Friday, 25 June 2021

Ending Segregated Education in Vukovar? Mayor Ivan Penava Announced an Idea

June 25, 2021 - Is there any possibility of ending segregated education in Vukovar? Mayor Ivan Penava announced Serbian and Croatian education could merge in school and kindergarten levels, but more details are yet to be revealed.

The start of the week saw interesting news that surprised many. As reported by N1, Ivan Penava, the mayor of Vukovar, announced Croatian and Serbian classes and kindergartens could merge together.

Vukovar, often referred to in Croatia as the „Hero City“ for the heavy blow it suffered in the 90s war Croatians refer to as Homeland War, still has a lot of ruins as memories of that ugly past. In the light of national tensions among Serbs and Croats, the segregation of kindergartens and different shifts in schools for Serbian and Croatian classes seem to be a solution to keep the peace.


screenshot/ N1

Good idea but more talks needed?

„In Vukovar, parents do not choose the model of education that is imposed by politics, it is nowhere written in public“, said mayor Penava, as reported by N1.

Penava, a former member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), despite earning a new term in the recent local elections as an independent candidate, enjoyed support from Miroslav Škoro, runner-up candidate for Zagreb mayor elections, and the leader of the Homeland Movement (DP) supports Penava's idea.

„I lived in America for a number of years, in Hungary, I traveled the world... what is the difference between Serbian and Croatian mathematics? Is Argentina in Serbian in the northern hemisphere, and southern in Croatian? I don't get it“, said Škoro adding that segregation was done in malice with a tendency to divide children from the start.

„In Vukovar, the symbol of defense had priorities. Reconstruction of the water tower, and certain moves Penava did well in his last term (he wouldn't win elections if he hasn't), thinks that city needs to move on. I support him 100%“, concluded Škoro.

On the other hand, criticism is erected on national-level politics.

„I don't think that local officials are the ones who need to determine a way in which minority education will be conducted. Political trade is clear here, and I'm glad there is no longer just Serbian-Croatian trading coalition, but also another one“, said Dragana Jecov, a Croatian parliament member from the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) referring to the accusations of the right-wing that current coalition of HDZ and SDSS and is vile political trade.

Interior Minister Davo Božinović also said that while we need to work on erasing national, social, and political tensions, but this is a question that needs to be discussed more seriously.

Additionally, as N1 reported, the Ministry of Education pointed out that different models of education for Vukovar schools exist, and parents can choose which they find most suitable.

Accepting national differences or nationalistic uniformity?

Some improvements have indeed been seen in the city infrastructure, but Vukovar still remains a challenging place to live. Partly due to the tough economic situation, but also because of discrepancies among Serbian and Croatian residents. Earlier in June, there was even a violent incident when a 30-year-old Serbian member of the Grobari football fan group physically attacked a Croatian 13-year-old boy in front of a bakery for having a medicine mask with Croatian symbols.

„Sadly, this kind of thing happened too long in Vukovar, where people attack each other because of national disputes. Media aren't even introduced to some of these events. It is spread a lot, as evident by the constant police patrols around Vukovar high-schools where there are always police cars around“, said Vukovar police to Večernji List daily newspaper.

Such incidents, a misfortunate loose ends of the war, also come from the Croatian side. Earlier in May, a group of young men chanted anti-Serb slogans in Borovo Selo (close to Vukovar), a scene of heinous war crimes in the '90s), sparking condemnation from both president Milanović and the Croatian Government.

In that light, integrated schools might finally bring positive changes in regards to tolerance and peaceful life for Vukovar citizens. But again, not everyone sees the glass as half full. columnist Gordan Duhaček agreed in his column that Serbs and Croats don't need to go to separate shifts but warns how Penava isn't the guy that should unite them.

„Penava doesn't want to integrate Vukovar schools and end the troubling segregation in a way to ensure a better future for the whole city, but instead to impose his nationalistic, often anti-Serbian narrative as the official one. Penava wants that Vukovar Serbs bow down to his view of the Croatian state“, wrote Duhaček.

Duhaček also reminded the readership of the attempt and fail of the Danube International school that supposed to integrate pupils of both nations, an idea that spawned 16 years ago. But, the project failed, and Duhaček sees both Penava and SDSS leader Milorad Pupovac not feeling too sad about it.


Iconic Vukovar water tower, pixabay

Questions on details

At the end of the week, the situation seems more confusing than clear. Is class integration a good idea? Could it save money for the city financially? What are some actual details of merging Croats and Serbians into one class? Obviously, Škoro is right that 2+2=4 in any math class around the world. But, troubling questions appear in subjects such as language and history. Croats and Serbs sadly have their own, different interpretations of historical facts, particularly when it comes to the last war, and while the speakers of two languages perfectly understand each other, some words do differ, and there is a different accent and spelling in the two formal languages. So, how can these issues be resolved? Would those two subjects remain in different shifts while universal subjects such as biology, math, or physics will listen in one merged classroom? Or will there be a different curriculum that would present both Serbian and Croatian history, Serbian and Croatian literature in that way, making Vukovar pupils more knowledgable in those areas than other pupils in the country?

Or some curriculum consensus on history could be reached, one that would satisfy both the Croatian and Serbian sides and thus truly open a doorway to the better understandings of the two nations in the future in perhaps the most nationally torn city in Croatia?

Obviously, Vukovar city authorities have some tensions with SDSS, but the city also has an expert associate for the development of civil society and national minorities, Siniša Mitrović in one of the City's departments. Did Mitrović manage to gain input from the Serbian minority in Vukovar about this merge? And how fast could the whole thing be realized? This autumn or maybe a bit later?
These are important and interesting questions that can only be answered either by mayor Penava himself or perhaps Josip Paloš, the director of the Vukovar City Education Department.

„Mayor Penava is in a lot of meetings and on fields, and his schedule is full. We will sadly not be able to answer you by your Friday deadline, but we will contact you at the earliest convenience“, said the lady at the Vukovar City PR service when I called them (and E-mailed) with a wish to arrange and conduct a brief phone interview.

While this article may present the current issues surrounding segregated education in Vukovar, this TCN reporter hopes mayor Penava will share more details about his plan on ending segregation in Vukovar schools and kindergarten with joint classes. If done right, this move can indeed be the way to a better, more peaceful future for Vukovar citizens.

Learn more about Vukovar on our TC page.

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

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Identity of Boka Kotorska Croatians - Scientific Conference by Ivo Pilar Social Research Institute

May 12, 2021 - Earlier in May, Boka Kotorska, in the town of Tivat in Montenegro, was the host of the scientific conference "Identity of Boka Kotorska Croatians" which will introduce changes in Croatian education.

Croatia has a big diaspora, no secrets there, but its worldwide spread makes you miss the region.

In Boka Kotorska, in Montenegro, Croatia's first neighbor on the southern border after Dubrovnik, not only is there a huge population of Croatians, but they also have a significant cultural impact on the area. So significant it even calls for social science to step in.

As Ivo Pilar Social Research Institute reported on its website, May 6 to 9 saw the conference “Identity of Boka Kotorska Croatians“. The three-day conference gathered crucial scientific institutes in Croatia to the town of Tivat in the Bay of Croatian Saints. Headed with Ivo Pilar Social Research Institute, Croatian Catholic University, Croatian Studies Faculty, Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics as well as Institute for Historical Sciences in Zadar attended the conference while Croatian ministries of European, and Foreign Affairs, Science and Education, Culture, and Media, as well as Croatian Central State Office for Croatians Outside of the Republic of Croatia, founded the event.

„The scientific conference went well as well as signing conclusions with recommendations that that knowledge on Bokelj Croatians we learned on this conference enter the Croatian national curriculum in important subjects. These conclusions are the crown of our efforts to launch this conference in public, not just in an academical way, but to massively popularize to ensure long-term benefits for Bokelj Croatians as for every educated citizen of Croatia and Montenegro“, said Dr. Željko Holjevac, head of the Ivo Pilar Social Research Institute.

Conference conclusions suggest additions to the curriculum documents on key definitions of Croatian National Identity to make space for Croatians outside Croatia, including Boka Kotorska Croatians. Identity features and creativity of Bokelj Croatians in Croatian education, and the book „Boka Kotorska - the Bay of the Saints and Croatian Culture“, by Vanda Babić to be the mandatory literature for tourist guides in Montenegro.
Final meetings at the conference, as well as sailing with a „Katica“ ship through Boka Kotorska Bay, Saw the participation of Boris Bastijančić, the advisor and representative of the Montenegro president and representer of Croatian parliament and MP, Zdravka Bušić, and others.

„I'm glad to be at this scientific conference, and I want to thank everyone's effort for something like this to happen in Boka Kotorska. I would especially like to thank students that took part in this and gave their part as young people who love the truth of Boka, the place of saints. This is a message that we too need to do something to mark this time with love, hope, and faith“, said the Kotorska bishop, mons. Ivan Štironja.

Some Croatians live outside of Croatia, but maybe you would want to live in Croatia. Learn more about living in Croatia on our TC page

For more about the Croatian Diaspora, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Regularity of School Year Not Brought into Question

ZAGREB, March 26 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Thursday underscored that the regularity of the school year would not be brought into question adding that several scenarios were being prepared for graduation examinations and that the ministry would issue relevant instructions early April.

The plan we prepared for online lessons is being implemented successfully however there are certain issues that need to be advanced, she said.

Several scenarios have been worked out for secondary school state graduation examinations; however, this epidemiological situation is totally unfamiliar and no one knows how long it will continue. "Depending on its duration, we will activate some of those scenarios and we will inform everyone of that on time," she noted.

Early April the ministry will release instructions for assessment and evaluation so that online assessment and evaluation is the same at the national level.

It is not necessary to give marks for the first two weeks of remote learning, she said but it is essential to embark on support and adaptation.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Online Classes Functioning Despite Cyberattack

ZAGREB, March 16, 2020 - Despite a cyberattack on the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet) and Srce service, Croatia on Monday was ready for the beginning of online classes amidst the coronavirus epidemic and the Science and Education Ministry has been conducting further preparations, Minister Blaženka Divjak said.

She noted that postponement of high school leaving exams was not being planned for the time being.

"School is functioning even in these difficult, extraordinary circumstances. It's virtual school but it does function," the minister told reporters during a visit to a Zagreb primary school.

Classes have started on the HRT3 channel as well as on Sports Television, which serves as a back-up for virtual classes for students of senior primary school grades and secondary school grades. Classes are already televised on Sports Television in Istria County and Sports Television is expected to start broadcasting them for the rest of the country as of Wednesday.

As for those who have problems with TV classes on the third channel of the HRT public broadcaster, Divjak said that those classes would be available on YouTube immediately after they were aired on television.

She noted that principals had been sent questionnaires as to how many children had turned up in school on Monday and that those questionnaires would be published subsequently.

Answering a reporter's question, she said that information on classes for children with developmental problems was available on the ministry's website as well as that televised classes with sign language would start by the middle of the week.

The minister expressed optimism that difficulties would be overcome after the start of virtual school was marked by a cyberattack on CARNet and Srce on Monday morning, causing problems with registration via official authentication passwords and profiles.

She expressed satisfaction that the nationwide coverage was larger than currently expected, considering that around 450,000 people were in the system.

"Since late Sunday evening we have had around 280,000 user accounts, and we could reach the figure of 400,000 users by Wednesday," she said.

The minister said that the quantity of digital teaching material was sufficient to cover a week of online classes and that work was underway on one more week of online classes as well as that the ministry was prepared to organise online classes for more than two weeks, depending on how the situation would develop.

The minister also said that for the time being there were no plans to postpone high school leaving exams and that they would be held as planned, starting from May 16.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 21 February 2020

EYCS Council Adopts Resolution on Education and Training

ZAGREB, February 21, 2020 - Croatian Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak in Brussels on Thursday chaired a meeting of the European Union's Education, Youth, Culture and Sports Council, which adopted a resolution on education and training and held a public debate on brain circulation.

The resolution on education and training calls for appropriate involvement of education ministers in the European semester process when education and training related issues are being discussed. It reflects member states’ commitment to further improve the quality of education and training.

Education and training are essential for future sustainable growth, competitiveness and employment. As well as responding to the needs of the labour market, quality and inclusive education and training enable personal fulfilment, social cohesion and inclusive societies, the resolution says.

"Without a quality education there is no sustainable development, and investment in education is investment in our future," Divjak said ahead of the Council meeting.

Speaking of the debate on brain circulation, she said that "Croatia's plan was to include a debate on the agenda on how to achieve more balanced mobility in the EU, because talents are evenly distributed, but opportunities are not. Our task is to give equal opportunities to all countries and all regions."

Divjak said it was necessary to ensure synergies between different policies and use different investment opportunities to create favourable conditions to attract and keep talent.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Milanović Criticised for Selection of Education Advisor

ZAGREB, February 20, 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said on Thursday that she did not have "anything particularly good to say" about Jadranka Žarković, whom President Zoran Milanović chose to be his advisor on education, and that it would be better to wait for Žarković's first moves.

"If I don't have anything good to say about people, I rather wait for them to make their first moves," Divjak told reporters in Brussels, where she attended a meeting of the Council of the EU on education.

Milanovic has confirmed that Žarković, a psychologist and former head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency, will be his advisor on education, dismissing media reports that as the head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency, she used to send teachers and children to lectures organised by "In the Name of Family" association and the association of retired generals.

Žarković was appointed head of the Education and Teacher Training Agency during Milanović's term as prime minister in 2015, when Vedran Mornar was Science and Education Minister.

She was chosen among as many as 12 candidates, and the media reported at the time that the selection procedure was shrouded in secrecy.

The media also questioned her decision, made at the start of her term, to abolish an award for the most successful Croatian students participating in national and international competitions.

Žarković taught psychology for a long time at one of Zagreb's high schools, which was attended by one of Milanović's two sons.

More news about Zoran Milanović can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

EU Research Ministers Hold Informal Meeting in Zagreb

ZAGREB, February 4, 2020 - Croatian Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said at an informal meeting of EU ministers in charge of research that brain circulation should remain one of the EU's cornerstones.

"We are encouraging mobility because those who are mobile and have experience from other countries bring that experience with them when they return. That way they make it possible for the system to be developed for the best, but we also want to attract others to work in Croatia," Divjak said at the meeting focusing on cooperation and researcher exchange and the future of the European Research Area.

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel said that not all countries benefited the same way from brain circulation in Europe.

We must reduce those differences between member states and promote international cooperation between researchers, she said.

Gabriel said that the budget for the Horizon Europe development and innovation programme would be increased, with original allocations amounting to around 3.3% of the EU budget, and that the Maria Sklodowska Curie research scholarship programme would continue as well.

Phillippe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research and Development, during whose term the European Research Area was established 20 years ago, said that before the establishment of the European Research Area brain drain from the EU to the USA had been much greater and that the EU had grown stronger as a science-research centre since.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

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.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Parliament Debates Motion for No-Confidence Vote in Education Minister

ZAGREB, January 16, 2020 - Parliament on Wednesday night held a debate on an opposition motion for a no-confidence vote in Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković saying he would persevere in the education reform which, he added, represented a unique strategic step forward.

The government previously dismissed the motion signed by 31 opposition MPs led by the Social Democratic Party. The opposition demanded a no-confidence vote in Divjak because of the situation in the education system, the non-implementation of the education reform and her responsibility for the longest teachers' strike in Croatia.

Plenković said that during his government, the Science and Education Ministry's budget was raised from 13.8 billion kuna to 18.6 billion kuna and that 40 new curricula were introduced.

As for the teachers' strike, he said an agreement was reached with the education unions that salaries would go by 23.5% by October.

Divjak said the opposition motion was politicking, that she had improved the system and that the curricular reform was being implemented in all schools.

"We have received three positive reports from the European Commission which assessed the reform as ambitious and done according to plan," she said, adding that 90% of parents said they were pleased that their children were included in the experimental education programme.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 30 December 2019

EU Presidency Opportunity for Croatia to Highlight Important Issues

ZAGREB, December 30, 2019 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Monday underscored that Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU was an opportunity for Zagreb to highlight the topics it finds important and to present itself as a country of professional and creative people.

Presenting priorities in education and science during Croatia's presidency, Minister Divjak explained that the role of its presidency "is not just to pursue one's own policies but to objectively conduct the EU's policies" however, it is an opportunity to recognise those topics that Croatia has been working on for a long time, she said.

Research and space technology are in the Council's remit and one of the priorities is brain circulation and jobs of the future that are related to space technology.

Brain drain is a huge problem for Croatia and similar countries. "Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not," and so it is important for equalise opportunities as much as possible, it was said.

With regard to space technology, this does not refer to travelling to Mars but to industries that apply space technology and more than 10 percent of the economy is dependent on that technology, it was underscored at the news conference which the minister held.

Topics that are important for Croatia include teachers of the future, discussions on reforms and investments in education and vocational education. Another important issue is mobility that is implemented through the Erasmus+ programme.

The EU's Horizon Europe for research has 100 billion euros at its disposal.

The Erasmus+ programme, for which there are proposals to triple its funding, could be as high as 70 billion euro, while the EU proposes investing 16 billion euro to enhance the European space programme.

A total of 24 official events will be held in the remit of these two councils as will some important conferences which will include numerous institutions, agencies, universities, schools and teams of mentors.

We expect an improvement in opportunities for Croatian researchers and teachers to participate and to bring their institutions closer programme-wise, Minister Divjak said.

As an example, she noted the establishment of the European universities' network with the inclusion of three Croatian universities from Rijeka, Split and Zadar.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

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