Elementary schools in Croatia


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Croatian educational system 101

In the previous blog post on Croatian education, we presented a general overview of the whole Croatian education system and presented its good and not so good sides. In today’s instalment, we will present in more detail what Croatian children study in elementary school and high school, and how they are assessed.

First four years of elementary school in Croatia (niži razredi)

In the first four grades of Croatian elementary schools, children have one teacher for the main subjects: Croatian language (Hrvatski jezik), Maths (Matematika), Nature and society (Priroda i društvo) and this teacher stays with them for all four grades. The same teacher might also teach Music (Glazbena kultura), Physical Education (TZK – Tjelesna i zdravstvena kultura) and Art (Likovna kultura), but sometimes children have different teachers for these subjects. All Croatian children learn a foreign language (most often English, but also German, Italian and French) from the first grade. Languages are usually taught by a different teacher, and the same goes for Religious studies (Vjeronauk). However, Religious studies are not obligatory, since they do not encompass all religions, but focus on one, most often Catholicism, but some other religions are also offered, although these classes usually take place outside of school.

Elementary schools in Croatia

Since children spend most of their time with only one teacher and stay in the same group of students, in these first four years the program is very focused on supporting their emotional and social development, in addition to knowledge and skills they are acquiring.

Elementary schools in Croatia

Four magic words – classroom decoration by Kristina D.

They spend time learning and talking about emotions, families, communities and customs. There are many events and special days they celebrate – they learn about ecology, healthy diet, folklore, road safety and personal hygiene. In a way, in addition to learning writing, doing sums and basics of a foreign language, they also acquire the established common values of Croatian society.

Elementary schools in Croatia

Traditional Croatian clothing – classroom decoration by Kristina D.

From fifth to eight year of elementary school in Croatia (viši razredi)

After the first four grades, children officially still attend the same school, but the system changes dramatically. Instead of one main teacher (in Croatian: učitelj/učiteljica), now they have a different one for each subject. Children of one class attend all subjects together, and as a rule stay together as a class until the end of elementary school. Each class is given one homeroom teacher, who aside from their main subject also takes pedagogical care of their class. They have homeroom class once a week, where they discuss different issues that come up in students’ lives, contact parents regarding students’ absences, resolve behavior problems, hold parent-teacher conferences, take children on school trips (in Croatian: izlet) and attend to other current issues.

In 5th and 6th grades, Nature and Society (Priroda i društvo) is divided into three new subjects: Nature (Priroda), Geography (Zemljopis) and History (Povijest), and in 7th and 8th grade, Nature is turned into three new ones: Biology (Biologija), Chemistry (Kemija) and Physics (Fizika). All of these subjects are obligatory – there is very little possibility for Croatian students to choose the subjects they are going to study. Also, all children attend the same classes, however those that have some developmental difficulties are not required to achieve the same results in order to pass into the next grade.

If you are keeping count, with workshop classes (that children also get in fifth grade), an average seventh and eighth grader (13-15-year-old children) has 12 obligatory subjects – on average, 26 classes a week. In addition to that, children also usually have Religious studies (Vjeronauk), a second foreign language and informatics (33 classes a week – or 6 to 7 classes a day), not to mention other school activities, such as groups for gifted students, choir, sports, art groups etc.

Elementary schools in Croatia

By Croatian Tragedies
This year’s generation of 8th grade students gave me a watch as well
In Croatian schools, it is customary for homeroom teachers to receive gifts from their students at the end of the school year or after graduation.

12) Raspored sati - OŠ Kamenica

An example of a week schedule in the 8th grade / Ivan Ranger Elementary School

This is why the Croatian education system is often criticized for having too many subjects, without enough correlation between what is taught in different subjects, and as a result, students have too many classes a week.

How to get into the wanted high school in Croatia?

Although students enrol Croatian elementary schools based on their address, high schools are a different matter. At the end of the 8th grade, based on grades in elementary school, success at competitions and some social aspects (e.g. divorced parents, being a child of a war veteran, some developmental difficulties), students are given a score they use to compete for a place in a wanted high school. For example, best grammar schools require a perfect score (e.g. all 5’s throughout the elementary school or if some 4’s happen, being very successful at academic competitions is necessary to get the score up again), while some less desirable vocational schools accept students with 2’s as well. Just to mention in case you are not familiar with Croatian grades (in Croatian: ocjene) – 5 is the highest grade (comparable to A), while 1 is the lowest grade. More precisely: 5 (excellent), 4 (very good), 3 (good), 2 (satisfactory), 1 (unsatisfactory).

This system, which lacks a general standardized assessment of students, is the root of many educational problems in Croatia. Since we have mentioned the existence of disinterested teachers in the previous post on education in Croatia, who grade almost at random or do not provide adequate education (in Croatian: obrazovanje) to their students, it is evident how subjective grades can be. On one hand, it means that some students will not be really prepared for the school they desire to attend. Since there is no standardized assessment of elementary students, there is no way to know if elementary school teachers are doing their job well.

It also creates a huge amount of stress and an unrealistic expectation that students will excel in all their classes. For example, a seventh-grader who is really gifted for mathematics and has competed in it at the national level might very easily lose his or her spot in the best grammar school specialized for mathematics if his grades in History or Music aren’t As as well. It stops students from focusing on subjects they are gifted for and creates a manic state in which rote learning is the only way to deal with all subjects at the same time. It can result in students who never learn anything deeply enough and lack critical skills and creativity.

Elementary schools in Croatia

Photo by Croatian Tragedies
”My son Borna’s grade point average is going to be 4,9.”
The highest GPA in Croatia is 5,0. As it is mentioned in the text below, there is a huge pressure put on elementary school students to get a perfect GPA, because it decides which high school they will be able to enrol.

What are the good sides of Croatian elementary schools?

We have mentioned quite a few often criticized sides of Croatian elementary schools, but there are certainly good sides as well. Although Croatians tend to forget that fact, we should emphasize once again that Croatian schools are predominantly public and therefore free.

Also, students are placed into individual elementary schools based on their address, which means that there are no waiting lists or early testings for desirable schools. That also means that schools (especially in smaller cities) tend to be less socially homogeneous. In the same group, you can find children whose parents belong to vastly different economic classes.

Schools are also trying to integrate children who have special physical, mental or psychological needs into regular classes. It usually means that they will be assigned an assistant who will help them follow the same program (or adapted one), but they will be in the same group as children who are following the regular program.

12) Igralište - Iva Antoliš

Elementary school Dora Pejačević in Našice / from the private album of Iva Antoliš, SpeakCro teacher

Many Croatian schools also offer free after-school activities. It means that children can sing in the choir, learn to grow vegetables in the school garden or be part of the theatre group without having to pay any fees or memberships. When motivated teachers are leading these groups, they can bring forward many interesting projects, cooperation between schools, school magazines, competitions and school fairs.

12) Freska - OŠ Kamenica

Even when students don’t want to participate in the activities (in Croatian: aktivnosti) on the regular basis, schools try to make the school year interesting by marking many different special dates and events.

Although it is evident that Croatian schools on higher levels (especially in academic high schools, while vocational high schools do provide practical experience) don’t offer real-life experience and useful skills to their students, elementary schools (especially in the first four grades) still do try to take the students to the world outside the classroom and bring the world to the school. As we have concluded in the previous blog post, many teachers and school officials really do their best with limited funding and support.

Do you have any experience of your own with Croatian schools?

If you have any questions about how Croatian schools work or any other question about Croatian educational system, please feel free to ask in comments below, we’ll give our best to give all the information that we can give.

Featured image (on top): Elementary school Dora Pejačević in Našice / from the private album of Iva Antoliš, SpeakCro teacher


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