In order for young people to seize the opportunities offered to them by the world, and to contribute to its development, they should have the necessary knowledge, be able to promptly and flexibly respond to changes, actively participate in the social development and continuously receive education during their entire working life. For the purpose of encouraging the development of adjustable and diverse working population that continually improves its knowledge and skills, Croatia's development goal is to modernize its educational system, by focusing on the creation of the society and economy based on human capital. The building of such a society rests upon enabling everyone access to education, upon quality and focusing on the continual development of talents and needs of individuals.
It should be pointed out that there is a large number of young people in Croatia – as a member of the group of the European countries with the shortest compulsory schooling – who do not enrol into high school after finishing elementary school, and of those who do enrol into it, as few as 69.5 % finish it. Young population comprised of low-qualified persons (persons who finished elementary school) is faced with slim or no chances at all for finding a job, which leaves them without a basis for settling their existential issues and deprived, at an early age, of the fundamental rights of the democratic society – right to employment and right to social benefits.
The strategic goal of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports is to reduce the number of pupils who have not finished high school, by gradually introducing compulsory secondary education, and to enable a large number of them to continue their education on higher levels, thus greatly increasing their preparedness to respond to the fast changes on the labour market, their ability to acquire new knowledge and skills, as well as facilitating their job-finding. This is why the extension of compulsory education until the acquisition of the first qualification/profession is one of the most challenging and most important projects of Croatia's educational policy.
Extended compulsory education will significantly reduce the share of working age population without the first qualification, which will considerably boost their chances for finding a job, and, on the other hand, enable access to higher education to a number of pupils.
A significant part of the public, particularly parents and teachers, have stated their support for the implementation of measures for the introduction of compulsory secondary education (as many as 83% of the respondents are in favour of it). The Croatian Parliament adopted on 21 June 2007 the National Programme of Measures for the Introduction of Compulsory Secondary Education (Official Gazette NN, 71/07) with the following goals:
- Increase the enrolment rate of pupils and the rate of finishing regular secondary education.
- Improve the quality of the Croatian secondary education, while coordinating it with the European educational systems and the standards of the European Union member countries.
- Ensure the possibilities for a life-long learning in line with the demands of the modern life and economy.
In order to achieve the above, special attention has been devoted to:
- increasing the rate of enrolment into and of finishing regular secondary education;
- improving the quality of the Croatian secondary education and coordinating it with the European educational systems;
- ensuring the possibilities for a life-long learning in line with the needs of the modern life and economy;
- connecting with the new model of adult education;
- reducing the rate of early school leaving through the process of advancing the educational system
Pursuant to the abovementioned goals, the following incentive measures are being implemented:
- supplying schools with free textbooks;
- covering transport costs;
- providing free accommodation and meals at student dormitories.
The result of the measures is that despite a negative demographic trend, 1,440 pupils more enrol into high school compared to those who finish elementary school. Data on enrolments into the first grade of elementary school show that the number of pupils who enrolled into high school was in 2007 and 2008 higher than the number of pupils who finished elementary school. Based on this, a conclusion can be drawn that, in addition to the pupils regularly finishing elementary school, a large number of pupils who finished elementary school in the previous years decided to continue their schooling.
Parallel with these measures, 55 new teaching plans and programmes for the acquisition of lower educational qualification have been passed, the hiring of teachers and expert associates at high schools has been increased (349 were employed in the school year of 2006 /2007, while 476 new teachers were employed in 2007/2008). Both the vertical and horizontal passableness through the educational system has been enabled, i.e. transition from a higher to a lower level, and vice versa. The State Pedagogical Standard has been created, aimed at setting up equal staff and material conditions in all high schools, and the enactment of the National Framework Curriculum is underway.
In order to get as many young people as possible prepared for the challenges posed by the era of constant technological changes and innovations, a proposal for the extension of compulsory education until the acquisition of the first qualification has been set forth. Its aim is to provide a large number of young people with key competencies for living and working in the modern society.
Based on the amendment to Article 65 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, and in accordance with the stated key points indicating the justifiability of compulsory secondary education, the additional funds invested into education will bring a reduction in the number of socially excluded persons, an increase of the overall social integration and a reduction of necessary investments into social welfare. Those funds will be very soon multiply returned through an increase of Croatia's economic competitiveness and a possibility for the Croatian economy to equally compete with more developed global economies.