A Quick Guide to Slovenian Schools
One of the most important considerations for families thinking of relocating to another country is the children’s education. In part this can depend on whether the move is temporary, for example when one, or both, of the parents has been seconded by their employer, or permanent. The age of the children at the time of the move also influences the choice of school — local or international. Those whose stay is likely to be short term or whose children are close to completing their education mostly opt for international schools. Conversely, families who intend to stay at least a few years choose to send their children to local schools. In this article we give an overview of the Slovenian education system and share the experience of some families who have moved to Slovenia with children.
In the Slovenian system, the first stage of formal schooling, osnovna šola or primary school, starts at the age of 5 or 6. It finishes at the age of 14 or 15 when pupils either move on to the gimnazija (often translated as grammar school) , or a srednja šola. The latter translates as middle school, but is closer to the idea of a career-specific vocational college. At the gimnazija students take a course of traditional academic subjects with the expectation of progressing to university. Although the srednja šola is directed at a specific vocational area, it is still possible to progress to university. Additionally, a few gimnazija also combine academic schooling with some vocational options. Such schools cover work areas such as gastronomy/catering, health, IT, hairdressing, and computing.
From the first to the fifth grades, children stay in the same class group and have the same teacher. Some schools have separate teachers for sports, music and art. First they learn the basics of reading, writing and counting. The first subject areas are Slovene (or Italian or Hungarian if they live in an area where those populations predominate), maths, natural and social sciences, music, physical education and art. Foreign language learning starts as early as in the first grade. For most schools, that means English. A, an English woman who has seen two girls through the Slovenian system, says that when the Slovenian children were in English class, the English children got extra Slovene lessons.
From the 6th grade, classes are divided between a form teacher and several specialist teacher. The core subjects are Slovenian, one foreign language (English, Italian or Hungarian), PE, music, geography, history and art. Later in this second stage of primary school, sciences and other subjects join the curriculum. In the seventh, eighth and ninth grade students can choose additional subjects, usually depending on the particular skills of the teachers at the school.
At the end of the 9th grade, schoolchildren sit the National Knowledge Assessment Test. A combination of the student’s score in the test and previous attainment decide the direction from the age of 15 (to 19). The highest achieving tend to go on to the gimnazija but some students set on a particular area of work might prefer a vocational course. The four years at the gimnazija end with the final examination, the Matura.
Those choosing the vocational path finish a year earlier. Slovenia is currently developing an apprenticeship scheme to give students more opportunities to learn on the job.
The British International School in Ljubljana and the Ljubljana International School (which follows an American-based curriculum) are long established international schools in Slovenia. They both take children from kindergarten to the end of secondary school. There is also the École Française internationale de Ljubljana. The school takes children from kindergarten to 18.
The Vector International Academy, also in Ljubljana, offers a high school programme for students from 15 to 18 and prepares them for the International Baccalaureate. The Danilo Kumar International School takes children from the age of 3 to 15 and prepares for the International Baccalaureate. Children from more than 40 countries have studied there.
In Maribor, a new international school opened this year as part of one of the city’s most respected high schools.
A Slovenian school or an international school?
Many families ask this question when making the decision to move to Slovenia. The international schools in Slovenia are highly regarded: those families who moved permanently say the Slovenian school system is excellent and that their children have thrived in it. Schools encourage participation in extra-curricular activities like music and sports clubs. There are opportunities to take part in community events as well as field trips, sometimes residential.
Extra help is available to support children whose first language is not Slovenian. Therefore, children learn quickly and are soon able to communicate naturally with their peers (and help out their slower-to-learn parents occasionally too).