Country information for Croatia - Systems of support and specialist provision

The education system in the Republic of Croatia affords all children, learners and young people – including those with developmental disabilities, members of national minorities, gifted learners and those in a disadvantaged position – inclusion in the education system at all levels, as well as further education through adult education and lifelong learning programmes. The Ministry of Science and Education, together with competent agencies, ensures the necessary programme, professional and expert aid, which enables successful inclusion for everyone in the education system in the area where they live.

Pre-primary education in the Republic of Croatia comprises education and childcare for children of pre-primary age. It is realised through programmes of education, healthcare, nutrition and social care for children from six months of age until the start of primary education. Children who are not in in pre-primary education must be included in a pre-primary programme one year before they start primary school.

Every child with inclusion requirements whose parents want them to attend a pre-school or kindergarten has priority enrolment in kindergarten.

Some 70% of children are included in various pre-primary education programmes. Croatia will do its best to increase the total rate to 95% by 2020. (Source: IECE Country Questionnaire, p. 2)

Primary education in the Republic of Croatia lasts eight years and is free and compulsory for all children aged 6 to 15. Primary education for learners with extensive developmental disabilities can last until the age of 21.

Upon completion of primary schooling, secondary education gives everyone, under equal conditions and based on individual abilities, the opportunity to acquire knowledge and the competence needed to enter the workforce and to continue with further education.

In higher education, all students, including young people from disadvantaged groups, are guaranteed the right to education, good quality study programmes and educational processes, as well as the equality of all applicants during admission to Croatian higher education institutions.

Education of children with special needs

The Republic of Croatia has a regulated education system for children with developmental difficulties from an early, pre-primary age. This is important for early intervention and inclusion in the suitable pre-primary and rehabilitation programmes. This also includes professional support and spatial, pedagogical and didactic adjustment to ensure suitable education for children with developmental difficulties and improved quality of life and integration in community life after the end of schooling.

Support staff

Professionals in the education area who work with children with developmental difficulties include educational rehabilitators, speech and language therapists, social pedagogues, special teachers and other experts, such as kinesiotherapists, music therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses and pedagogical assistants, including sign language interpreters.

Pedagogical assistants assist pupils during school time and in extracurricular and out-of-school activities. They provide support in communication, social inclusion, mobility, food and drink intake and toileting. Pedagogical assistants help pupils to carry out their school tasks and should also co-operate with teachers, expert associates in school and the pupils’ peers in the classroom.

Sign language interpreters provide support to deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing pupils in their communication system of choice.

In January 2017, changes to the Primary and Secondary School Education Act provided the legal basis for adopting a regulation which will define the allocation procedure of pedagogical assistants and sign language interpreters for pupils with developmental difficulties. The new regulation should also set out the necessary level of education and training, work assignments and the process of including additional staff in schools.

A draft of a new regulation on pedagogical assistants and sign language interpreters has also been prepared, which prescribes a unified system for securing support. The regulation will be put to public consultation and is expected to be adopted in late 2017 (Source: Legislation Updates 2017, p. 6)

The Education and Teacher Training Agency develops and ensures the quality of professional development of educational staff members. This enables them to meet the diversity of learners’ educational profiles. (Source: Financing of Inclusive Education, 2017, p. 35)

Pedagogical and didactic adjustment

Pre-primary programmes for children with special needs are implemented in kindergartens. The task of professionals in kindergartens is to work on identifying, alleviating and eliminating children’s difficulties, to determine specific needs of children with developmental difficulties, to create conditions for including children in mainstream and special programmes in kindergartens, to determine the methods for working with each child in co-operation with educators, expert teams and parents, to co-operate with healthcare and social care institutions and other factors in preventing developmental difficulties.

Children with minor difficulties are enrolled in mainstream education groups. Children with extensive difficulties are enrolled in special education groups with special programmes. If there are too few children with extensive difficulties to form a special group, such children can be integrated into mainstream groups in kindergartens, provided that special conditions are ensured (a smaller number of children in the group or an additional educator/educational rehabilitator).

Learners with developmental difficulties in the primary education system are educated in mainstream and special educational institutions. The enrolment process consists of a legally established procedure of assessing the child’s psychophysical state in order to determine the most suitable education programme and the necessary support, methods and teaching tools during the period of compulsory education.

The education of children with developmental difficulties in mainstream schools is conducted via either complete or partial integration. The team of experts in the school suggests the type of education and the necessary additional support for a child with developmental difficulties and the regional authority office issues a decision on a suitable education programme.

Children with minor developmental difficulties are normally included in mainstream classes and they are taught according to general curricula with the help of individualised plans or curricula adjusted to their capabilities. Children with major developmental difficulties are included in special programmes in mainstream or special educational institutions (in case the children need additional health and social care). For some children with developmental difficulties in special educational institutions, as well as in some mainstream primary schools, prolonged professional treatment or educational rehabilitation is organised after class. Counselling is available for the parents or guardians of children with developmental difficulties.

Croatia plans to transform special schools for learners with severe developmental difficulties into resource centres. (Source: Financing of Inclusive Education, 2017, pp. 35–36)

Except for regular education, children with developmental difficulties or severe medical conditions have the right to temporary forms of education. These include education at home or in a healthcare institution. Education at home is intended for children who cannot attend regular classes due to major motor impairments, or chronic or progressive illness. In some cases, live stream teaching is organised. Education of children in healthcare institutions is organised for children who have a chronic illness or a condition which requires them to be hospitalised for a longer period. Children who are hospitalised are taught either by teachers who work in these so-called ‘schools in hospitals’, or by teachers who work in the nearest primary school.

Children with special needs who finish primary school can continue with their secondary education. Learners with special needs who want to take the state graduation exam can do so with the use of adjusted exam technology. This is done in co-operation with the National Centre for External Evaluation in Education.

The statutes and regulations of higher education institutions in the Republic of Croatia include constitutional principles on the prohibition of every form of discrimination and the equal right of all students to good quality study programmes. Each institution has the autonomy to decide on the type of reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities. In 2012, the University of Zagreb adopted the Guidelines for Equalising the Opportunities in Higher Education for Students with Disabilities. Four out of seven universities in the Republic of Croatia (the Universities of Zagreb, Zadar, Rijeka and Osijek) have set a goal to facilitate access to higher education and to provide support for students with disabilities.

Education of members of national minorities

Education in the languages and scripts of national minorities is part of the education system for children who are members of national minorities in the Republic of Croatia at all levels of education, from pre-primary to higher education.

Members of national minorities can exercise their constitutional right to education in their mother tongue and script via three basic models of education in the languages of national minorities:

  • Model A – all classes in the language and script of the national minority
  • Model B – bilingual classes (social subjects are taught in the language and script of the national minority, while science subjects are taught in Croatian)
  • Model C – nurturing language and culture (two to five classes a week).

Schools which provide classes in the languages and scripts of national minorities use textbooks from the home countries which are approved by the Ministry of Science and Education.

In the pre-primary education system for children who are members of national minorities, pre-primary education in the mother tongue includes children who are members of the Czech, Hungarian, Serbian and Italian national minorities.

In primary education in the languages and scripts of national minorities, Model A is implemented in four counties in the Republic of Croatia for children who are members of the Czech, Hungarian, Serbian and Italian national minority. Model B is implemented in three counties. Model C is implemented in 18 counties, with classes in the Albanian, Hebrew, Czech, Hungarian, Macedonian, German, Polish, Russian, Rusyn, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian and Ukrainian languages.

In secondary school education for members of national minorities, Model A is implemented in four counties for members of the Hungarian, Serbian and Italian national minorities. Model B is implemented in one county for members of the Czech national minority. Model C is implemented in five counties with classes in the Czech, Slovenian, Slovak, Russian, Serbian and Italian languages.

The Regulation on Taking the State Graduation Exam prescribes the conditions for taking the state graduation exam for learners who are educated in the languages and scripts of national minorities. The exams are carried out by the National Centre for External Evaluation in Education in co-operation with schools. Learners attending classes in a language and script of a national minority are obliged, in addition to the Croatian language exam, to take the exam in the national minority language in which they are educated. They choose either a mathematics exam or a foreign language exam as the third exam. The state graduation exam is carried out in three national minority languages (Serbian, Hungarian and Italian) chosen by members of national minorities. It can be taken in summer or autumn. Classes in the languages and scripts of national minorities in educational institutions are taught by teachers who are members of national minorities or who are proficient in the language of the national minority.

Several universities in the Republic of Croatia offer higher education in the languages and scripts of national minorities:

  • professional study of pre-primary teacher education and integrated undergraduate and graduate study of primary teacher education in Croatian and Italian at the University of Pula;
  • undergraduate and graduate study of Hungarian language in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Osijek;
  • two elective courses: Introduction to Roma Language 1 and Introduction to Roma Literature and Culture at the Department of Indology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb.

For children who are members of the Roma national minority, inclusion in pre-primary, primary and secondary education programmes is ensured to bridge the gap caused by their socio-economic situation and to increase the possibilities for their successful inclusion during compulsory primary education. In Croatia, learners at risk of exclusion, such as Roma children, are eligible for support without having an official decision of special educational needs. (Source: Financing of Inclusive Education, 2017, p. 26)

Children who are members of the Roma national minority are included in a pre-primary programme. This gives good results and points to the necessity of organising pre-primary education groups for all Roma children as preparation for their inclusion in the education system, especially in areas where there are too few possibilities for organising integrated pre-primary education.

The number of Roma children in primary education has risen in recent years, and the trend continues. However, at the same time, the data on the number of Roma learners who leave primary education after having repeated a grade several times indicates that the rate of primary education completion among Roma children is very low. When it comes to repeating a grade, the data at the end of the school year shows an increased number in comparison with the beginning of the school year. Within the system, data is also collected on the number of Roma learners who are offered additional help in learning Croatian and the number of learners included in after-school activities within the school.

The number of Roma children included in the secondary education system is also increasing. The National Programme for the Roma sets forth instructions for awarding certain advantages to Roma children during the process of enrolment in secondary school, which have been adopted by the Ministry of Science and Education. Although most Roma children continue their education in three-year rather than four-year programmes, the number of children enrolling in schools which offer four-year programmes is increasing. It is also evident that learners drop out of school, i.e. they leave their secondary education. The Ministry of Science and Education awards scholarships to all secondary school learners who are members of the Roma national minority.

The Ministry of Science and Education ensures that all Roma learners who study at higher education institutions in the Republic of Croatia are awarded scholarships.

Education of gifted learners

An educational institution has the duty to identify gifted learners, to ensure the development of their potential and to focus on satisfying their special cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs, while constantly monitoring and evaluating their accomplishments.

Special pre-primary education programmes are implemented for gifted children. They include the early recognition and identification of talent, which is the task of psychologists and other professionals employed in kindergartens. A psychologist, together with other professionals from the fields of natural and social sciences, develops the special educational programme for gifted children, with the permission of the Ministry of Science and Education. Kindergarten teachers, professional associates and other kindergarten staff, as well as scientific institutions (if necessary), implement the programme. Special programmes can be in the form of projects, more demanding logical and didactic games, working on multimedia computers, playrooms for gifted children with similar intellectual abilities, etc.

Schools need to ensure that gifted children are included in educational programmes suitable for their type of talent, additional classes and other forms of work which stimulate their abilities and creativity. For gifted children in primary schools, an individualised curriculum is developed to reflect a more advanced level of reasoning and problem solving. The depth and complexity of educational materials must present an adequate challenge and an opportunity for learners’ creative expression. The development of the individualised curriculum demands a suitable adjustment and differentiation of content, themes and the period necessary for acquiring the content, as well as the course of teaching and methods of work. Programmes in regular education for gifted learners include enrichment, broadening, acceleration, mentorship and competition. Programmes outside of regular education include after-school activities, workshops, summer and winter schools, clubs, camps, etc.


Last updated 14/02/2018

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