By Rabije Gashi, Croatia and Tomislav Perušić, Serbia
Education in Croatia: Teachers strike for a brighter future
Who doesn’t remember their first teacher? They are the ones that introduced us to the real world. We remember the good ones, as we do the ones that gave us a hard time. Nevertheless, these are the people that genuinely care for our future, education and well-being. In a way, they take over the role of a parent and become our role model for the future. I often listen to stories from my friends working as teachers. I see them worrying about their students and working hard preparing for the next class, even when they're at home.
When I heard the news about the teachers strike, I was proud. Education seems to be a really important thing in Croatia. When I think about all the different strikes we had in our country, I can’t think of any that was as persistent as this one. In the last three years there were two strikes for education reform, the last one being in 2016. This year’s strike started back in October, being the first circular strike in Croatia. The general strike started in the second half of November. Since then, no classes are being held in schools and faculties. As I have mentioned, this strike is the first persistent and massive strike we had in years.
What exactly is it all about?
There is something called the job complexity coefficient. Out of all government services, the education coefficient is by far the lowest. Also, there are disagreements about different salaries for equal jobs, therefore unions now want the VSS teacher/teacher complexity ratio to be 1,406, meaning an increase of 6.11%. At the moment, the government has no intention of making this happen, but has offered certain additions and and an increase of 2%. The unions, on the other hand, won’t give up the strike until their conditions are met. This leads to the negotiations being conducted almost daily.
The second thing the teachers are requesting for is their dignity. They feel that they are not protected enough and have become a mockery of the state. They seek respect and support, which to them is far more important than a higher salary. Tens of thousands of teachers came out to protest a few days ago.
A lesson to students
One of the unionists, a professor, gave a speech in the main square of the Croatian capital. His speech made a particular impression on me. He did not address the government or his colleagues. He addressed his students. He sent a message saying that this is also a situation where he wants to teach them something. He told them that this is a lesson for the future - that they have the right to stand up for their rights and ask for what belongs to them. He showed that his only goal is to do his job as a teacher, despite the wide attention he receives from the media, government as well as protesters. This is what I believe should be the goal of each teacher and professor in order to educate the young generations and create a brighter future for our country.
Education in Croatia: Ten years ago and now
The Croatian education system has been for decades known by its quality. Diplomas from Croatian universities have been highly valued in Europe even before Croatia became an EU member. The universities in Croatia were one of the first ones in the region to adopt the Bologna system. They were also the first ones to introduce various exchange programs, and become part of the Erasmus+ program.
Many Croatians living in Serbia and Bosnia possessing Croatian papers decide to go study in Croatia. This is a trend that’s been going on for quite a while. This is what brought me as well to Zagreb ten years ago. I was studying for two years at the Faculty of Economics and I was surprised by the good conditions offered to students. Depending on your high school grades and ranking on the entrance exam, you would get the right to a partial or full tuition fee reduction. The dormitories met all the needs, from student canteens to using the gym. Besides that, being a student meant discounts in theater, transportation and many other services.
Education as a righteous cause
Soon after I left Croatia, it became a part of the EU. By doing so, it had to meet the Western living and working standards. This change didn’t make it easy on school educators. They felt they’ve been neglected while other public sectors, such as healthcare and higher education, prospered. On the other hand, teachers and their unions gained more freedom to seek equality and fair treatment. They went on a strike that lasted for 36 days and the government eventually agreed to meet their needs. The importance of education on all levels prevailed, while the