Croatia at a Glance
Education in Croatia
Early Childhood Education
Theoretically, Croatian children and their parents could benefit from childcare options as soon as the kids are six months old. In reality, though, few children under the age of 12 months are looked after in nurseries – around 200 in the entire country, according to recent statistics. Expat families living in Croatia should be aware that childcare facilities suitable for infants and younger toddlers are few and far between. They tend to be located in larger cities like Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Osijek, or Pula.
Plenty of children do attend kindergarten or pre-school, though. 60% of all kids aged about three years or older are enrolled in such a program, and nearly every child (i.e. 98% or 99%) goes to kindergarten in the year before they start primary school. Most of these children are sent to a public facility. 65% of the circa 670 nurseries and pre-schools all over Croatia are public institutions managed by local authorities, and they take care of over 80% of the kids in the respective age range.
At the age of six, primary school kids in Croatia start the mandatory part of their education. For the following four years, from grade one to grade four, they will go to a local elementary school. In primary school, subjects usually include Croatian (plus a minority language, if necessary), math, nature and society, a foreign language (mostly English), music, art, religion (mostly Roman Catholicism), and PE classes.
The language in the classroom is usually Croatian, and pupils learn to write using the Latin alphabet. However, official minorities, especially Serbs, also have the right to receive education in their own mother tongue and may use a different writing system (such as the Cyrillic script, as one of the two Serbian alphabets).
Once schoolchildren have finished the first four grades, they proceed to lower secondary school. Now they receive additional lessons in history, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, IT, and at least one foreign language other than English (e.g. German or Italian). The lower secondary cycle of the Croatian education system includes grades four to eight.
Afterwards, students can either go on to high school or opt for vocational school. High school is called gymnazija in Croatian, and there are four kinds of upper secondary school which focus on math, IT and science, foreign languages, the classics, or on providing a broad general education. Vocational school usually has a strong focus on business or technology. Those who finish high school with a “Certificate of Education” can enroll in a university or a polytechnical school of higher education.
Local vs. International Schools
The public education system in Croatia has the obvious advantage that it is free of charge. Children of foreign residents are also entitled to additional language lessons in Croatian. Sending your kids to a public school in Croatia might make sense if they already speak another Eastern European language, if they are still fairly young, or if you are planning to stay in Croatia in the long run.
If none of this applies to your family, your children might be better off at a private international school. There are several of them in the Zagreb area. They may also offer an attached nursery or kindergarten for younger children. There are a few independent bilingual or international kindergartens in Zagreb as well.