Written by Riccardo Armeni
Croatia is a Southeastern-European country that is part of the Balkan region. It declared its independence from the war-torn and now-dissolved SFRY (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) in 1991, beginning decades of rebirth. The Republic of Croatia borders Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, whereas the Adriatic Sea covers its whole western side. From an etymological perspective, the country derives its name from an ancient version of Slavic and roughly translates to ‘guardian’ or “one who guards” (Matasović, 2019). As previously mentioned, after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the formation of several sovereign states, Croatia has begun a period of renaissance that is still going on to this day, primarily focused on promoting tourism, with the industrial and agricultural sectors largely contributing to the national economy.
This economic resurgence, however, does not go hand-in-hand with other aspects of societal development. Although the sparkling docks of Dubrovnik, known as “Venice-on-the-sea”, or the festive and colourful islands of Hvar and Pag may fascinate people, they may also blind them from the evident challenges that Croatia hides in its educational system. Unsuccessful policy developments, the worrying state-of-affairs of some regions and the inevitable effects of Covid-19 concocted a lethal cocktail that left the institutional context for education in subpar conditions.
REFORMS AND POLICY DEVELOPMENTS
Croatia has developed an initiative called the National Plan for the Development of Education and Training that has been implemented in the past years and it is supposed to last until 2027. It is a comprehensive approach to the challenge-riddled education system present in the country, where 10 goals have been set and actions have been taken in order to satisfy said goals (European Commission, 2023). The majority of these revolve around all-access to early levels of education like preschool and primary ones, with improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and overall process quality. Others are concerned with themes of inclusivity and fairness, with the aim of fostering comprehensive environments as a way to ameliorate the current state of inequalities.
Special children are also taken into consideration, both ones with disabilities and those with special talents, where the government has promised to create a platform that tailors the support to their needs and their talents. Lastly, the final goals target Croatian students that live abroad, with the intention of aligning their professional opportunities with the national curriculum, as well as the implementation of ICTs throughout the entire educational hierarchy in order to advance the current level of digital literacy and augment the quality of the processes by utilizing technology. The general idea is that resource allocation, strategic planning and most importantly collaboration among stakeholders are the fundamental pillars on which this national plan is based on: as a consequence, implementation remains the real issue (European Commission, 2023).
THE REGION OF SLAVONIA
Slavonia is a historical region that extends towards the north-eastern part of the country; once a prosperous and fertile region, it was devasted during the war and has struggled to recover since then. Regrettably, Croatia’s public administration has shown negligence towards the region in terms of economic support: out of the all FDI (foreign direct investment) allocated for the whole Republic of Croatia within the past decade, only a meagre 2% was spent for Slavonia (Brajkovic & Ambasz, 2023). The most concerning aspect of this failed improvement is the disastrous conditions in which the education system was left. What’s even more alarming is the combination of inexistent skillsets and low levels of education displayed by the individuals present in the local workforce; this negative overview is amplified by a number of dispositional factors, such as the elevated emigration of youngsters and skilled workers registered in the region (Brajkovic & Ambasz, 2023).
As previously outlined, the area’s fertility is the primary source of income for the region, with the agri-food industry accounting for almost one third of the overall output for Slavonia; however, only 10% of farmers has received any type of formal training, which is three times lower as compared to the European Union average (Brajkovic & Ambasz, 2023). On the other side of the spectrum, more and more people are dropping out of their tertiary education studies, and consequently even less are getting enrolled at all (Brajkovic & Ambasz, 2023). The prime cause of this trend is that the institutions in the tertiary sector are not aligned with the needs of the workforce at the regional level: this is indicative of a mismatch regarding what is needed by potential students and what is offered from the educational context.
The pandemic generated by the Coronavirus has also been another factor that drastically impacted the progress of education in Croatia. A survey conducted within the first part of 2021 showed how more than half of the students that graduated secondary school within the past three years has said that the pandemic negatively influenced their mental health, including a lower interest in sports and hobbies (Europa, 2021). The most affected dimensions for learners were knowledge, skills attainment, comprehension and motivation. Other negative consequences of the pandemic can be found from the institutional side of education. It has become increasingly difficult for educators to keep students engaged during classes, especially with online learning that formally killed the knowledge spillover that stems whenever individuals are sharing the same space, such as a classroom, throughout the learning process (Europa, 2021).
Covid-19 didn’t only affect the psychological dimensions, but also physical ones, becoming tangible. As an instance, the majority of students said that wearing a mask significantly impacted on their learning experience (Europa, 2021). Moreover, those who barely managed to escape the pandemic’s heavy influence by graduating high school in the summer of 2020 (and therefore received remote learning for little over 2 months), still reported issues with transitioning out of secondary school; whether it was to venture in the labour market or to continue with higher studies, an average of 40% out of the graduating individuals claimed they were not properly prepared for the future (Europa, 2021). Ultimately, there is a huge need of platforms or special programs that accompany teenager learners in their psychological and social needs.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
To conclude, Croatia has been making strides in their efforts regarding improving education, although it is clear that the country is still a long way from achieving a comprehensive network of quality education and overall processes. The National Plan for the Development of Education and Training that was set in motion in recent years is bringing about good adjustments, but collaboration is required from all involved parties in order to smoothen the implementation of said program.
The first step towards obtaining this outcome would be a holistic approach, where the various relevant institutions are coordinated in the implementation of initiatives and programs, with a continuous monitoring in order to identify and correct mistakes. Furthermore, there should be more emphasis placed on the attainment of micro-qualifications, with the support of financing programmes sponsored by state institutions – and a special focus on digital as well as green skills (European Commission, 2023).
Secondly, a bigger interest for the region of Slavonia: the establishment of a regional committee in charge of keeping stakeholders connected and facilitating the coordination of activities at all administrative levels is advised. That area is ripe with possibilities, and with just a little effort from the involved institutions it can aim to become a primary weapon for the economy of Croatia, along with a resurgence of education levels as well as enrolment and graduation targets in the region.
Lastly, the development of platforms that promote social well-being, with a major emphasis on psychological implications that resulted from COVID-19, could be helpful. In addition, remote learning needs some refinement, with increased participation from all the involved stakeholders and support for prolonged use of content, as well as the proposition of new possibilities for blended learning (Europa, 2021).
BalkanInsight. (2017). Croatia Teachers Protest Over Stalled Education Reforms. Retrieved from: https://balkaninsight.com/2017/06/01/pupils-need-to-develop-skills-croatia-professors-claim-05-31-2017/
rajkovic, L., & Ambasz, D. (2023). Analyzing education outcomes and skills mismatch in Croatia’s lagging Slavonia region. Retrieved from: https://blogs.worldbank.org/europeandcentralasia/analyzing-education-outcomes-and-skills-mismatch-croatias-lagging-slavonia
Eurydice. (2023). Ongoing reforms and policy developments. Retrieved from: https://eurydice.eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-education-systems/croatia/ongoing-reforms-and-policy-developments
Matasović, R. (2019). Ime Hrvata. Croatian Philological Society. Retrieved from: https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/332786
ReferNet Croatia; Cedefop (2021). Croatia: survey confrims impact of COVID-19 pandemic on education. National news on VET. Retrieved from: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/news/croatia-survey-confirms-impact-covid-19-pandemic-education