Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure
Croatian education system provides education services at pre-school, primary school, high-school and higher education levels, as well as for adult education, so as to enable every learner to optimally develop his/her potential, aiming at their personal development and entry into the labour market, including their preparedness for lifelong learning.
Education in Croatia is available to all, under equal conditions, in line with their capabilities. Compulsory education is free of charge. Private schools and colleges/polytechnics can be established in accordance with relevant legal framework. Universities are guaranteed autonomy and they can independently decide on their structure, organisation and operation (Articles 66 and 67 of the Croatian Constitution).
Croatian education system consists of the following levels: early childhood education and care and pre-school education, elementary education, high school education and higher education.
The Croatian education system is mainly a centralised system governed at all levels of education by the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia and national agencies. However, there are many decentralised functions performed by the founders of ECEC institutions, primary and secondary schools.
The Ministry of Science and Education(MSE) is the competent ministry for the field of education and it performs administrative and other tasks related to the education system in Croatia.
Besides MSE, other national institutions involved in implementing education policy, monitoring, evaluation, system development and programme development of various aspects of the Croatian education system are the Education and Teacher Training Agency (ETTA), Agency for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education (AVETAE), Agency for Science and Higher Education (ASHE), Agency for Mobility and EU Programmes (AMEUP), National Centre for External Evaluation of Education (NCEEE) and the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNET).
Early childhood education and care and pre-school education
The ECEC system is a decentralised system since 1993 when the founding rights have been transferred to the bodies of local and regional self-government units (LGUs).
With the adoption of the Preschool Education Act in 1997 (posterior innovations of the Act followed, the last one in 2022), the ECEC system becomes the part of the educational system of the Republic of Croatia and constitutes the starting level of the educational system.
It is divided into three educational cycles:
(1) from the time the child reaches six months until the child reaches one year of age
(2) from the time the child reaches one year of age until the child reaches three years of age
(3) from the time the child reaches three years of age to the start of primary school.
ECEC in the Republic of Croatia is not compulsory, except for the preschool programme – a programme that is compulsory and intended for all children before starting primary school. This programme lasts one pedagogical year and is free for parents.
Preschool programmes All kindergartens must have the approval of the competent ministry for the implementation of the preschool programme.
For children who do not attend kindergarten there is a special preschool programme lasting 250 hours per year, which is held in kindergarten or elementary school, depending on the possibilities of a particular local environment.
The ministry in charge of education approves all programmes offered at ECEC institutions.
More information about ECEC funding can be found within the chapter 3. Funding in education/3.1. Early childhood and school education funding.
Primary and lower secondary education in Croatia (ISCED 1 and 2) is a single structure system of compulsory education lasting eight years. It starts at the age of 6-7 and ends at 14-15. The exception are students with developmental disabilities for whom the education may last until the age of 21.
Primary education is carried out as public and private. Programmes implemented by primary schools can be regular and special. Special programmes refer to programmes for children with disabilities; alternative curricula (Waldorf pedagogy, Montessori method etc.), programmes in the language and script of national minorities, as well as art education.
Primary education in the form of basic art education is performed parallel to regular programmes, and can be musical and dance. The right to enrol in the first grade of primary art education have children who have, as a rule, reached the age of 7 and 9 and met the criteria prescribed by the art education curriculum. Additional educational work in primary schools is organised through an extended stay for first and second graders, and in some schools for third graders too.
Primary education includes general education and prepares students for the continuation of education in upper secondary schools. The conditions for enrolment in secondary schools are based on the average of the final grades. Some schools, mainly science-oriented grammar schools, have introduced additional entrance exams.
Secondary education is provided by secondary schools or other public institutions. Secondary education enables the acquisition of knowledge and skills required for work or for further education. Depending on the type of education programme, secondary schools can be: grammar schools, art schools and vocational schools.
Programmes at ISCED level 2, or lower secondary education, are typically designed to build on the learning outcomes from ISCED level 1.
Upper secondary education in Croatia (ISCED 3) is not compulsory but majority of students enrol in it. Upper secondary education starts at the age of 14-15. Students can enrol in the first grade of secondary school aged up to 17 and exceptionally up to 18 or over 18.
Art schools also last four years and through secondary art education students acquire competences to work and continue their education. Grammar schools and art schools can be attended either paralelly or through integrated programmes.
Education in vocational schools lasts from one to five years, depending on the type of education programme for a certain profession. After graduating from vocational school students can enter the labour market or, subject to certain conditions, continue their education at secondary or higher education institutions.
Horizontal mobility (moving between different pathways within the secondary education system) is possible among, mostly similar, programmes and under the requirements stipulated by the Primary and Secondary School Education Act. Horizontal mobility is mainly carried out through adult education.
More information about the school education funding can be found within the chapter 3 Funding in education/3.1. Early childhood and school education funding.
Students who attend general education programmes obtain their final exam by taking the mandatory state matura exam, and students in four- and five-year VET programmes obtain their final exam in school. If they want to progress to higher education, they must also take the state matura exams.
Every year, about 83% of vocational students apply for the state matura exams and about 67% pass the exam and continue higher education. In comparison, 99% of students in general education programmes register for the state matura exam and 97% of them successfully pass.
Accessibility of tertiary education and the representation of general education subjects make the longer programmes attractive while enrolment in three-year vocational schools significantly decreases (more information).
Compulsory education can be provided at home in exceptional circumstances. Teaching activity can be organised at home or in a health institution for students who cannot attend school because of severe motor disorders or chronic illnesses for a longer period of time.
Home education/distance learning and education in a health institution are defined by Regulation on primary and secondary education of students with developmental disabilities which refers to education of students with developmental disabilities and students with health issues. Home education is listed in article 3, paragraph 8 of the Regulation and is classified as a temporary form of education. Further elaboration of teaching at home is included in Article 15 of the Regulation.
Teachers who are teaching at school are also teaching the students at home. For children in lower and upper secondary education, grades five to eight, home education is provided by their school teachers. For children who are in one of the first four grades often a new teacher is employed working only with the child educating at home. If the latter is the case, education is provided in less instruction time than prescribed.
There are no top level regulations specifically defining educational supervision/monitoring and assessment of the child’s progress and frequency of exams in education at home, but in practice education at home or in a health institution is similar or the same with the one provided in school.
The same educational supervision, monitoring and assessment of the child’s progress as for children in school is in place.
According to the Act on organisation and scope of ministries and other government bodies, in the area of higher education the Ministry of Science and Education is responsible for development of higher education, implementation of the national strategic documents and programmes in higher education, securing and monitoring financial conditions for operation of higher education institutions, subsidising tuition fees, student standard, coordination of the Croatian Qualifications Framework, managing the Register of HEIs and accredited study programmes, and encouraging lifelong learning programmes at HEIs. The Ministry is also responsible for programming and implementation of EU programmes as well as participation in the work of EU institutions and other international bodies.
According to the Act on Quality Assurance and Scientific Activity, the Agency for Science and Higher Education (ASHE) conducts various external evaluations of QA procedures, while internal QA is the responsibility of HEIs. ASHE is a public, independent, internationally recognised agency. Quality assurance of higher education in Croatia is conducted in line with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG).
ASHE carries out the following external evaluation procedures in HE: initial accreditation, reaccreditation, extraordinary evaluation and thematic evaluation of a higher education institution, as well as the process of initial accreditation of study programmes. In the process of external quality evaluation, the Standards of Quality in Higher Education and Scientific Activities adopted by ASHE are applied. The quality standards are based on and harmonised with ESGs and contain quality elements and indicators that include the fulfilment of the conditions prescribed by the law.
In accordance with the Act on Higher Education and Scientific Activity, higher education institution determines the enrolment procedure that guarantees equal access to all applicants. Enrolment procedure is based on a public call published on HEI’s website no later than May 1 of the current academic year.
Detailed information on enrolment into the first level of studies in the Republic of Croatia is available on the website of the National information system of applications to higher education institutions Become a student, as well as on the website studij.hr (available in English and Croatian).
In accordance with the the Act on Higher Education and Scientific Activity, a higher education institution is a legal entity that can be a university, faculty, art academy or polytechnic. The basic general act of a higher education institution is the statute.
A higher education institution is established as a public or private institution. Public higher education institutions are established by the Republic of Croatia. A public polytechnic is established by a decree of the Government of the Republic of Croatia. A public faculty or a public art academy is established by a decision of a university or a state administration body responsible for defence, internal affairs, as well as foreign and European affairs. A private higher education institution is founded by a natural or legal person.
A university can have constituents with or without legal personality. The university can establish a faculty or an art academy as a constituent entity with legal personality. A university may establish a university department, faculty or art academy, institute, centre, clinic or other organisational unit of the university as a constituent entity without legal personality. A university that does not have constituents with legal personality is considered an integrated university, while a non-integrated university is one that has constituents with legal personality.
Unlike the university constituents without legal personality, the faculty/academy constituents with legal personality has its own bank account, its own administration and internal quality assurance system and is registered as a higher education institution in the official Register of Higher Education Institutions. It also has partial decision-making autonomy, and teaching staff are employees of the constituent unit (faculty/academy), not the university.
University or its constituents can conduct university and professional study programmes while polytechnics can only conduct professional study programmes.
Adult education is regulated by the Adult Education Act.
Primary school education programme for adults and adult education programmes for secondary education need to be approved by the minister of education. These programmes are in principle identical to those in regular education, with the adaptation of teaching hours.
Formal programmes of adult education have to be verified by the Agency for VET and Adult Education and the Ministry of Science and Education.
With the entry into force of the Adult Education Act in December 2021, the system of adult education is fully harmonised with the Act on the Croatian Qualifications Framework. This means that the methodology of creating the adult education programmes is based on the regulations governing the Croatian qualifications framework.
New legislative framework of adult education has introduced several novelties: formal programs for acquiring micro-credentials (micro-qualifications in Croatia) and better instruments for recognition of prior non-formal and informal learning.
The Act regulates the formal education of adults, which is carried out in institutions that have a registered activity of adult education in accordance with the provisions of the act regulating the establishment and organisation of institutions (Act on Institutions).
Adult education can be performed by an institution established exclusively for the purpose of providing adult education, a school, a university, as well as an institution that performs other activities in addition to adult education. Adult education institution has a principal, andragogical manager, and an administrative council.
The composition, method of appointing members, the duration of the mandate of the members of the administrative council, as well as the method of decision-making, are determined by the founding act and the institution's statute. The institution can start the implementation of the education programme after the decision on the start of work or the implementation of the programme is brought by the Ministry of Education and Science.
The institution carries out the activity of adult education on the basis of the framework annual plan and programme of the institution's work. Adult education institutions are financed by their own budgets or local governments, and only certain programmes (programmes for acquiring micro-credentials for digital and green skills) are financed from the state budget.
State budget financing of adult education is mainly linked to specific projects of particular duration and scope. Adult education programmes for completion of primary education are also state funded, as primary education is obligatory and basic literacy internationally recognised as one of fundamental human rights.
Public institutions that perform the activity of art education are art schools and other public institutions. Part of the activity of art education related to curricula in applied vocational art education is carried out according to the law regulating the activity of vocational education.
Art education at all levels of art education is realised on the basis of the National Curriculum for preschool education, general compulsory and high school education and special art education curricula.
Primary education in the form of basic art education is performed parallel to regular programs, and can be musical and dance. The right to enrol in the first grade of primary art education have children who have, as a rule, reached the age of 7 and 9 and met the criteria prescribed by the art education curriculum.
Art schools are the music, dance, visual arts schools and other schools which carry out art education programs.
In art schools, the four-year curriculum is carried out, and it consists of a general and professional part. Upon completion of art education, the student acquires knowledge, skills and competences with which she/he has the possibility to enter the labour market or continue his education at higher education institutions.
If, after finishing high school art education, the student wants to continue his/her education at one of the higher education institutions, he/she takes the national matriculation exam.
Education for pupils with learning difficulties
Education for pupils with learning difficulties is carried out in regular schools with complete or partial integration, depending on the type and degree of the difficulty, following regular, individualised or special programmes or, exceptionally, if the pupils need additional health or social care, in special education institutions.
Within the framework of Article 65 of the Primary and Secondary School Education Act, students with disabilities are defined as follows:
- students with developmental disabilities
- students with learning difficulties, behavioural problems and emotional problems
- students with difficulties caused by educational, social, economic, cultural and linguistic factors.
A social welfare home is a public institution that can be established by the Republic of Croatia by decision of the ministry responsible for social welfare affairs.A unit of local and regional (regional) self-government, a religious community, a trading company, an association and other foreign legal or physical person may establish a social welfare home under the conditions and in the manner prescribed by the Social Welfare Act (OG 119/22).
According to Article 194 of the Social Welfare Act, a social welfare home is a public institution established to provide social services such as counseling, psychosocial support, early development support, assistance with inclusion in education and regular education programmes, etc.
According to Article 195 of the Act, a social welfare home can also be established as a centre for education and care, whose founding rights belong to the Republic of Croatia, and the rights and duties of the founder are performed by the ministry responsible for social welfare affairs.
Education in specialised education centres is carried out according to the Ordinance on Primary and Secondary Education of Students with Developmental Difficulties (OG 24/15).
The purpose of such centres is to train children and young people with intellectual disabilities to live and work as independently as possible while respecting their specific difficulties in functioning.
The educational activity that the centre includes can refer to:
Activity of primary and secondary education of students are carried out according to specific programmes
(regular programme with individualized procedures;
regular programme with content adjustment and individualized procedures;
special programme with individualized procedures;
special programmes for acquiring competences in the activities of everyday life and work with individualized procedures).
The Guidelines for Working with Students with Disabilities (MSE, 2021) represent a framework for planning, implementation and evaluation of the educational process of students with disabilities and are intended for teachers, professional associates and principals of primary and secondary schools that implement regular teaching programs/curricula.
Many preventive programmes are carried out with the students through various workshops, lectures, visits, etc.
Expert associates are most often managers of preventive programmes in schools and responsible leaders of preventive activities, aimed at the prevention of violence and all other forms of risky behavior. More specifically, work is being done to create a supportive and encouraging environment for students, taking into account their needs and providing support to them and their families in crisis and transit periods of life.
Education of members of national minorities is an integral part of the education system.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia explicitly mentions minorities (in the Original Basics of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, 22 are expressly stated national minorities in the Republic of Croatia: Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Bosniaks, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Russians, Bulgarians, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Turks, Vlachs and Albanians).
The education and care of students in the language and script of national minorities in primary schools is organised in accordance with the Act on Education in the Language and Script of National Minorities, the Act on the Use of Languages and Scripts of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia, The National Pedagogical Standards for Primary Education System, The National Pedagogical Standards for Secondary Education System (National Pedagogical Standards elaborate three models of teaching minority languages - A,B and C model) and other regulations.
Three models of organizing and conducting classes are prescribed:
- model A, according to which the entire teaching is conducted in the language and script of the national minority, with mandatory learning of the Croatian language in the same number of hours in which the language of the minority is taught. Students have the right and obligation to learn additional content important for the minority community. This teaching model is conducted in a special institution, but it is possible to conduct it in institutions with classes in the Croatian language in special departments with classes in the language and script of the minority.
- model B, according to which teaching is conducted bilingually. The science group of subjects is taught in the Croatian language, and the social group of subjects is taught in the language of the national minority. Classes are conducted in an institution with classes in the Croatian language, but in separate departments.
- model C, according to which classes are conducted in the Croatian language with an additional two to five school hours intended to nurture the language and culture of the national minority. An additional lesson lasting five school hours includes learning the language and literature of the national minority, geography, history, music and visual arts.
For the aforementioned languages, teaching is conducting according to the national curricula or education programmes.
Management of Education System in Croatia
The Ministry of Science and Education (MSE) is the competent ministry for the field of education and it performs administrative and other tasks related to the education system in Croatia.
In the area of early childhood education and care, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education it performs tasks related to the development of the system, national curriculum, norms and standards, student standard, inspection control, establishing and supervising the work of institutions and ensuring financial and material conditions for work and training of students to acquire technical knowledge and skills.
In the area of higher education, it performs tasks related to the development of higher education, implementation of national strategies and programmes, while ensuring and monitoring financial and material conditions for the work of HEIs, preparing and proposing reports on the work and evaluation of HEIs and study programmes, student standard, monitoring the education process and success of studies, managing the implementation of the Croatian Qualifications Framework, managing the registers of HEIs and study programmes, managing the databases on higher education and administrative supervision of HEIs. Some of the tasks the Ministry is performing are delegated to other national authorities.
There are differences in some areas of decision making related to different levels of education. Early childhood education and care (ISCED 0) is financed and managed by local authorities. However, the Ministry of Science and Education is competent for the accreditation of education programmes and ECEC institutions.
Primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education (ISCED 1-3) is managed centrally. However, local and regional authorities are responsible for (co-)financing and they have the authority of establishing a school.
Higher education (ISCED 6-8) is mostly provided by public HEIs which are state financed. The organisational autonomy and academic freedom are guaranteed by the Constitution.