no. 11-00-22/2023-02 date: 11.9.2023. years
GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA, Prime Мinister
Dear Ms. Brnabić,
We are addressing you regarding the fact that in the city of Belgrade, all primary and secondary school students receive free textbooks, while in other cities in the Republic of Serbia, textbooks are provided only for first-grade students, and in most cities and municipalities this expense still fully burdens the household budget. Also, in their addresses, citizens point out that children from some areas of the same city are treated differently due to the decision of that city to award free textbooks only to students from certain city municipalities. Although additional support in the education of children is the primary responsibility of local self-government units, and the distribution of free textbooks is primarily a matter of the budget of local self-governments, we must not lose from sight the fact that the level of economic development of local self-government units has a direct and significant influence on whether and to what extent additional support will be provided. It should also be borne in mind that a number of cities and municipalities have a level of development below the republican average, which is why they do not have the ability to secure enough funds to provide free textbooks for all children from their territory. Investing in the education of young people is extremely important for the overall development of society, and the Commissioner welcomes the adoption of the Decision on the allocation of textbooks and textbook sets for students of public primary and secondary schools in the territory of the City of Belgrade, but believes that this should not be the privilege of the children of one city, but that all children in the Republic of Serbia should have this right.
The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees the right to education as a universal human right enjoyed by everyone (Article 71, paragraph 1). The constitutionally prescribed regime of rights related to individual levels of education is different. Elementary education is compulsory. In accordance with this status of elementary education, the Constitution stipulates that elementary education is also free (paragraph 2). Secondary education is not compulsory, but the Constitution also guarantees free education for this level of education (paragraph 2). For the level of higher education, the Constitution guarantees everyone only the right to equal access to this level of education (paragraph 3). Free higher education is not a right. That is a special measure prescribed by the Constitution, regulating the possibility for the state to provide free education to successful and gifted students of lower financial status at this level of education and thus effectively ensure equal access to higher education (paragraph 3).
Everyone is equal before the Constitution and the law. Any discrimination, direct or indirect, on any basis, and especially on the basis of race, gender, nationality, social origin, birth, religion, political or other belief, financial status, culture, language, age and mental or physical disability is prohibited.
The constitutional prohibition of discrimination is elaborated in more detail in the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, which defines discrimination as any unjustified distinction or unequal treatment, i.e. omission (exclusion, limitation, or giving priority), in relation to persons or groups as well as to members of their families, or to persons close them, in an open or covert manner, based on race, skin color, ancestry, citizenship, national or ethnic origin, language, religious or political beliefs, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual characteristics, level of income, property status, birth, genetic characteristics, health status, disability, marital and family status, convictions, age, appearance, membership in political, trade union and other organizations and other real or assumed personal characteristics. The provision of Article 19, paragraph 1 of the aforementioned law prescribes that everyone has the right to preschool, elementary, secondary and higher education and professional training under equal conditions, in accordance with the law. Article 33, paragraph 1, item 9 of this law prescribes that the Commissioner sends recommendations of measures to public authorities and other persons for the realization of equality and protection against discrimination.
Also, in 1990, the Republic of Serbia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and one of its general principles is the principle of non-discrimination. The right to non-discrimination obliges the signatory state to provide all the rights guaranteed by the Convention to every child without any discrimination and regardless of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other belief, national, ethnic, or social origin, property status, disability, birth or other status of the child, his parents or legal guardians. The best interests of the child are one of the principles of the Convention, which should be of primary importance in all activities concerning children. The provision of Article 28 stipulates that the child, among other things, has the right to education and that the state is obliged to ensure compulsory and free elementary education for all, to ensure that educational and professional information and advice are available to all children and to take measures for regular attendance of school and reduction of the dropout rate.
The Law on the Basics of the Education System, in article 7, proclaims the general principles of education and upbringing, and thus the system of education and upbringing must ensure for all children, students, and adults, among other things, equality and availability of exercising the right to education and upbringing based on social justice and the principle of equal opportunities without discrimination.
Provision of Article 10, paragraph 1 of the Law on Textbooks prescribes that the Government, in accordance with the available funds of the budget of the Republic of Serbia, in order to enable equal access to education and upbringing, makes a decision on financing the preparation and/or procurement and allocation, i.e. co-financing the preparation and/or procurement and allocation of textbooks and manuals, especially for students and trainees who are socially and materially disadvantaged, as well as for students with developmental difficulties and disabilities. In this regard, the Commissioner welcomes the adoption of the Government’s Decision on financing the purchase of textbooks with funds from the budget of the Republic of Serbia for the school year 2023/2024, which foresees the right to free textbooks for students from financially disadvantaged families, students with developmental difficulties and disabilities, elementary school students who are the third or every subsequent child born in the family, in the education and upbringing system. At the same time, the Commissioner expresses the belief in coordinated work, so that it does not happen that individual students receive two sets of books, one from the line ministry and the other set from the city of Belgrade.
The Commissioner indicates that the Strategy for the Development of Education and Training in the Republic of Serbia until 2030 prescribed that the vision of education development is to provide quality education to achieve the full potential of the population, especially every child and young person in the Republic of Serbia, while the mission of education is to provide high-quality education that serves the development of society as a whole.
In this strategy, it is stated that one of the strategic commitments of the Government of the Republic of Serbia is to provide quality education for all citizens through openness, fairness, accessibility, and democracy of education, whereby special attention will be paid to ensuring equal opportunities for all children. Providing systemic support to students during their educational journey is a priority, with an emphasis on those coming from non-stimulating backgrounds and vulnerable social groups.
In the Strategy section “Description of the current situation – key data and analysis” it is pointed out that the issue that should be further considered is whether the current financial investments in education are sufficient to ensure the desired and sustainable social and economic development. Thereby, it is stated that it should be borne in mind that in recent years in almost all countries of the European Union, allocations for preschool, elementary, and secondary education have increased, while allocations for higher education have slightly decreased.
It was concluded that in the future it is necessary to increase financial resources intended for education, i.e., a decrease in the investment of budget resources for education should not occur, because education is of strategic importance for the further economic and social development of the Republic of Serbia. In this regard, it was pointed out that local governments lack resources for financing and planning education policy (financial, human resources).
Starting from the above and bearing in mind certain inequalities in the level of development of local self-government units, we also point out the difficult position of families in underdeveloped local self-government units and devastated areas, because parents find it more difficult to find employment or have significantly lower incomes than, for example, in the city of Belgrade. Therefore, expenses for the purchase of textbooks represent a real challenge for the family budget.
Bearing in mind that the school year has started and that textbooks have already been provided, either by local governments or by parents and other legal representatives, based on the legal authority from Article 33, paragraph 1, item 9 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, we recommend that all the necessary measures are taken in a timely manner in order to enable the distribution of textbooks from the budget funds in the territory of all local self-government units, and not only some of them, as was the case this school year.
 “Official Gazette of RS” nos. 98/2006 and 115/2021, Article 71.
 Constitution of the Republic of Serbia (“Official Gazette of RS” nos. 98/2006 and 115/2021), Article 21, paragraph 1 and paragraph 3.
 Law on Prohibition of Discrimination (“Official Gazette of RS” nos. 22/09 and 52/21), Article 2, Paragraph 1, Item 1
 Law on Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (“Official Gazette of the SFRY – International Treaties”, no. 15/90 and “Official Gazette of the FRY – International Treaties”, nos. 4/96 and 2/97)
 “Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 88/17, 27/18 – other laws and 10/19
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no, 27/18
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 21/23
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no 63/21
COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY