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16 October 2018

Croatia: the reform of the education and vocational training system starts with an experiment

A planned reform of the education and vocational training system in Croatia, assisted by the EU, has started with an experiment in September 2018. The reform should lead to an increased labour market relevance of the vocational training and education. In recent years, grassroot movements have rallied in favour of sound education reform.

Based on its 2018 National Reform Programme, the government has launched a reform of the education and training system in an effort to improve its quality and labour market relevance for both young people and adults. The plans foresee the implementation of several reforms outlined in an education, science and technology strategy. The European Commission has on several occasions stated that the country performs below EU average in education investment, early childhood education and care, basic skills, tertiary educational attainment and labour market relevance of vocational education and training in education. The part of the adult education system which aims to increase labour market inclusion is characterised by a large and unevenly distributed number of providers across the country, with learning programs that are not properly assessed. Participation in adult education and educational programs offered as part of active labour market policy measures are critically low.

The government has announced the implementation of several reforms, outlined in a strategy on education, science and technology, starting in September 2018. Before the summer of 2018, the last consultations for the experimental ‘School for Life’ program were discussed between the responsible ministries. The experiment, with a budget of 150 million Kuna (20 million euro), is partly financed with EU social fund contributions. It will be monitored by a special taskforce. The experiment will begin with more than eight and a half thousand students and two thousand teachers and professors included, in seventy-four elementary and secondary schools. The aim of the program is to better prepare students for the challenges they will face in life. Criticisms that the experimental reform is going too fast and that teachers are not prepared are denied by government spokespersons.

The planned reform has been discussed for decades. At the beginning of 2015, a working group of seven experts was set up through a public call for bids to lead a reform of the curriculum taught in classes throughout the country. The related consultation included hundreds of experts, teachers, parents, religious groups, political parties, civil society organizations, and more. The process was supported by many citizens who see education as vitally important for the future of their children and the country. It was also the first time that an education reform effort was supported by both trade unions and employers’ associations. In the years 2016-2018, several rallies have been organised by grassroots organisations, united in the ‘Croatia can do better’ Initiative, to stress the need to accelerate the reform of the education system. Employers have been critical towards the new approach. The proposed reforms will not make an end to the workforce leaving the country. They want an increase of the quota for migrant workers to tackle the lack of labour.

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