Ilja Lavrnja/Anita Klapan

Anita Klapan and Ilija Lavrnja, who is now sadly deceased, take a comparative look at the situation of adult education in Croatia and Slovenia, which have been independent states since they split away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. They examine the common history of Adult Education, and the differences. Anita Klapan works at the Department of Pedagogy in the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Rijeka, Croatia.

International Co-operation

Comparative Analysis of the Network of Adult Education Institutions in Croatia and Slovenia


The Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Slovenia were established as independent states after their separation from former Yugoslavia. The two republics had formed a Federation of Yugoslavia together with four other republics (Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia). They gained their independence in 1991 with the break-up of Yugoslavia.

By comparison with the other four republics of former Yugoslavia, Croatia and Slovenia were far more developed, which of course had a great influence on the education system, including adult education. Before entering the Federation of Yugoslavia in 1918, Croatia and Slovenia had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and this had greatly affected their political, educational and cultural development. However, these now independent countries have different cultures and traditions, and different systems of education, especially of adult education. Although both gained independence in 1991, their ways of achieving this were entirely different. Slovenia gained independence relatively easily (without any serious armed conflict), while Croatia, although already an independent country, fought a war for independence from 1991 to 1995. Since 1991 both countries have been coping with the burden of their legacy, as is usually the case with “post-socialist” countries in transition. Unlike Slovenia and other transitional countries, however, Croatia gained independence through war and suffering.

Croatia and Slovenia after the Break-up of Yugoslavia

The Republic of Croatia has an area of 56,542 sq. km. The capital, and the biggest city, is Zagreb. Croatia is situated in Central and Mediterranean Europe, and is surrounded by Slovenia, Hungary, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Italy. In 2001, Croatia had a population of 4,381,352. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, which was officially adopted on 22 December 1990, Croatia is a unified, indivisible democratic and social state, and a parliamentary democracy. After a referendum, Croatian independence was proclaimed on 8 October 1991. Because of war and aggression, the European Union and the United States officially recognized Croatia as an independent state in 1991. In the same year, Croatia became the 178th member of the United Nations, and a member of the IMF in 1993. Since then, Croatia has joined the World Bank and various other international financial and other institutions. Since 1996, Croatia has been a member of the Council of Europe. Croatia has a relatively modern management and industrial structure, in which services account for 65%, agriculture for 10% and industry for 25% of GDP. Croatia does not greatly depend on any special resource and its GDP is around 5 000 US $ per head.

The Republic of Slovenia, like Croatia, is one of the youngest European states and proclaimed its independence on 25 June 1991, just after elections in April. In May of 1992 Slovenia became a member of the United Nations, and today is a member of all relevant international institutions.

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy. Its area is 20,256 sq. km and it has about two million inhabitants. The capital is Ljubljana, with a population of 330,000. It is situated between the Alps and the Adriatic, and borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. As half of its area is covered in woods, Slovenia is the European country with the third largest forest coverage, just after Finland and Sweden, and it is one of the more successful transitional countries.

Adult Education in Croatia and Slovenia – the Basis for a Network of Educational Institutions

Today’s system of adult education in Croatia and Slovenia has to be viewed in the context of previous trends, when the countries were still part of Yugoslavia. At that time, both education and adult education had almost the same characteristics as all the republics within Yugoslavia. However, although their systems were identical, Slovenia and Croatia had some specific characteristics in the fields of education and adult education, which they used in later developments after the break-up.

Adult education was a part of the institutionalized network of workers’ education and people’s universities, education and training centres within enterprises, vocational schools, higher education institutions, schools and departments of adult education (known as andragogy), and some other forms of adult education. Throughout the institutional network of education in Slovenia and Croatia, adult education was largely either compensatory, allowing individuals the chance to correct deficiencies in previous education (to gain elementary literacy, basic education, or various qualifications at different levels), or compulsory for individuals or groups looking for work or wanting to keep their jobs (to meet demands for new vocational skills, higher levels of knowledge, etc.).

Although adult education in Croatia and Slovenia was formally a part of the education system and was supposed to function as a public service and to serve the common good, it was not arranged systematically. The clearest proof of that is that adult education did not receive any official government funding. Being entirely free of public funding, it was therefore financed by individuals, work organizations and enterprises. Educational institutions in Slovenia and Croatia were not very well developed, and although they offered many different courses, they were not accessible to many “consumers” of educational goods. Besides that, adult education had an uncertain legal position, and its position as a public service and social good was not specified. This greatly influenced long-term planning and the shaping of any consistent strategy.

Adult education in Slovenia and Croatia entered a new phase of social, political, economic and educational change after independence and, as in other transitional countries, there was at first great enthusiasm through which great efforts were made to come closer to the Western European democratic countries.

Some useful ideas which could have been used in all fields of social development were discarded along with the less helpful in order to end with the inherited past. This can be seen clearly in the changes planned in education and adult education. A whole new system of education was set up within a very short period: goals, content, curriculum structure, material and technical support, organizational solutions, theoretical and methodological basis of changes, in other words, the entire strategy of education for children and adults. In the process, other components of social change (politics, ideas, management, etc.) that governed the content, direction and pace of transition were not taken into account.

Slovenia started changing the education system relatively calmly and cautiously soon after gaining independence. In 1994, after thorough preparations, a systematic document on educational development strategy, the so-called “White paper on Education in the Republic of Slovenia”, was drawn up. The document is based on research by Slovenian and international experts. Trends in educational development and the philosophy of lifelong learning were taken into account in the strategic plan for education, with the result that adult education not only gained equal status but, by contrast with previous negligence, finally received the recognition that it deserved. We need only mention that since Slovenian independence, adult education has been a part of the public education system and has been sponsored out of the national budget. It was rightly concluded that the system of adult education would not be able to change successfully unless it was helped financially. These changes were followed by many international seminars held in Slovenia, and by research studies, expert reports and experiences gathered at international seminars all over the world. These experiences have been carefully applied to strategic changes within the system.

The situation in Croatia in respect of planned changes to the education system, especially in adult education, is somewhat different. As already mentioned, immediately after independence was proclaimed, war broke out and lasted until 1995. Nevertheless, in 1991 some changes were made in response to social changes and trends. But, with the zeal for change, starting with aims, content, structure, organization and material support, there were too many quick, rash solutions, and they did not have the necessary financial support. Adult education was in an especially inadequate position, and was struggling to deal with problems that resulted from war (work with refugees and the disabled, socialization of soldiers and war victims, work with the unemployed, etc.). Moreover, restructured management had a negative impact on the quite well developed system of adult education. Privatization and the founding of small private companies demanded new profiles of vocational skills, but at the same time there was no investment by private companies in education.

Although adult education formally became part of the public education system, there was also no funding from the national budget. The existing network of adult education organizations changed greatly, many establishments being closed during privatization or transformed into private centres for different forms of formal, non-formal and informal adult education. How far Croatia is behind Slovenia is evident from the fact that an education development strategy in which adult education plays an important part within the concept of lifelong education was not adopted until 2001 in Croatia. Studies are still in the early stages, and as the relevant legislation is not yet in place, problems are resolved through other legal provisions governing education in Croatia. We should add that European institutions did not finance educational research projects in Croatia in the 1990s (including adult education) in the same way that they did in Slovenia and other transitional, post-socialist countries.

The Institutional Network of Adult Education in Croatia and Slovenia – A Comparative Analysis

We should have in mind the differing circumstances when comparing the adult education systems of Croatia and Slovenia, especially the network of adult education institutions. The differences are not so much in the way in which the educational network is organized as in the range, programmes, material and technical equipment, and especially in the funding system and accessibility to all potential users of education.

Comparative analysis of the network of adult education institutions in Slovenia and Croatia reveals a common quest for forms of adult education which will expand educational opportunities for individuals in terms of employment, occupational retraining and mobility, leisure interests, increased quality of knowledge and educational standards, skills needed for economic, technological, cultural and social development, and especially personal individual development. But there is a wide gap between the ideas and the realization. It is not strange that both Croatia and Slovenia started with the same motto: “Croatia – a Learning Society” and “Slovenia – a Learning Country”. Both countries, when creating the network of adult education institutions, started from the concept of lifelong learning, within which adult education is just a part of the entire education system. It is governed by previous phases of formal, non-formal and informal education and conditioned by changes within those sectors of education, but it also has an influence on those sectors and indeed on the whole of lifelong learning.

The network of adult education institutions in Croatia comprises the following:

  • folk high schools, usually called people’s open universities


  • elementary schools, which provide adult education courses


  • secondary schools, which also provide adult education courses


  • higher education colleges and universities, which offer part-time first degree and non-degree courses for people who are working, university diplomas and specialist courses, and postgraduate Master’s and PhD degrees


  • private educational institutions


  • education and training centres within companies


  • the Adult Education (Andragogical) Centre


  • professional societies and unions in the field of adult education


  • various professional associations, societies and organizations which are not mainly educational in nature but provide courses in addition


  • political societies and unions


  • driving schools


  • other organizations


  • Universities of the Third Age

A similar, but slightly more developed, institutional network can be found in Slovenia:

  • folk high schools, usually called people’s universities


  • elementary and secondary schools with special programmes of adult education


  • higher education colleges and universities


  • private educational institutions


  • adult education centres within companies


  • educational centres founded by the Institute of Management of Slovenia, which are now specialized educational institutions


  • schools of management


  • Slovenian Institute for Adult Education


  • Universities of the Third Age


  • informal education within the local community


  • various professional associations, societies, organizations and clubs which are not primarily educational, but provide courses in addition


  • political societies and unions


  • driving schools


  • other organizations and institutions which provide education as an additional (not main) activity

A central place in adult education is occupied by the people’s open universities in Croatia, and in Slovenia, by the people’s universities. There are more than 70 people’s open universities in Croatia, and their programmes vary from basic education and literacy to second- ary-school courses, pre-skills, occupational retraining courses, foreign language courses, computer technology, general education and culture. All people’s open universities are members of the Croatian Adult Education Association which, since 1997, has been a member of the European Association for the Education of Adults, as well as a member of the International Certificate Commission for foreign language learning. Major activities of the Croatian Adult Education Association are training of adult education staff through the Academy of Andragogy (adult education summer schools), research, cooperative projects with international institutions, and publication of “Adult Education” magazine.

Thirty-seven out of about 40 folk high schools (people’s or workers’ universities, “Ljudske univerze”) in Slovenia are members of the Folk High School Association. They function as public institutions and meet local and regional needs for adult education. They also offer a range of flexible courses: elementary and secondary education, pre-skills, occupational retraining and further education, foreign languages and flexible non-formal adult education courses. Local communities and users of education have some influence on the programme of provision, but the role of the local community is above all to offer material help to the users of education, especially in informal and non-formal adult education.

Slovenian and Croatian folk high schools (whether called people’s or workers’ universities) are, as can be seen, very similar both in aims and in course structure, coverage and accessibility. Folk high schools (people’s universities) in Slovenia have a slightly broader range, es­pecially in non-formal and informal education, than people’s open universities in Croatia. The local community and the state play a greater role in these institutions in Slovenia than in Croatia, especially in providing financial support for courses.

Elementary and secondary schools provide adult education courses as part of the ordinary education system in Croatia. Elementary schools provide programmes of elementary (basic) adult education aimed at increasing the general educational level, as well as courses providing the basis for further education. Because of the large number of pupils who do not complete the regular programme of elementary school, elementary education is provided for those aged 15-18, as well as for those over 18. Elementary education is provided through different forms of ordinary teaching, correspondence courses with advisory sessions, seminars, courses, tests and examinations and other forms of organization. Basic adult education can be acquired through a variety of institutions that fulfil the programme and legal requirements for providing elementary education.

A very similar structure can be found in Slovenia, as elementary education can be provided in elementary schools, adult education centres, folk high schools and other institutions of adult education. They offer various models and forms of elementary adult education, such as correspondence courses with advisory sessions, seminars, regular courses and distance education. Legal provision has been made in Slovenia for national funding of local community providers of flexible elementary education for adults.

Besides their normal classes, secondary schools in Croatia offer com­plete secondary programmes for adults, vocational courses, low-level courses, opportunities to retrain for new occupations and advanced training. The secondary school network in Croatia provides relatively wide opportunities to gain a secondary education. Modern methods of education have been adopted: consultancy, mentoring, multi­media, team and individual classes. However, schools are influenced far more by legislation and practice relating to work with children than by specific methods of working with adults.

The Slovenian secondary school system offers a similar structure, with the difference that teachers are more familiar with the theory and practice of adult education and pay more attention to its spe­cific needs, such as new strategies, needs, methods and modern technologies. The local community has some influence through its material support for courses that benefit both the community and the individual.

Given that secondary school education is far more developed than specialized institutions of adult education in both countries, it is nec­essary to develop polyvalent centres within the secondary school system, with special attention to the specific needs of adult educa­tion, expert teachers, specialist infrastructure and material support. Adult education in Slovenia and Croatia is more an extra source of finances than a systematic means of meeting the educational needs of individuals and the local community.

A specific part of the adult education system can be found in ad­vanced and higher education and universities. Part-time courses are available in both countries, accessible to both employed and unemployed adults. The number of individuals interested in higher education, undergraduate and postgraduate studies, is increasing greatly. There are few higher education colleges and universities that provide special centres or care for adult students, and the great ma­jority consider adult education a part of the normal programme. Adult education at university level is increasingly treated as a useful source of financial support rather than as a significant area for separate treat­ment and development.

Education and training within companies is another part of the edu­cational network and was very highly developed in both countries before independence, especially in large enterprises. Nowadays, the number of large enterprises is falling, so that the number of education and training centres, and their structure and functions, are in decline, especially in Croatia. In consequence, company training varies greatly from company to company. On the one hand there are some which have very well developed education and training systems, and on the other hand, a large number of companies have considerably cut back the numbers of staff dealing with adult education.

We can state clearly that education and training in companies has gone backward in both countries in comparison with the previous situation.

Both countries have a private element in the network of adult educa­tion institutions that offers various courses of formal, non-formal and informal adult education (foreign language learning, occupational retraining, skills training, computer technology, special programmes for the unemployed, and specific courses suggested by individuals according to their needs). The number and structure of courses is rising constantly, especially in Slovenia. These institutions respond to changes in the market by devising courses to attract large numbers of individuals.

Management education has a special place within the adult education system in Croatia and Slovenia because it did not even exist in former Yugoslavia for ideological and other reasons. It is only in the last few years that companies in Croatia have organized non-formal manage­ment education. As the system is still not well developed, university departments of economics, experts and professional associations have taken on the task of non-formal education. Formal education is obtainable at university departments of economics, business and tourism within their part-time courses. Lately, some specific post­graduate courses have started to include management, and many academics and experts from both Croatia and around the world are involved in these developments. Although great efforts have been made, developments are still in the early stages and are not keeping pace with the needs of the fast-changing economy.

A similar system can be found in Slovenia, but progress is more noticeable as there are many specialized institutions dealing with management education for adults. There are also numerous “busi­ness schools” which provide various courses. As in Croatia, however, education is mainly provided through universities, professional asso­ciations and large companies. There are more and more universities in Slovenia that offer postgraduate management studies, in cooperation with foreign universities.

However, while the Slovenian system is a bit more developed, both countries should work hard on systems of long-term education within which non-formal and formal education are closely connected and consistent.

Professional unions, societies and organizations which offer pro­grammes of adult education play a very important role within the network, together with associations and organizations which are not educational but offer some educational activities. These institutions play a special role as they offer the largest choice of non-formal and informal education, they organize seminars and other forms of education at the local level or even at international gatherings and symposiums, and they work on the continuing education of adult education staff.

The Slovenian Institute for Adult Education is far more developed than the Croatian Adult Education Centre, as the Slovenian institution has more than 30 full-time employees (the majority of them experts and researchers), while the Croatian has only a few. That says a lot about the potential of the two institutions.

The Croatian Centre supports a variety of research activities in adult education, cooperating with other adult education institutions and organizations. The Centre coordinates adult education institutions, and especially people’s open universities and elementary and sec­ondary schools that provide education for adults. It is proposed that the Croatian Adult Education Centre should become one of the central research and development units within the adult education system in Croatia.

The Slovenian Institute for Adult Education was set up by the Slov­enian Government as a central non-governmental, non-profit organi­zation for adult education research, development and advice. The Institute has many activities, such as research work in education, planning norms and standards for educational development, interna­tional cooperation, etc. The Slovenian Institute for Adult Education is the lead organization for the development of a lifelong learning culture in adult education.

A significant proportion of adult education is provided by professional services, unions, associations, political parties and organizations, re­ligious organizations and various non-governmental organizations which are not registered as educational institutions, but nonetheless organize educational courses for members so that they can work within the goals and structure of the organization. The number of these adult education organizations and institutions is significant and growing in Croatia, and even more so in Slovenia.


From a comparative analysis of the network of adult education institu­tions in Croatia and Slovenia, it can be seen that the two neighbouring countries, which were until 1990 part of former Yugoslavia, had similar starting positions, both in the development of adult education theory and practice, and in their networks of institutions.

There are some specific differences, of course. In shaping their own education systems, both countries have been aiming to bring their system into line with Western European democracy by the quickest route. It is noticeable that today’s institutional networks of adult edu­cation are very similar, as almost identical educational institutions are to be found in both countries. The educational network in Slovenia has been growing ever since independence, while it was held back in Croatia by war. Great progress has been made after the end of the war in 1995, but legislation has still not been enacted, while Slovenia dealt with this matter as early as 1996.

Although the educational network is very similar, the spread, variety and accessibility of the programme have been considerably greater in Slovenia from the very beginning, while Croatia has been addressing these issues only in the last few years.

Slovenia has developed and adopted a national programme of adult education funded by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. Croatia is far behind. However, the Croatian Government and Ministry of Education and Science and Technology have allotted an impor­tant role to adult education in their “development strategy” for social reform in Croatia. No matter what the differences are, it is clear that both Slovenia and Croatia intend to build a modern network of adult education institutions.

In comparison with more developed countries in Europe and ad­vanced transitional countries, Croatia and Slovenia are far behind in the number of institutions, equality of distribution and diversity of provision in different areas of adult education. This is especially the case with programmes for the unemployed (there is a large number of unemployed people in both countries), with occupational retraining courses, and with continuing training and general education.

Moreover, the network of adult education institutions is not adequately supported by technology and innovative solutions specially adapted to specific needs in adult education. Also, there are no centres for research into educational needs, provision and motivation, the influ­ence of the local community is not very significant, and it seems to have been forgotten that education can be valuable if it meets the needs of individuals as well as those of society.

Although the Slovenian infrastructure of adult education is a little more developed than the Croatian, it still needs thorough re-examination. In Croatia there is no institute of adult education which could serve as a central institution for research and development. Secondly, there is no specialized institution to consider specific sectors of adult education (elementary, secondary or higher education, professional education, non-formal and informal education, vocational schools, education for the elderly, etc.).

In Slovenia, educational development has mainly been carried out by the Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy in Ljubljana, the Faculty of Organisational Sciences in Kranj, which belongs to the University of Maribor, the Institute of Pedagogy, the Centre for University Development, and others.

In Croatia, educational development units concerned with adult edu­cation have not been set up in such a way that they are part of higher education. In shaping the network of adult education institutions it is important to take into account research and scientific results, and the opinions of the various social actors interested in adult education.

Some significant research has been carried out specifically into the network of adult education institutions (network foundation and evalu­ation) in Slovenia, while such research is still in the early stages in Croatia. When new networks of educational institutions are planned as part of a modern system of adult education, the burden of the in­herited past and all the difficulties which it caused must be remedied. The firm decision by Slovenia and Croatia to build a new system of education and adult education within the lifelong learning process, and to find solutions comparable with the developed countries, is a good and healthy basis for the political, economic and social reforms already in progress in these two transitional countries. It is very clear: whoever fails to change today will be left behind tomorrow. A critical mass of the population in both countries is heading for social and individual development, in which education and adult education are extremely significant facets of broader changes.

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