 15 April 1945. The first eight-year primary school in Bijeljina was founded in September 1951, and the primary schools’ network in the town and municipality of Bijeljina expanded. Today, there are four primary schools in the city area, and eaight primary schools in Janja and surrounding villages. There are 35 detached units within these primary schools.
The first kindergarten in Bijeljina was opened in 1931, and the first steps towards more organized pre-school education were made in 1951, when the only pre-school institution in Bijeljina at the time reopened. In 1977, a modern building was built, and this building is still the central building of the kindergarten “Čika Jova Zmaj”. This kindergarten has three detached units – at Kneza Miloša Street in Bijeljina, in Novo Naselje Janja, and in Dvorovi.
Beside the kindergarten “Čika Jova Zmaj”, which was founded by the Municipality, there are three privately owned kindergartens in Bijeljina – “Štrumfograd”, “Dragan i Zoran” and “Dimeks”.
COMMUNAL (PEOPLE’S) PRIMARY SCHOOL
Unlike Serbian School, information on the work of Communal (People’s) Primary School were saved in the “School Memorial” started by teacher Nikola Mešterović on 1 January 1900, when he assumed the duty of the school manager. Until his death in 1913, he meticulously entered information about the school and situation in Bijeljina into the Memorial, making this Memorial a precious testimony not only about the activities of the school, but also about the life in Semberija from the beginning of the twentieth century to the First World War.
Regarding the information about the school from its founding in 1879 to 1900, Mešterović states that it was mentioned “if it was saved through tradition and if it could be gathered from the archived school books”. The school manager took care of the equality of different alphabets stating that the Memorial will use “… as long as I am here, using both alphabets – one year Cyrillic, and the next Latin.”
Information about the number of students exists since 1882/83, and it can be seen that the number of students constantly grew from 192 at the end of school year 1882/1883 to 419 at the end of school year 1898/99. At the beginning of the twentieth century the number of students decreased, probably due to the construction of the new building of Serbian school, and the transfer of orthodox students to this school. Even though the Communal School was not favourite among the Serbs, it is a fact that with time, most students in this school were orthodox. The school had a number of catholic and Jewish children, and not so many Muslim children.
Like in the Serbian school, the majority of teachers in Communal school came from other places in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and their moving from place to place was frequent.
As already mentioned, the manager Meštrović kept notes in the Memorial about the situation in Bijeljina and their impact on the work of school. Some of the most interesting notes (chronologically) are:
- 3 April 1900, there were 14 primary schools in Bijeljina kotar (county), which was ascertained by the county school supervisor Vejin.
- 1 May 1900, the school organized a party for its poor students, making a profit of 223 crowns and 40 fillers.
- 18 October 1900, appearance of black measles was noted and on that day “... county doctor examined all children and administered the prescribed serum to 55 students”. Due to the epidemics the school did not work from 5 December 1900 to 24 January 1901.
- 1 June 1902, the Memorial mentions the appearance of whooping cough among the school children, and on 5 October 1903 it mentions scarlet fever, and the school did not work for 14 days.
In the same year, the Memorial mentions a great coup in Serbia, which happened on 11 June (29 May according to the Julian calendar), and that on 24 June the Serbs “... brought King Petar Karađorđević to Belgrade who was in exile in Geneva until then.”
- For 1904 Mešterović wrote that from he mid June until 31 August Bijeljina “have not seen real rain, so all greenery burnt, and crops, especially corn, was very bad.”
- In 1905 at the beginning of June there was a two-day thick fog that was bad for the wheat, so the “harvest was bad”, and the fields towards Janja were especially impacted, “so there was nothing left to harvest.”
- 30 August 1905, there was “a beautiful solar eclipse which covered ¾ of the Sun.”
- 1 May 1906, there was a note on the whims of nature and “the winter lasted until the first days of April”, and “the air temperature throughout March was in the range between -30 and -8 degrees Celsius”. The nature slept until 26 April, and in the meantime, on 20 April, Dašnica and Modran flooded Bijeljina, so the river ran through Vilma Street (at that time it was the main street in town, today it is Karađorđeva Street) with the depth of 60-70 centimetres, “which no one in Bijeljina remembers happened before.”
- 21 October 1907, the authorities closed the school due to scarlet fever “... which came like a wolf among the school children.”
- 15 June 1908, a note on the weather again: “... the county saw a great rain with a strong wind and hail, not seen for a long time.” The strongest hail hit Puškovac, Gornje Zabrđe, half of Ugljevik, Tavna, Vršani, Obarska, Crnjelovo, Svinjarevac, Brodac, Batković, Velino Selo, Trnjaci, Međaši and Balatun. “The crops were hot so bad, that it is impossible to see where the corn was seeded.”
- 23 March 1909, the school was disbanded because soldiers stationed in Bijeljina entered the school “because Serbia was hostile towards Austria-Hungary due to annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and placing their army to the river Drina.” It is also written that two companies of 502 men entered the school. After they had left, the school started working again on 29 April, after two days of cleaning.
- In the same year, on 14 October, teacher Katinka Mešterović, manager’s wife, died.
- On 26, 27, 28 and 29 May 1912, the county school supervisor Mandić inspected the work of school and “... found a very good achievement, except for teacher Ferić, where achievement is not satisfactory”. Due to this failure, the manager described the work and behaviour of that teacher in Memorial as follows: “The writer of these lines has never met this kind of creature, as it is no good to the God, to the Devil, to the government, to the school, to the authorities, to the children, to herself – so it seems that this is how she will end her career, like no one close to her. As you sow, you will reap.”
- In September 1913 Mešterović stopped writing the Memorial due to illness, and on 12 October he died.
During the Austro-Hungarian rule, Trade School was active in Bijeljina, but it was closed in 1919 when the High School (Gimnazija) was founded. The newly founded High School was placed in the building of Serbian school, and the primary school was moved to the building of Communal School.
THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE WARS
After the First World War the Serbian and Communal primary schools were united, and the whole time between the two world wars and after the liberation, until 1956, the town had one primary school for boys and one for girls (primary schools for girls was placed in the building near Sokolski dom, next to todays Primary School “Vuk Karadžić”) which were enough for all students in the town area, considering that the surrounding villages already had buildings for their primary schools. In 1926, the building of Serbian school was upgraded by a representative building for the needs of High School. Today, these two buildings are the complex of the largest primary school in Bijeljina. In SFRY, this school bore the name of national hero Radojka Lakić, and today it is called Primary School “Sveti Sava”.
In the City of Bijeljina approximately 9,800 students attend compulsory primary schools. There are twelve primary schools with 35 detached units in city and village communities. Beside primary schools in which the students gain general education, Bijeljina has one public and one private music school.
The city budget allocates significant funds for the improvement of primary education every year (assistance for snacks to socially vulnerable children, school sport, transportation of students, construction investments for school buildings, scholarships for students with special needs...).