Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Croatian Teachers Under Pressure: Angry Parents Behind Straight A Pupil Epidemic?

September 8, 2021 - The flood of straight-A pupils in Croatian elementary schools sadly isn't a sign of brilliance but of Croatian teachers being put under pressure by parents who want their kids to go to the best high schools in the country. The newly launched Facebook group wants to get to the bottom of fake A's, offering Croatian teachers a place for anonymous confessions.

Parents naturally want their best for their children and want to see them succeed and have the best life possible. The smarter the child, the better things will be for them, many would conclude. If a child is like that middle child from the show ''Malcolm in the Middle'', bright enough to be the master of everything you throw at him, be it maths, language, physics, or history, he should be able to sail through life worry-free, right? Well, maybe.

In reality, such gifted individuals, if actually real, are truly rare. However, you wouldn't think that if you were to see the grades of some Croatian pupils, with a large number of them getting straight A's. Unfortunately, this is a distorted picture of reality.

''I teach the youngest kids, and the criteria is owed to the parental pressure. I'm there just to hand out A's. Nothing else is good enough. I was even reported to the inspection because I gave one pupil a B (she was a C, but I knew there would be a problem so I gave her a B, and then chaos began). I justified giving her that grade for weeks with the threat of inspections hanging over my head. The grades are perfect, the knowledge not so much, the kid and their parents are happy, and the teachers crapped all over,'' reads a thread from one of the increasingly pressured Croatian teachers on the recently launched Facebook group ''Why Does it Itch When it's Not 5.0?'' (Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?).


FB thread translated above, screenshot / Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?

The flood of straight-A students (or, in Croatian terms, those kids with an average of 5.0, meaning they passed all subjects with a 5, Croatian for A), has been sporadically addressed in the Croatian media over the past few months as elementary school pupils were heading off to their high schools. So many straight A pupils have their results rated as unrealistic and the parental pressure placed on Croatian teachers and professors is seen as what's to blame.

A grades given as a gift and not as a true measure of a child's knowledge was something that was even addressed in the curriculum reform and is waiting to be fully implemented. With high school admissions coming to a close, the situation has since gone rather quiet.

But, then, famous Croatian investigative journalist Ivana Paradžiković published a Facebook thread expressing dissatisfaction that her ''4.8 son'' didn't managed to get accepted into high school in any of the six gymnasiums he applied for, as they were accepting only those kids with a grade of 5.0 in the new school year. She stated that her son was good enough for the European Film Academy but apparently not for the Croatian education system.

''He had the misfortune of going to a school where an A grade wasn't given away, and it was important to the professors that instead, they actually teach kids something. Over there, 4.4 is a B and not an A, and to me, that was always normal and acceptable (...) several classes with 30 pupils each with a straight A grade and nobody finds that unusual nor alarming... The education system is the foundation of the society,'' wrote the rightfully unhappy Paradžiković, as reported by Jutarnji List.

Paradžiković's thread, as well as the previous media coverage of the straight A epidemic across many Croatian schools, triggered freelance journalist Matina Tenžera to start a Facebook group which discusses the matter. The group consists of 249 members at the time of writing this article.

''I want to survey public opinion about this issue. Some say it's the fault of the system, but that's a bit too abstract. I want to find out how much parents really do push their children, is it truly such a big issue or maybe it's blown out of proportion?''  Tenžera said to TCN.

The group invites Croatian teachers to share their inside stories on parental pressure and generally what stands behind this unrealistic picture of the success of Croatian pupils on paper. The response so far is small, but Tenžera hopes that interest will grow. As TCN previously reported, Facebook groups that share anonymous confessions played a crucial role in revealing sexual harassment in the Croatian higher education system, mainly at the acting academy in Zagreb and other parts of the wider region.

Still, the small amount of threads gathered by Tenžera's group already reveals some true horror stories about how teachers in Croatia are perceived more as slaves than as valued individuals tasked with properly preparing the next generation for adulthood out there in the big wide world.

''My mother works as a teacher, and the situation in which someone came to school to attack and threaten to sue her because she gave a low grade to the child of someone famous has happened more than once. She literally had to remove the grade under the threat of getting fired,'' reads one anonymous confession.


FB thread translated above, screenshot / Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?

Tenžera wants to learn just why Croatian schools and their headmasters don't take a stand and explain to parents that a good grade needs to be worked for and earned.

''I'm just a layman, but I hope that experts and experienced teachers will join the group and provide some of their solutions,'' says Tenžera.

Zagreb's Vladimir Prelog Science School and Mathematical Gymnasium (MIOC) has already taken to the practice of having entrance exams to settle the difference between talented pupils on paper and actual talented pupils.

Introducing and valuing entrance exams more than elementary school grades is one solution Tenžera believes could work, but as she points out, she isn't an expert. So, she hopes the Facebook group will encourage discussion for those who are educated, trained, and qualified to discuss education issues.

The following days will reveal whether or not this Facebook group grow into a bigger voice protesting against unfair and unethical practices in the Croatian education system and the abuse of Croatian teachers.

Meanwhile, in the first week of the new school year in Croatia, pupils are back in their classrooms learning about the world around them. However, the lesson of honesty and getting only what you work hard for is a lesson only their families can teach. Not threatening teachers for giving grades that are a realistic, professional evaluation of knowledge is lesson number one.

Read about Croatian politics and history since 1990 on our TC guide.

For more about education in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Education Minister to Present Curricular Reform at Education World Forum

ZAGREB, January 19, 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak will present Croatia's curricular reform at the Education World Forum in London on Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, she will be in Brussels to present the sector priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the European Parliament (EP) and attend the 12th European Space Conference.

At the Education World Forum, Minister Divjak will be speaking about the goals of the curricular reform in Croatia, the results of its experimental stage and the course of the education reform, her ministry said on Sunday.

During her stay in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, Divjak will inform members of the EP's committees on culture and education and industry, research and energy about the priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the sector of education, research and space.

On Tuesday, Divjak will attend the 12th European Space Conference, where she will speak about Croatia's position and goals of its EU presidency in the development of the space sector of the EU and Europe in general.

Special emphasis will be put on the need for a complementary specialisation of all member-states in the development of space technologies and the importance of the space sector in dealing with the burning problems of today, such as climate change. Emphasis will also be put on the sector's role in encouraging research and innovation and motivating young people with regard to the choice of their future profession, the ministry said.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 9 September 2019

New School Year Begins for 464,000 Students in Croatia

ZAGREB, September 9, 2019 - On the very first day of the new school year on Monday, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited a primary and secondary school in Zagreb's eastern suburb of Sesvete and on that occasion she wished students and teachers throughout Croatia all the best in the ongoing school year.

Asked by the press whether everybody was ready for the implementation of the curricula reform, the president said that it was up to teaching staff to assess their preparedness, and added that she would always support the reform of the schooling system in efforts to help Croatia to catch up with the most developed countries in the world.

In her address to the secondary school students in Sesvete, the president called on them to enhance their skills and knowledge and also to use the advantages offered to them abroad but to come back to Croatia and enrich their homeland with their knowledge.

"We need you, new generations, free of old ideologies and rich in knowledge," she underscored.

She also called for mutual respect among students and for development of team work competences as well as taking advantage of opportunities offered through Croatia's membership of the European Union and globalisation.

Education and Science Minister Blaženka Divjak on Monday morning visited a primary school in the suburb of Gračani and expressed satisfaction with the beginning of the implementation of the curricula reform.

New curricula are being implemented in first and fifth grade of primary schools and in Biology, Chemistry and Physics for 7th graders as well as in first grade in high schools and four-year vocational schools for general subjects. The new curricula are being applied to as many as 150,000 students.

Primary and secondary schools throughout Croatia opened their doors to slightly over 464,000 students on Monday, according to statistics provided by the Education Ministry.

Of those, 318,000 are elementary school students, including 38,000 first graders, and 146,000 are attending secondary school education.

More news about education in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Curricular Reform Ready for Implementation, 150,000 Pupils Covered

ZAGREB, September 7, 2019 - Education Minister Blaženka Divjak has said in an interview with Hina that the ongoing curricular reform has been the most comprehensive change in the schooling system so far.

The main goals of this curriculum reform are to keep students interested in learning and to convey to them more useful contents, the minister said in the interview published on Saturday.

It is important to teach students how to solve problems and to enable them to acquire purposeful knowledge, she says, noting that the new curricula, which will implemented as of the start of this new school year, are replacing 25-year-old curricula which had been the result of adjustment to the new system at the time.

New curricula are being implemented in first and fifth grade of primary schools, in seventh grade for subjects Biology, Chemistry and Physics and in first grade in upper secondary schools as well as in four-year vocational schools in general education subjects. Thus, as many as 150,000 pupils in are covered by the new curricula.

Primary and secondary schools throughout Croatia will open their doors for slightly over 464,000 students on Monday, the first day of the new school year, according to statistics provided by the education ministry.

Of them, 318,000 are elementary school students, including 38,000 first graders, and 146,000 are attending secondary education.

In this school year, the number of primary school first graders was lower by 500 compared to the previous school year.

The highest number of first graders, 8,000, is in the City of Zagreb, and in Split-Dalmatia County, 4,400. On the other hand, only 363 first graders enrol in primary schools in Lika-Senj County.

When it comes to secondary education, there are about 40,000 freshmen this year, and 11,000 of them are in general education schools called "gimnazije". As many as 26,500 enrol in vocational schools, 1,200 more students than last year's stats on freshmen in vocational programmes, whereas there are about 2,500 pupils in programmes at music or art schools.

Considering three-year vocational education, training programmes for cooks and hairdressing career are still most sought-after, according to data provided by the ministry.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Union Wants to Postpone Education Reform

ZAGREB, July 25, 2019 - The Preporod school union has collected 2,980 teachers' signatures calling for a one-year postponement of the application of the new "School for Life" programme, the union told a press conference on Thursday.

Signatures were collected from June 25 to July 5 in 154 elementary and secondary schools, union head Željko Stipić said, adding that the only thing that would be fair to children and their parents would be to postpone the "School for life" for year.

"It is without doubt that teachers are not prepared for the 'School for Life' and that there has been insufficient education, there are problems with equipping schools and different working conditions in our schools will have serious repercussions," Stipić said.

He announced that the union would present the petition to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and called for meeting with him.

He added that the number of signatures would have been higher had they not been collected at an awkward time and had teachers not feared repercussions.

"A lot of people employed in schools, at least 5,000, have not yet accessed the 'Loomen' platform intended to prepare them for the 'School for Life'," he said, adding that it had been said earlier in the year that the platform was not compulsory.

He recalled a recent initiative that the Agency for Education to be included in training teachers, which the unions have welcomed but believe it has come too late.

It is unbelievable that in the middle of July, literally at the 'eleventh hour', the agency is getting involved and that it has not had anything to do with the reform until now, he added.

He called for the frontal application of the "School for Life" to be seriously re-examined so that the idea of a quality transformation of the school system is not compromised.

More news about the curriculum reform can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

School Union Calls for Postponement of School for Life Programme

ZAGREB, June 26, 2019 - The Preporod school union on Wednesday sent an appeal to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković for the frontal application of the new "School for Life" programme to be postponed for one year after it had received numerous comments by union members expressing their doubts that teachers are prepared for the new education programme.

Union leader Željko Stipić told a press conference that it was essential to allow enough time to create the infrastructure and other conditions and for comprehensive implementation and intensive expert training for teachers.

"Over the past few months we have constantly been receiving enquiries, comments, ideas and complaints from teachers stating their dissatisfaction with the lack of quality training for the changes that the "School for Life" programme will bring in September," Stipić said.

Even though the Ministry of Science and Education (MZO) claims that everything is prepared for the new programme that is supposed to start this autumn, the question is whether schools are prepared and teachers trained, we don't know the answer to that, the unionist warned.

In an effort to provide teachers with an opportunity to give their opinion on the methodology and organisation of the new programme we will send all schools an appeal to sign, calling for a postponement of the frontal application of the "School for Life" for one year.

Signatures will be collected from Wednesday June 26 to Friday July 12 and the petitions consists of two points - the demand for infrastructure and other conditions to be established in Croatian schools and the demand for the implementation of a comprehensive and intensive training course for teachers, expert associates, principles and all those involved in implementing the programme in practice.

After that the signatures will be presented to Prime Minister Plenković "because he is the most responsible and most powerful person in the country and education reform is a priority political and national issue," and that will be a clear message of what he needs to do if he truly recognises the importance of changes to education.

The Ministry of Science and Education on Wednesday considered that the union demand was rather 'unusual', underscoring that the ministry is currently negotiating with two major unions regarding a wage increase as a result of the curriculum reform being introduced in all schools.

"We consider this to be a very unusual demand by a minor union considering that currently the ministry and two major unions are trying to negotiate higher wages through an increased wage index because of the curriculum reform being introduced in all schools", the ministry told Hina.

The ministry also recalled a survey conducted by the ministry which "shows that the evaluation is obviously very positive and that the needs of teachers and expert associates are being tended to."

The ministry further recalled that the CARNET system had organised on-line training sessions on how to successfully teach in an on-line environment which attracted the participation of more than 32,000 teachers.

In addition, support for teachers will be secured throughout the year and visits by advisers will be organised at least four time a year in every school so the point is, support and working together and not control, the ministry said.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Curricular Reform Continuing, Minister Claims

ZAGREB, June 10, 2019 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said on Monday the results of her work were the curricular reform, the reforms in general and vocational education, relevant higher education and encouraging excellence in science, adding that she planned to see through all four reform processes together with her team.

The experimental curricular reform programme School for Life is being implemented in 74 elementary and high schools and, as of next autumn, in all schools, Divjak told reporters.

She said 2 billion kuna was secured for the curricular reform from EU funds, the national budget and the European Commission's support for strategic reforms in the 2017-20 period. She added that her ministry paid 43.3 million kuna to all elementary and high schools that will introduce the curricular reform this autumn.

The minister went on to say that 40 new curricula were adopted, that more than 32,000 teachers underwent curricular reform training, that the law on education in elementary and high schools was amended to facilitate the reform, that a new law on textbooks was passed, and that textbooks for all elementary school pupils were paid from the state budget.

She recalled that in this school year IT was introduced as a compulsory subject in grades four and five of elementary school, and said the new IT curriculum would be introduced in all grades of elementary and high school.

Divjak said that last year 36.5 million kuna was invested in the equipment of 891 schools, and that a network of 25 regional vocational education competency centres was established, for which more than 1.2 billion kuna in EU funds was set aside.

She also recalled Croatia's dual education model, that 233 million kuna was set aside for a project aimed at modernising vocational education to align it with market requirements, and that 180 million kuna was secured in structural funds for STEM studies.

The minister highlighted the agreement on Croatia's associate membership in CERN and its agreement with the European Space Agency concerning space cooperation for peaceful purposes. She also noted that the science budget was increased.

Asked to comment on the collection of signatures among MPs for her dismissal, Divjak said she fought against suspicious ideologies and private interests. Asked if Prime Minister Andrej Plenković supported her work, she said all reform projects were government projects.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Around 2 Billion Kuna Invested in Curricular Reform

ZAGREB, April 25, 2019 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said on Wednesday that around two billion kuna had been invested in the curricular reform over the last three years or an average 1.5 million kuna per school for education, textbooks and equipment.

Divjak said this at a national conference on the School for Life experimental programme, which was organised by her ministry and which drew principals, teachers and assistants from 74 schools participating in the School for Life programme.

"We have invested more than 1.5 million kuna per school in the last three years. Schools covered by this experimental programme have also received advance payments and there will be more investments in equipment, education and textbooks," the minister said, adding that it needs to be known that the primary and secondary school systems had been neglected and had not been invested in for a long time.

Asked if schools had been provided with the necessary equipment for the curricular reform, Divjak said that computer equipment had arrived in schools, and that tablets and other equipment bought through public procurement would arrive in two weeks' time.

Speaking of the reform of the system of higher education, the minister said that that reform was slightly different due to university autonomy.

More news about the curricular reform can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 March 2019

New School History Curriculum Drafted

ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 - The expanded task force has finalised its work on the history curriculum the best way it could in the limited conditions and all members of the task force have reached agreement on this third version of the history curriculum, Borislav Grgin, a history professor at the University of Zagreb, said on Friday.

He said that this would be done differently in the future. This is a public document, national consensus for all or pupils in Croatia, Grgin told Hina.

This is not only for the scientific community, pupils and teachers are our focus, and you have the public and politicians participating in the process, the professor said.

He said that the topic of the Holocaust, which was one of neuralgic points in the public discussion, should not be a source of disagreement in the third version of the curriculum. "There have been different demands. In that regard, in agreement with Professor Radovan Fuchs, we have highlighted what is important," said Grgin.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told his cabinet on Friday morning that every activity concerning school curricula had been completed and that they were unanimously adopted by experts. "We have achieved a good consensus on the history curriculum, which often causes ideological and not just expert, but also political disputes. The text is ready, the minister will adopt it and it's expected to be published in the Official Gazette in the middle of next week."

Plenković said the delicate topics of 20th century history, such as crimes and the Holocaust, were appropriately represented in the history curriculum and that it took a democratic and unbiased stance on every totalitarian and authoritarian system.

He said the history curriculum covered Croatia's 1991-95 Homeland War appropriately and in detail as well as in keeping with the parliamentary Homeland War Declaration. "It's not a political, but an expert document," he said, adding that the whole government could stand by it.

He is confident that the experts who will write textbooks based on the history curriculum will write "good and interesting texts for young people who will leave school with all the fundamental knowledge about Croatian culture, history, language, identity, our tradition, while also being well-informed about the history of Europe, the world and other countries."

Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said the history curriculum task force had completed its job and that it would be published next week. "We made it after three rounds of talks. The expanded task force unanimously stood by this curriculum and this is a good sign for Croatia," she told reporters ahead of the cabinet meeting.

More news about the curriculum reform in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

“New Generations Should Know about Homeland War, Condemn Ustasha Regime”

ZAGREB, February 21, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday the government was determined to embark as of the next school year on a "frontal application" of the education reform and new curricula in every subject, adding that the goal was to have new generations know the values of the Homeland War, take clear positions on the Holocaust, and condemn the Ustasha regime.

Speaking at a government meeting, he said 37 curricula had been agreed, adopted and published, and that the two remaining would be agreed too.

Speaking of the history curriculum, Plenković said the government's goal was to have the education system aligned to the market's real needs. At the same time, the standard of the knowledge and the information people get through education must very clearly instil in children the key identity issues, the key value system, based on historical facts, and explain Croatian history, language and culture, he added.

"That's our political goal - that new generations know what the values of the Homeland War are, and also that they take clear positions on matters such as the Holocaust, condemn those regimes that were the worst during World War Two. We have no dilemmas about the Ustasha regime."

Speaking of a draft history curriculum that underwent public consultation and was fine-tuned, the prime minister said it did not downplay the Holocaust.

He said that after Education Minister Blaženka Divjak put the curriculum back into public consultation, the government would like "two or three more authorities from the academic community to be consulted so that a draft can be agreed on which we can reach a broad expert and social consensus."

Speaking to the press before the cabinet meeting, Divjak reiterated that she decided to put the history curriculum back into public consultation because the draft she received from the expert working group downplayed the Holocaust.

She called on everyone to participate in the consultation without ideological disputes so that the most important historical events could be presented appropriately and students could understand them and take a position, for example by condemning the Holocaust.

More news on the curriculum reform can be found in the Politics section.

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