What the Croatian Education system looks like

Elementary school Ivana Cankara, Zagreb
Elementary school “Ivan Cankar” in Zagreb

Education in Croatia is broken down into four levels:

  • Kindergarten/pre-school – 6 months to 6 years old
  • Elementary school – 6 years to 15 years old
  • High school – 15 years to 18/19 years old
  • College – 18/19 years old or older

In this article, we dive into each Croatian education level in detail and cover the standard school year schedule.

If you want to learn how to enroll your children in a Croatian school, view this post. To learn how to prepare your children for Croatian schools after relocation, hop over here.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Kindergarten in Croatia (vrtić)

Croatia’s early childhood development education is organized in kindergartens, which are not compulsory. A kindergarten is called vrtić in Croatian.

There are 3 stages of vrtić:

  • Jaslice (first level) – from 6 months to 1 year
  • Second level – from 1 to 3 years
  • Third level – from 3 to 6 years

These stages are not compulsory, but every child who does not attend kindergarten a year prior to primary school must attend predškola (pre-school program). In predškola, children develop skills, habits, and competencies that will help them adapt to a school environment.

[Read: How to prepare your children for Croatian schools after relocation]

Learn more about kindergarten in Croatia here.

Primary school in Croatia (osnovna škola)

Croatian elementary school is called osnovna škola. It consists of eight years and is compulsory. Children begin school at the age of 6 or 7.

The students are divided into three or more classes, referred to as the A class, the B class, the C class, and so on. The students stay with their class throughout all 8 years.

[Read: School shifts in Croatian schools]

The grade schools are split into 2 stages: lower and upper classes.

Niži razredi

Niži razredi (lower classes) – 1st through 4th grade are for children aged 6 to 10. These grades are taught by one teacher per class that teaches every subject with the exception of foreign languages and religion.

Subjects include the Croatian language, mathematics, visual art, nature and society, physical education, music education, and at least one foreign language (usually English). Religious education is an elective subject. The students stay in one classroom for four years.

Viši razredi

Viši razredi (upper classes) – 5th through 8th grades are for children aged 11 to 15 years.

Students are taught by different teachers for each subject including history, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, informatics and in addition to English, often a second language. The students no longer have one classroom but rather move around the school to get to their classes.

Since primary school became mandatory, the literacy rate in Croatia has been substantially high at 98.1%. The majority of children manage to complete primary education.

Elementary school programs

Parents usually choose the school nearest to their home address when enrolling their children in elementary school. You also have the option to choose other schools that offer alternative school programs, such as Waldorf education or Montessori education. They are available in bigger cities such as Zagreb and Rijeka.

[Read: How to enroll (or transfer) your child in a Croatian school]

Special programs are also available for children with disabilities. For children whose parents belong to national minorities, special programs with classes in foreign languages are available.

Children also have the possibility to attend music or dancing school in parallel with primary school. Music elementary school usually lasts for 6 years, while dancing school lasts for 4 years.

Secondary school in Croatia (srednja škola)

Croatian high school called srednja škola is currently optional, although most political parties advocate that it should be mandatory.

Secondary schools supply students with primary subjects needed for the necessary work environment in Croatia. People who completed secondary school are classified as “medium expertise”.

Secondary schools in Croatia are subdivided by focus and/or trade and last 4 or 5 years, depending on the profession.

Here are the current groups of secondary schools:

  • Gimnazija – general schools divided into the following types:
    • Opća – covers general education and is not as specific; treated as a transition to professional training in colleges, universities, and faculties
    • Prirodoslovno-matematička – specializing in math, informatics, and science
    • Jezična – focused on foreign languages and with less science
    • Klasična – centered around Latin and Ancient Greek
    • Sportska – focused on one individual sport
    • Prirodoslovna – focused on natural sciences with equal emphasis on mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology with special attention on laboratory exercises
  • Obrtnička škola – craft schools with a focus on craft professions
  • Strukovna škola – vocational schools that teach a student a specific craft, such as cooking or carpentry, schools of economics and engineering
  • Umjetnička škola – art schools that focus on visual art, music, and similar

High school class subjects

The subjects taught in general education may include Croatian, Math, English, second foreign language of choice, Latin, Art History, Music Appreciation, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Sociology, Psychology, Information Technology, Politics and Economics, Philosophy, Logics, Physical Education, and an elective. Students may choose either religious studies or ethics as an elective.

In craft, vocational and art schools, subjects are shifted to be centered around the school’s particular focus.

Applying for high school

High schools are harder to get into than vocational or art schools and are generally harder to complete. The process of getting into a high school in Croatia is rather difficult. A student chooses several schools they want to attend in order of choice. The first school on the list is the one the student wants to attend most.

A point system is used to determine which schools you can attend. Points are gathered from primary school grades. Candidates who participated in national competitions get to earn additional points according to the result achieved. They can also get direct enrollment in a specialized high school if they win a competition in a relevant subject. At the other end of the spectrum, certain schools may define a minimum point level for applicants.

Schools usually have quotas of how many students can enroll in that particular year so they can fill up. More information on applying for high school in Croatia is available here.

Higher education in Croatia (fakultet)

Any education beyond high school is referred to as fakultet. Students can enroll in two basic kinds of higher education:

  • Sveučilište (universities), highest level education
  • Veleučilište (polytechnic schools), higher level education
  • Visoka škola (college)

The distinction between the programs taught at universities and polytechnics used to be the length of studies and the final classification of the students – but this line is being blurred by the implementation of the Bologna process. Bologna is a series of meetings and agreements between European countries to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher-education qualifications.

With the implementation of the Bologna process, the levels of expertise are:

  • Prvostupnik (Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts)
  • Magistar (Master of Science and Master of Arts)
  • Magistar edukacije  (Master of Education)
  • Doktor znanosti  (Doctor of Science and Doctor of Arts)

All larger universities in Croatia are composed of independent “faculties”. Each independent college or department maintains its own administration, professional staff, and campus. The colleges focus on specific areas of learning: Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Law, Engineering, Economy, Architecture, Medicine, and so on.

If you wish to come to Croatia to study, read this post about how to get a student residence permit.

Croatian school year and holidays

The school year, as defined in the law called Zakon o odgoju i obrazovanju u osnovnoj i srednjoj školi (Law on education in primary and secondary schools), officially starts on September 1 and finishes on August 31. However, students may not attend school during this entire period.

School classes for students start according to the school calendar defined by the ministry each year. Classes usually start at the beginning of September and last until mid-June.

The school year is divided into:

  • Ljetni semestar (winter semester)
  • Zimski semestar (summer semester)

School holidays are divided to:

  • Autumn break – end of October
  • Winter holidays – end of December and end of February
  • Spring holidays – Easter break
  • Summer holidays – from June

School holidays do not include national holidays.

[Read: Guide on public national holidays of Croatia]

View our other educational articles

Program predškole by e-Građani
Osnovnoškolsko obrazovanje by e-Građani
Vrste srednjih škola by e-Građani
Upis na studij by e-Građani

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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