Nina Čolović from SNV’s Department of Education says that cancelling programmes in the Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet encroaches on the rights of ethnic minority parents and children

BY: Anja Kožul / Novosti

The current Ministry of Science and Education ordinance for enrolment in secondary schools in Croatia to some extent coincided with the pre-election promise of Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava. Last year, Penava announced the abolition of classes in the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet in that town.

The new ordinance of the Ministry envisages the suspension of many vocational programmes in Croatia. For example, this proposal includes the Secondary Vocational School “Marko Babić” in Vukovar and its A model curriculum for minority education, which represents the degradation of the status of the Serbian national minority in this town. Educating young people for the following professions: waiters, butchers, tourism and hospitality workers, and confectioners is planned to be abolished at this school.

Under the imperative of “rationalizing classrooms and labour market needs,” decision-makers simply ignored the legal right to education in the languages and scripts of national minorities. Members of national minorities exercise their right to education in their own language and script in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities, and the Act on Education in the Language and Script of National Minorities.

Independent Democratic Serb Party’s (SDSS) MP Dragana Jeckov informed the public about all this. She said that the principal of the Secondary Vocational School in Vukovar, Rudolf Tomić, proposed the suspension of the four programmes for which classes are held in the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet.

The principal claims that only one or two students enrol in these programmes every year. In statements for the media, which he also reiterated in an in-person interview for Novosti, Tomić went even further, saying that students from these programmes allegedly do not come to school and attend classes, and that their teachers justify their absences by saying that classes are taking place regularly. Only two A model vocational programmes are planned to be left in the school – those for the cosmetics and hairdressing professions. The principal claims that the Ministry of Science and Education is only interested in the number of students in each class. According to him, he “wants all the children to go to class together.”

– We will now merge two classes into one according to the B model (in this model, teaching is conducted bilingually, the group of natural science subjects is taught in Croatian, and that of social science ones in the language of the national minority). Children of Serb nationality will be represented in every way. There are no problems here. Only some colleagues and journalists are trying to make a big deal out of this. Education for these vocations is being suspended in the whole of Croatia, including Vukovar – Tomić commented briefly. He finally added that “his school will be a place for education, and not politics.”

Rudolf Tomić. (Poto:

In general, the issue of national minorities and the education of children who are members of national minorities is largely unknown to the public. To make matters even worse, minority educators themselves are very poorly informed about minority education, and national minority associations are that ones that mostly insist on it. At the same time, principals do not have the authority to group children into classes on their own. There is no required number of students to form a class when it comes to national minorities – even one enrolled student is enough to hold classes according to one of the minority models.

Nina Čolović from SNV’s Department of Education says that cancelling programs in the Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet encroaches on the rights of ethnic minority parents and children. She emphasizes that the model according to which children will be educated, A, B, or C, is chosen exclusively by parents, and not by counties or cities as the founders of schools in any given area. By definition, a minority group is less represented, so a smaller number of children in classes is automatically to be expected.

– Precisely because it is a minority, the State Pedagogical Standard stipulates that classes held in minority languages and scripts can be organized with and for a smaller number of students in comparison to the number in the dominant model. Regardless of the level of interest, a comparative educational program in the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet should exist as a possibility for parents and children in a minority context – explained Čolović.

Minister of Science and Education Radovan Fuchs justifies the adoption of the ordinance on enrolment in secondary schools by the fact that about 70 percent of students at the end of primary school, in the eighth grade, enrol in some form of vocational education programmes, and only 30 percent enrol in gymnasium programmes. He adds that at the European level, about 55 percent of students enrol in gymnasium programmes and about 45 percent in vocational ones. He says that after graduating high school these young people do not end up in the labour market but remain in the education system. However, later on, as he confirms, problems appear at higher education levels.

– It is in this segment of students who come from the vocational education programmes that we have the highest number of those who drop out of further studies and those who are forced to retake exams and reenrol into classes due to the fact that general education subjects are not as represented in vocational education programmes as they are in gymnasium ones – Fuchs said.

When it comes to enrolling children in secondary schools, decision-makers are so focused on European averages and statistical reports that, in addition to the minority, they also fail to see the social class dimension of the whole problem. It is not taken into account that many students come from families with lower incomes and do not have a solid foothold, so they have to work and study at the same time. Čolović says that the financial circumstances in which children and parents find themselves must also be taken into account.

– When observing the unemployment rate and other aspects of the development of areas where classes are held in the Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet, such as in Vukovar-Srijem, Lika-Senj, or Sisak-Moslavina counties, the difficult economic and social circumstances of its implementation come to light. Four-year, but also three-year vocational education programmes with the possibility of completing an additional year of studies, provide children from lower income families with basic existential security and continuation of education – said Čolović.

She also reminded that in 2019, the Guidelines for the Development of a Network of School Institutions and Education Programmes were adopted. The guidelines plan to reduce the number of vocational programmes due to, as stated, difficulties in finding staff, providing conditions for practical classes, and at the same time increasing the number of gymnasium programmes. Čolović emphasizes that education is therefore becoming more and more inaccessible, with the additional burden of having to find ways to change the situation thrown onto the backs of the most vulnerable children instead of into the agendas of cities, counties, and the state.