The educational experience of most students in Croatia was severely disrupted by war in the early 1990s. As of 2001, thousands of refugees who had left Croatia during the warfare of the 1990s had yet to be resettled, and those who had returned often were housed in temporary quarters away from their original home communities. Regular school attendance was thus especially hard for some children and youth even where schools had been rebuilt and classes restarted shortly after the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995. Consequently, some measures of educational enrollments, attainment levels, literacy rates, and other school-related statistics for the 1990s are fairly imprecise or nonexistent. Certain knowledge gaps exist regarding the status of education in Croatia in the 1990s, making a full evaluation of the country's educational situation at the start of the new millennium somewhat difficult to achieve.
Nonetheless, in June 2000 a number of solid recommendations were being advanced to reform the education system in Croatia. However, they had not yet been acted upon, due to the need for public debate in the policy-formulation process. In the proposal drafted by the Government Ministry's Council of Education, the Council had identified several major flaws in the education system, the remedy of which could vastly improve the country's schools. The partial catalogue of deficiencies included the following: 1) a lack of democratic relations and procedures in the schools; 2) an atmosphere predominantly authoritarian and conservative; 3) overly rigid scheduling of the school day; 4) inflexible rules for placing and promoting students; 5) dualistic secondary education uncharacteristic of European systems; 6) denying opportunities to higher education to about half the secondary-school population; 7) an inconsistent and formalistic grading system; 8) over-centralization in educational administration; 9) lack of recognition of parents' rights and obligations; 10) poor-quality and inadequate physical facilities and equipment; 11) few private schooling alternatives; 12) little entrepreneurial activity supporting education; 13) fragmentation among the parts of the education system; 14) arts schools poorly coordinated with other schools; 15) formalistic and unmotivating methods of evaluating teachers; 16) a lack of professional teaching publications and pedagogical literature understandable by or useful to most teachers; 17) and poor management of the education system, schools, and classes. Interestingly, the evaluation contained in the June 2000 proposal underscored that the above problems had little to do with the fault of the teachers in the system. The Education Council carefully noted that teachers in Croatia "for some incomprehensible reason, have been systematically belittled, financially discriminated against and professionally thwarted and restricted, while the entire education system was run in a manner totally out of synch with European tradition and experience" (Council 7). The rampant problems in Croatia's education system were especially surprising considering that Croatian schools and culture are centuries old, including at the university level. The first university in the country was established by Dominican priests in Zadar in 1396 as the Universitas Jadertina, the General University. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, the government arm formally in charge of higher education in Croatia in 2001, Universitas Jadertina had conferred the "degrees of Master of Science and Doctor of Science and was thus equal in status to the other eminent European universities of the time."
In 1991, approximately 29 percent of Croatia's population was of school age or between the ages of 3 and 24. The gross enrollment rate for basic education, the first 8 years of free, compulsory schooling for students generally between the ages of 6 and 14, was 89 percent in 1996. Twelve years of public schooling was the expected norm in Croatia in 1995, although attendance was compulsory for only eight years. Croat was the first language of instruction used in Croatian public schools in the year 2000.
In June 2000 the Education Council of the Ministry of Education and Sports made several recommendations to bring the country's education system into better alignment with European and UNESCO-approved international standards. The Council suggested adding a year of compulsory preschool education for all children between the ages of five and six beginning in 2010. Additionally, the Council recommended making nine years of basic education compulsory and divided into three phases: a Junior phase where students would be taught in forms (classes); an Intermediary phase where students would be taught in a combination of forms and subjects; and a Senior phase where students would be taught subjects by specialized teachers. Two, three, four, or five years of secondary schooling, depending on the course of study chosen by the student, would follow this nine-year pattern of elementary schooling. The overall goal of the reforms recommended by the Council was to make schools in Croatia capable of delivering education that would fulfill one basic requirement: making high-quality education available to all. As the Council noted, "A fundamental human right and a democratic prerequisite for equality among the young generation is the same educational (pedagogic) standard and quality of upbringing as the most important condition for social promotion and professional success" (Council 40).
The need to develop new textbooks, teaching approaches, educational programs, and course curricula sensitive to the needs of all of Croatia's people, including ethnic minorities, was highlighted in the Education Council's proposal for school reforms in June 2000. Similarly, providing students with the means to develop knowledge and skills in information and communications technology (ICT) has been a goal of education reformers in recent years. With the strengthening of the economy in the first few years of the 2000 decade and the improvement of education likely to come about through reforms initiated by the Croatian government in the year 2000, new programs in ICT were likely to be added to schools to qualify students for high-technology employment. In 1999 the number of personal computers in Croatia was 67 per 10,000 persons. This was more than triple the number of computers just two years earlier (22 per 10,000 in 1997). The new reforms for Croatia's schools in the 2000 decade surely would upgrade student knowledge and functionality in educational technology. This was evidenced by the Education Council's recommendation of a compulsory "national curriculum" that would develop in each student 18 areas of literacy, with "information technology" the third literacy area in the Council's proposed list, just after "alphabetical" literacy and literacy identified as "mathematical, suited to the use of technical aids."
Croatia's government clearly recognizes the important role education plays in the country's socioeconomic and political development. In the June 2000 education reforms proposal, the Education Council pointed out, "Any country in today's day and age desirous of achieving high economic growth must ensure that a high percentage of its population acquires secondary education." Two key international donors collaborating with the Croatian government and Croatian educators from the mid-1990s on were the European Training Foundation of the European Union, which supported vocational education and training, including staff development, organizational strengthening, and curricular reform, and the Soros funded Open Society Institute, which implemented the Network Step by Step Program to encourage more child-centered teaching in preprimary and primary schools, ensure greater cooperation among parents, teachers, and educational faculty, and promote the equitable integration of Roma children and children with disabilities in the schools.
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