Priestley M & Ireland A (2018) An Exploration of Curriculum Reform in the Republic of Croatia. British Council. Stirling.
The British Council has been implementing a project of ‘Technical Support to the Implementation of Curricular Reform’ in Croatia, funded by the European Union via the Structural Support Service of the Commission. The comprehensive curricular reform is a wide-ranging initiative led by the Ministry of Science and Education in Croatia. In April 2018, the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia launched a pilot project to implement the new National Curriculum Framework in Croatia’s schools. The primary purpose of the pilot was to develop a model for a full national implementation of the curriculum. The British Council’s support project comprised the development of a framework for the training of teachers and school leaders, and the provision of training and coaching resources. These included specialist input from a range of international experts and the development of online resources for teachers. The support project is subject to evaluation by curriculum specialists working at the Universities of Stirling (UK) and Auckland (New Zealand).
This report contributes to the overall evaluation; it draws upon qualitative research undertaken in five schools in Croatia in October 2018, comprising data from interviews and focus groups with principals, teachers, students and parents. The research was undertaken by Professor Mark Priestley from the University of Stirling. The data were analysed using a Theory of Action framework for exploring curriculum realisation, developed by Dr Claire Sinnema and Dr Graeme Aitken, University of Auckland. The use of this framework ensures that data from the both components of the evaluation – qualitative research conducted by the University of Stirling and the survey undertaken by the University of Auckland – have been analysed using a common approach. We note that, at this early stage of the project, the research largely focuses on the perceptions of various stakeholders, rather than on the effects of the reform. Further research will be needed in due course to thoroughly explore the latter.
Analysis of the qualitative data points strongly to the following issues for further consideration as the pilot project is developed, and subsequently informs the national implementation of the curriculum.
1. In general, Principals and teachers exhibited very positive attitudes towards the reforms. They tended to see the changes as being necessary to modernise the Croatian school system. There was particular support for the concept of a student-centred curriculum, with a more active and participative pedagogic approach than previously. There were a number of caveats to these positive views:
a. The new approaches were seen by some as being more labour-intensive than the previous system. Some concerns were expressed about workload.
b. Some teachers and principals were concerned about lacking the knowledge and skills to develop the new approaches.
c. Many teachers welcomed the shift to a focus on skills in the curriculum, albeit with some concerns raised about a ‘downgrading’ of knowledge.
d. Some teachers expressed concerns that a move to student-centred approaches could lead to poor behaviour.
e. There were concerns expressed about the potential for misalignment between the new curriculum and national public qualifications, and the corollary that this might disadvantage students who were part of the pilot project.
f. Some teachers suggested that class sizes would need to be smaller in order to fully capitalise on the new approaches.
g. Some teachers worried that the resources expended on new technology would limit the provision of more traditional resources (e.g., science equipment).
h. The provision of virtual classroom training was welcomed by most teachers, although a variable quality of experience was reported in terms of their engagement with the training. Many teachers pointed to the engagement being time-consuming, with significant workload implications. Some teachers found the online format to be difficult to use. Principals expressed a view that the new training was not sufficiently geared to school leaders.
i. Many teachers welcomed the opportunities provided by the autonomy afforded by the new curriculum, but this was inevitably accompanied by some nervousness about assuming responsibility for issues previously mandated by the government or external agencies. Some teachers noted that there was a tension between autonomy on the one hand, and specification through detailed learning outcomes on the other hand.
j. It was noted by some that the wider system did not articulate as well as it might with the pilot programme (e.g., inspectors had not been sufficiently involved in the reforms).
2. Students were extremely positive about the new curriculum. They welcomed approaches to learning that encouraged independent learning, and which involved less ‘boring’ direct instruction and rote learning of facts. They welcomed opportunities for better dialogue with their teachers and opportunities to express their views. Many pupils were enthusiastic about the use of technology (particularly the use of tablets) and welcomed the fact that this would lead to fewer heavy textbooks and lighter school bags.
3. Parents, while welcoming of the directions represented by the reforms, were more guarded in their reception of the new curriculum. Especially in schools where communication between them and the school had been limited, concerns were expressed about their children being part of an experimental approach. Some parents were dubious about the focus on information and communications technology, and worried about a potential downgrading of knowledge. Despite these concerns, the majority of parents held positive views about the new curriculum. They applauded the school principals and their schools as a whole for taking on this challenge. They also described observing a marked improvement in their children’s attitudes towards school, explaining how they seemed happier and more relaxed and that they were excited about going to school.
4. The research suggests the need for better assessment literacy amongst teachers, particularly in relation to the purposes of assessment, and how new approaches might differ from prevailing practices. Students seem to welcome the development of peer- and self-assessment approaches.