Back to school
4. September, 2020

Back to school

A few words about the education system in Slovenia
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With backpacks full of notebooks and books, nicer than usual clothes and sporting a new hairstyle the boys are heading back to school. Wait – only a photo needs to be taken for the family album… and off they go.  Summer vacation is over, September is here and with that, also new obligations, education, homework’s, practices, new challenges and experiences. We, parents, sighed from relief, hopefully for the whole new school year. But who knows? In 2020 nothing is taken for granted anymore.  I am sure the world will never forget the school year 2019/2020 that ended with home-schooling for almost 3 months and when most of us, besides regular jobs,  turned into teachers, tutors, motivators, colleagues and friends to our kids. Some kids liked it, but most didn’t and they couldn’t wait that the world returns back to some kind of normality. My neighbour is a teacher and she is worried how the new rules will be accepted by her students. It is easier to impose wearing a mask and social distancing with kids in primary education, once the kids are older than 15, their priorities change. This is where they are finally having some freedom, choosing their friends and company, finding their own identities. It will be hard to keep them in class for 8 hours straight, just because social-distancing should be imposed. Wearing a mask is obligatory in all public areas of the school, except in your own classroom, among your classmates. The same ones that do all kinds of sports in the afternoon and play around with neighbour kids, who aren’t necessarily their classmates. But rule is a rule and needs to be followed. You sit alone behind the desk and your desk is disinfected after each class. To go to the WC you need to ask for permission. Snacks are eaten in the classroom and lunches are allowed in the school cafeteria according to a strict schedule and seating order.  It is hard to be a kid these days. Even our sons tell us that we had a much nicer childhood. I couldn’t agree more. Our bags were lighter, obligations fewer, there was a lot of time to play around and just be kids. If nothing else, it was a lot less complicated and a lot less stressful. 
No time for nostalgia. It is what it is. In this blog post I want to describe how education is organised in our country. The post will be a bit more serious and most of the information is summed up from the webpage of the Ministry of Education in Slovenia. When we talk about education in Slovenia we talk about the three stages: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary education is provided by public and private kindergartens, basic schools, basic schools with an adapted programme, music schools and educational institutions for children with special educational needs. Secondary education is provided by upper secondary schools and secondary schools. It is classified as general or vocational technical and secondary professional or technical education.  The third segment is provided by both public and private institutions and it consists of higher-post secondary vocational education and higher education. Higher post-secondary vocational education is provided by higher vocational colleges, while higher education is provided by faculties, academies and independent higher education institutions. 
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On September 1st, which is always the first day of school in our country, over 190.990 kids entered primary school. Your first grade starts when you are 6 years old – well you need to enrol into school in the year when you turn 6 – there are a few exceptions, but generally this is the rule. Primary or basic education lasts for 9 years, until you reach the age of 14 -15. During the first four years, one teacher conducts all lessons, and in the first grade there is one additional tutor. Subsequently and for the remaining 5 years of basic education, subject teachers will conduct classes. Quality of education is the same overall while the curriculum in all schools is publicly accredited. Children receive the same quality of education both in the capital and in the smallest villages. The enrolment of children into school is regulated by the law and is free of charge if you study in one of the public schools that are representing the majority in the country and are considered better than private ones.  Parents need to pay for school lunches and snacks, which cost about 2.80 EUR/day and are charged monthly according to use. Books (not all – some are being passed on from previous years by school libraries), stationary and excursions are paid as a one-time fee.   All school work is being graded under the five-point grading scale. Unsatisfactory is 1. You can get mark 5 only for your excellent knowledge. Academic year begins on September 1st and ends on June 24th. In 1970s they quit going to schools on a Saturday, so Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are days off. On top of that, Slovenia is the only country in Europe where kids get one week off every two months. Not too bad, huh? Wishing all of us could get a week off every two months – better for productivity and high in motivation. The school usually starts around 8 am. Academic hour lasts for 45 minutes, after two hours kids get a 25 minute snack-break (sandwich and fruit). School continues till about 12 when children get a hot lunch. After the 6th lesson there is a longer break for another snack and generally primary school doesn’t last much longer than 2.30 pm. Younger kids can be dropped-off in school earlier than 8 am and can stay in school until 4 pm with day-care provided if parents are working longer hours. In Slovenia, school kids are taught to love active lifestyle from a young age. They participate in school fairs, performances, sports teams and clubs; go on excursions, hiking in the mountains, etc. Most kids start thinking about what they will do after primary school once they get into 7th grade. With this you are already choosing your professional path – which can be very hard when you are only 13. Sometimes you choose well, and sometimes you don’t. Since our older son is turning 13 this year, I hope he will choose well. Then  you need to study well for the last three years of primary school in order to get good grades that make your choice more viable in case of entering exams. You also need to pass the state exam known as the National Knowledge Assessment Test in the 9th grade and that is later your entrance to the chosen secondary level of education. Once you ended your 9 years of primary education, you can choose the type of secondary education depending on your academic performance, career aspirations and plans. 
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There are 3 types of secondary education in Slovenia and on September 1st 2020 over 73.900 students entered them. Secondary Vocational Education students study for three years and master an applied profession such as carpenter, mechanic, hairdresser, baker, etc. These programmes are supported at the national level – if the country lacks qualified personnel in a certain field of expertise, students can be trained in practice by a real employer. At the end of the study, they need to pass an exam and in general they already have a good chance to get work in the place where they had practical education. Second way of secondary level school is Secondary technical and vocational education. The training lasts 4 years and is aimed at obtaining in-depth knowledge with a specific technical or economic profession. At the end of the studies a professional examination should be passed. The result of this exam involves enrolling into a vocational college or university for a professional Bachelor’s degree programme.  The third one is the General Secondary Education. This is mostly for kids that want to continue their studies to receive higher education. They are called grammar schools and are popular among kids in Slovenia. These are usually the schoolchildren that successfully passed the National Knowledge Assessment Test and were successful in all disciplines. After graduating at grammar schools, students can enter university. Cost of secondary level education is similar to the cost in primary school only that food in school is no longer provided and students get a longer break where they can purchase their own snack or bring it from home. Parents need to pay for books, stationery and excursions, on top of the payment for public transportation that brings their kids to chosen school. With this said it must be noted, that all the applied cost is subsidised by the government.
Higher education is a whole new chapter. This is also why the academic year doesn’t start before October 1st. It is recognised at the international level and training is conducted according to the Bologna system.  A growing number of universities are introducing study programmes in English into the academic process. Higher education in Slovenia for foreigners is provided on a paid basis, tuition fees are relatively low compared to the rest of the world. Tuition fees from one higher education institution to another per year typically range between 2.000 to 11.000 EUR.   For citizens of the Republic of Slovenia, European Union member States and citizens from former Yugoslav Republics, education is free of charge. Yes, you got that right! Free of charge.  There is an enrolment fee and of course students need to pay for books, stationery, accommodation and transportation, but compared to other parts of the world, this is not a significant cost. And get this – Slovenian students are also entitled to food discount vouchers during their academic year. These are vouchers for food at numerous restaurants throughout the country that serve good, nutritious, healthy food to students that are always hungry. Not bad at all. Because we certainly do not want hungry or even worse, hangry students.  Slovenian education is recognised throughout EU, so graduates can continue their studies in other EU countries. If desired, they can enter Master’s programme in any country of the EU and participate in student exchange programmes. Higher education is divided into different levels: 

  • Vocational college that is usually focused on developing practical skills in areas such as Tourism, Wellness, Economics, Logistics, Security, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science. Two year study ends with a diploma. 
  • University or Institute Bachelor’s Degree: This programmes include studying for a major such as Management, Marketing, Business, Construction, etc. They last about 3 years and end with a thesis. Students can continue on with their studies and get to an even higher level. 
  • Master’s Degree: This programme lasts for 2 years and ends with a Master’s thesis. 
  • PhD Degree: Students can receive PhD degree during another 2 – 4 years, depending on the field. This programme ends with a PhD thesis. 

To sum up – education in Slovenia is really well organised. I think that during my study years I acquired a high level of education, comparable to the rest of the world. Our strong virtue is a good command of numerous foreign languages. One of our beloved sayings has always been “the more languages you know, the more you are worth.” Financially it is not too pricey to study in Slovenia overall. Yes, some parents will always complain about the cost of books, stationary, public transportation, but they do not know how much those things generally cost elsewhere in the world. It is a big chunk to some family’s budget for sure– but then again, we know that it goes for good and quality education, for good food, transportation, educational excursions. My kids learned how to ski, roller blade, cross-country ski and swim in school. They are already speaking good enough English to come by with our friends who are visiting. They are making friendships that might last forever. They are exposed to some life lessons, to ups and downs, to books that are fun to read and to those with which they struggle. Looking at their Math I am happy my path in life went the other way and I don’t need it anymore – believe me 6th and 7th grade Math represents science fiction for two tour guides in the household and an eternal gratitude to grandparents and neighbours. The excitement of the year is focused on the annual “School in nature”. This is where they take each grade of primary school kids to a certain area and they are there for 5 days. For many kids that is the first time they are away from home, without parents. So it is exciting. This year our sons are super excited about it, one will go and learn how to cross country ski in the mountain ski resort and second one will go to the seaside and learn about the sea. And no matter how much they yawn and comment about school, homework, teachers and  waking up early, they still love it. It is an important chapter in their life and in the life of their parents. Hopefully covid-19 will not disturb their year again. Wearing masks is not a big deal – kids are much more adaptable than adults. They understand a lot of things much better than we do. But taking away the thrills of hanging out with schoolmates, pranks and doing silly things, enjoying the little freedom to be away from parents, making friendships that last for a lifetime – that can never be returned. So I am wishing to all the kids of the world to have an undisturbed school year with as many wonderful moments as they can possibly have!

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