Since 2013, there has been a standard approach to handwriting education: students learn print letters in first grade, and continuous cursive handwriting in second grade.
The Ministarstvo znanosti i obrazovanja, or Ministry of Science and Education, is responsible for administering all aspects of education in Croatia. This includes the development of the national curriculum, approval of textbooks, and the introduction of pedagogical standards and regulations. The Ministarstvo also establishes educational institutions and ensures that they are run in accordance to the country’s laws regarding education.
In Croatia, education is almost entirely public, and as of 2007, the government stopped co-financing private schools. The system is divided into four levels: preschool, which is available for children from six months until school age; elementary school, which starts at age 6 or 7 and lasts for 8 years; followed by secondary school and higher education. Of these, only elementary school is compulsory.
The education system places a strong emphasis on language, recognising the vital role it plays in cultural preservation and communication. The government has taken several steps to protect and foster Croatian, the official language in educational institutions, while also acknowledging the importance of ethnic and regional minority tongues, and promoting foreign language education, which has been compulsory in primary schools since 2003. In areas where ethnic minorities comprise a majority of the population, the minority language is recognised as the second official language.
The Ministarstvo runs a comprehensive website that provides detailed weekly work plans for core subjects, including Croatian, for grades 1–4, as well as guidelines for the implementation of the curriculum in other languages, like English, French, Serbian, Czech, and German.
Instruction in handwriting happens during grades 1 and 2, and is clearly divided into two stages. In first grade, students match letters with sounds, and learn to recognise them in the context of words. This is done using simplified print letters, which are also the first shapes they learn to write. Uppercase and lowercase letters are learned simultaneously. In second grade, students must write using rukopisno pismo, or school handwriting, which is a continuous and fully joined cursive, with short and looped ascenders and descenders. This model is specified in the weekly work plan provided by the Ministarstvo for implementing its curriculum.
Standardising models for handwriting instruction
Historically, handwriting in Croatia has been influenced by two foreign models. The first was English Roundhand, which was prevalent in England and elsewhere in Europe at the turn of the last century. The second was Schulausgangsschrift from Eastern Germany (DDR).
In 1970, educator Edo Vajnaht proposed his school script that was used in Croatia until recently, and it bore notable similarities to Schulausgangsschrift, which was introduced two years prior.
Until 2013, the situation of handwriting instruction was described by Professor Siniša Reberski as “chaotic”. Private publishers produced books presenting different handwriting models, there was a lack of uniformity even within individual schools, and in some cases, teachers were even allowed to use their own handwriting as the primary exemplar.
Cover and sample pages, Edo Vajnaht Dobro Jutro Pocetnica Za 1 Razred Osnovne Skole
The seeds for standardisation were sown in 2007 when the Ministarstvo promoted a series of research projects under the name Jezično-likovni standardi u početnom čitanju i pisanju na hrvatskom jeziku (MZOS-227-2270729-0719), or Linguistic and artistic standards in initial reading and writing in the Croatian language. This produced a number of outputs that were focused on the teaching of Croatian, especially reading and writing education. Among them was a handbook for handwriting education in the country called Početno pisanje na hrvatskom jeziku by Ante Bežen and Reberski. It was published in 2014 by the Institut za hrvatski jezik i jezikoslovlje, or Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics.
Based on the results of additional scientific research conducted at the Faculty of Teacher Education, University of Zagreb as part of the 2007 initiative, Reberski also designed a series of fonts that supported the methods described in the handbook. The fonts propose a system that comprises two models: školsko formalno pismo, or school formal alphabet, which features unjoined letters, and školsko rukopisno pismo, or cursive alphabet. Students begin with školsko formalno pismo in its upright form. Next, they learn its italic variant, which acts as a precursor to learning the cursive hand. While školsko rukopisno pismo exists primarily in a sloped version, its upright style is used as an aid for left-handed students who might struggle with slanted writing.
In 2013, the Ministarstvo adopted this system as the standard handwriting instruction model for schools in Croatia.