Two. Understanding family–school relationships in Croatia

Policy context: early childhood education and care in Croatia

Introduction

This discussion about early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Croatia focuses on two different perspectives: an historical view and a contemporary curricular approach. What could differentiate the Croatian ECEC system from others in this project is the fact that in Croatia, ECEC has been a part of the educational system from the very beginning. Although the first early childhood educational institutions, dating from the 19th century, aimed to help a newly employed population of women, their function as both welfare and educational institutions are open to discussion. The beginning of the 20th century brought a new Act on Primary Education that regulated education in the early years (Baran et al., 2011). From that time onward, all regulations concerning ECEC started from an educational perspective. Today, ECEC provides a range of education, health, nutrition and social care services for children (Preschool Education Act, 2013). Children from six months to six years (or the time they start elementary school) attend institutions, usually called kindergartens (in Croatian, djeHji vrtic'i).

Policy framework

Although policies concerning ECEC in Croatia, for example, the Preschool Education Act (2013) or National Curriculum for ECEC (2014), are made at a national level and ECEC is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Science and Education, the establishment and funding of kindergartens is under the jurisdiction of local authorities (counties, cities and municipalities). However, kindergartens can also be started privately and funded by individuals or other organisations such as religious communities. (Preschool Education Act, 2013; Bogatic, 2017). ECEC in Croatia is not yet mandatory for all, with the exception of the short pre-school programmes (in Croatian, predskola) which are mandatory for children during the year before starting elementary school. The basic task of pre-schools is to develop children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive potential in addition to promoting the development of the communication skills which will support learning (Regulations on the Contents and Duration of the Short Preschool Programme, 2014).

There are several regulations concerning ECEC in Croatia, but the National Curriculum for ECEC (2014) is the main document which underpins pedagogical work in ECEC institutions. It offers values: knowledge, identity, humanism and tolerance, responsibility, autonomy and creativity, and it also identifies basic principles: flexibility of educational process, partnership between the kindergarten, parents and the wider community, continuity in education and openness for continuous learning. It also makes explicit the objectives of ECEC in Croatia: namely, children’s personal, emotional, physical, educational and social well-being; children’s holistic development, education and learning; and the development of competences (National Curriculum for ECEC, 2014). However, it also allows certain freedoms for ‘each individual kindergarten to follow their own developmental pathway in accordance with the specificities of its micro and macro setting including its opportunities and restraints’ (Bogatic, 2017, 15).

Early childhood educational institutions should always complement family education and care whilst respecting family diversity and culture with an understanding that there may be different educational values among families. There is an emphasis on the shared responsibility for a child’s well-being between both family and the ECEC institution. Since a child is inevitably influenced by both the family and the ECEC institution, it is seen as essential for the family and the institution to ensure continuity in the educational process through cooperation with each other.

Pathway to paradigm of cooperation

Several researchers (Hornby, 2000; Crozier, 2012; Shaw, 2014) emphasise the Plowden report (1967) as a milestone in understanding family-school relationships. Although research on the history of family-school relationship in Croatia is scarce, the required legal regulations indicate the importance with which this issue was viewed. For example, ten years before the Plowden report, within former Yugoslavia, co-operation between families and kindergartens was regulated within the Act on Kindergartens (1956). According to this regulation, kindergartens had a legal obligation to help the parents of children in child education and care. All subsequent legislation in early childhood education and other aspects of work in kindergartens also regulated cooperation with parents (Act on Social Care of Preschool Children, 1981; Program Orientation of Pre-school Education, 1991; Preschool Education Act, 1997). Building on these regulations, the National Curriculum of ECEC (2014) has family-school partnership as one of the principles. However, the view of the parents’ role in education changed depending on the position parents had in relation to educational institutions. It is important to point out that the emphasis on the importance of this relationship may be considered as a positive shift in the relationship between parents and teachers. Although the state has provided partnership to parents in education, the legislation itself is not enough to make parents and teachers really work as partners and collaborators. In practice, the responsibility for establishing and maintaining this effective partnership is on the teachers.

 
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