Croatian educational system 101
In the previous two blog posts, you could learn about the general structure of Croatian educational system (with its issues and good sides), and about elementary schools specifically. At the end of the blog post about elementary schools, we explained how students (in Croatian: učenici) can get into the wanted high school. However, in order to provide a full picture here as well, we have included that part.
How to get into wanted high school in Croatia?
Although students enroll 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 factors (e.g. divorced parents, being a child of a veteran, some developmental difficulties), students are given score they use to compete for a place in a wanted high school. For example, best Croatian grammar schools (in Croatian: gimnazije) require a perfect score (e.g. all A’s throughout the elementary school or if some B’s happen, being very successful at academic competitions is necessary to get the score up again), while some less desirable schools accept students with D’s as well.
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 who grade almost at random or do not provide adequate education to their students, it is evident how subjective grades can be. 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 school 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 results in students who never learn anything deeply enough and lack critical skills and creativity (in Croatian: kreativnost).
What types of high school are there in Croatia?
Like the elementary schools, Croatian high schools are mostly public. Although there are some private ones, the best ranking ones are still state schools (in Croatian: državne škole), and therefore free. Croatian high schools can be roughly divided into two main groups – grammar schools and vocational schools.
a) Grammar schools (gimnazija)
Croatian grammar schools (gimnazija) are academically focused high schools which students attend for four years. They don’t prepare students for specific occupations, but for attending university. Depending upon their focus, there are:
- foreign language grammar schools (with students learning three or more foreign languages – jezična gimnazija)
- general grammar schools (with students preparing both for natural and social sciences – opća gimnazija)
- classical grammar school (with students learning Latin and Ancient Greek – klasična gimnazija)
- natural sciences and mathematical grammar school (with students having up to 8 classes of Math or Physics a week – matematička/prirodoslovna gimnazija).
As in elementary school, once you enrol in one type of high school, more or less all of your classes are obligatory. You can participate in afterschool activities, but you can’t be placed in an advanced class based on your abilities. In addition to classes they had in elementary school, students also get new ones, obligatory to all grammar school students, such as Philosophy, Latin, Informatics, Sociology, Logic, Psychology and Political sciences.
Textbooks for grammar schools
Some schools have an option for their students to take some of the classes in foreign languages. For example, they can have Math or Biology in English, German or French.
b) Vocational schools (strukovne škole)
On the other hand, occupational high schools in Croatia last three or four years and prepare students for specific occupations. It means that after graduation, students can become part of the workforce as chefs, waiters, electricians, car mechanics, hairdressers, carpenters and so on. Although they have specialized subjects, they also take some general ones, such as Croatian, Maths, English and similar.
Some schools in Croatia, such as economics, medical, art or electrotechnics high schools are four-year vocational schools which give students both basic understanding of their chosen field but at the same time enough general knowledge to continue education at the university. In this category, we have art high schools, high schools for medical professions, high schools of economics etc.
How to get into a wanted college program in Croatia?
At the end of high school, all grammar school students (and others who want to attend university) have to pass national standardized tests (Državna matura) for a few subjects, which is then, alongside other final marks and some possible additional skills testing, used to rank students when they apply for colleges. Recent statistics have shown that attending grammar schools isn’t a necessary condition for getting into university – one-half of Croatian university students attended grammar schools, and the other half attended other types of high schools.
Do market forces affect high schools?
Since the number of newborn children is steadily decreasing in Croatia and families are emigrating, schools are getting fewer students than before. It means that fewer teachers will be required.
On one hand, it might mean that high schools will be forced to upgrade the quality of their classes, to lure students by extracurricular activities and general positive atmosphere. On the other hand, students (and their parents) are not lured only by adjustments which always have positive results. For example, if there are many teachers in school who are rightfully strict or demanding, students might choose a different school, with more lenient teachers. The same goes for school’s policy about tardiness; even though strict schools might be teaching their students a valuable lesson about punctuality or not avoiding one’s responsibility, that might reflect negatively on how desirable the school is among future students.
However, since students’ ultimate goal is getting into wanted university program or getting the best possible education for their chosen vocation (at least we truly hope that is the case, or at least that parents will keep that in mind), there is also a great chance that schools will do their best to give the students exactly that.
Do you have any experience of your own with the 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): High School Vladimir Prelog by Siniša Živković / Public Domain