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Reflections on Croatia's School System: Heatwaves, Backpacks, and the Case for School Uniforms

Written by  Sep 10, 2023

“When is the best time of the year to visit Dubrovnik?” a friend asked. “Not, August and July!” came my answer.

Thank God that the height of the season is over. I am no longer suffocating in heat. I can breathe again. It may sound strange when an Englishman complains that the weather is too hot and sunny, but summers seem to be getting ever more brutally hot!

And as soon as the main summer chaos has finished almost half a million children go back to school across the country.

Maybe it is OK to start school in continental Croatia at the beginning of September but in the south of Croatia it really feels like some kind of heat torture. The beaches are packed with tourists topping up their tans, warnings of heatwaves are flying around and yet thousands of children are walking to school. Couldn’t the winter holidays just be shortened in the south to make room for starting later?

Do you remember your first day at school? Were you filled with excitement, curiosity and joy? Or like me filled with dread! I think I spent the first day crying, all day. I think I was a late developer.

Heavy rucksacks and curious minds 

There is nothing cuter than first graders on their first day at school, with their shining new rucksacks. Although why children that young are expected to carry a bag that looks like they are about to climb Everest and not sit at a school desk is beyond me. Can’t schools just buy lockers! There is only one thing bigger than a first graders curiosity, and that's their backpack.

And this year around 35,000 first graders lugged those oversized rucksacks to school for the first time. Evidence, if evidence was needed, of Croatia’s ever decreasing population. Just two years ago 37,000 pupils started school. The pattern follows in secondary school, with fewer and fewer students.

“Do you like wearing a school uniform?” I asked my niece when she was on holiday with us. “Yeah, I don’t mind, I guess it makes sense,” she smiled.

It does make a lot of sense. But for some reason unknown to me we still haven’t introduced it.

School uniforms keep students focused on their education, not their clothes. Their mind-set is that they are going to “work” and not play. A UK school body conducted a series of focus groups with pupils to get the inside views on uniforms. They found that many pupils chose to remain in their uniform outside of school to complete homework. Most children explained that it helped them stay focussed while they worked, keeping them in the ‘school mindset’. Psychologically is just makes sense.

Win/Win - Made in Croatia 

School uniforms create a level playing field among students, reducing peer pressure and bullying. Wearing uniforms enhances school pride, unity, and community spirit. It also means that both children, and more importantly parents, don’t have to think about what to wear each day.

They should be able to buy a subsided uniform that is not only considerably cheaper but also could, or rather should, be made in Croatia. Not only would this save parents money but also create jobs for factories making the clothes. It is a win/win situation.

I had no problem at all, in fact I liked it, wearing a uniform for all my school life.

Of course introducing them would mean a lot of backlash, and it would probably take a few years before they are accepted, but the long-term positives far outweigh the short-term challenges. Parents face more than enough expense with all the books, stationary and other things they need to buy for their children without lumping new clothes on top of that. They’ve got to buy a massive rucksack to start with!

There has been some talk in recent years about the possible introduction of uniforms, but so far it seems to be at the bottom of the “to do” list for the authorities.

So I wish all those first graders all the best in their school life, the start of a whole new chapter that they will never forget.

And also to the teachers, the far too often undervalued heroes of the classroom, who shape our future generations minds.

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to


About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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