Milica Marušić
Institute for Educational Research
Vesna Kartal
Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation

Overview of Education System

In the Republic of Serbia, education is managed and regulated by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development. The Ministry has the following responsibilities: research, planning, development, and supervision of preschool, elementary, secondary, and higher education and the organization, evaluation, and supervision of employees in the education sector.1 Within the Ministry, the Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation and the Institute for Education Improvement are responsible for conducting evaluation, research, and development in education at the national level. The National Education Council monitors and analyzes the status of education at all levels within its authority (i.e., preschool, elementary, general, and artistic secondary education). The National Education Council determines general and specific standards for student achievement, standards for the teaching profession, and standards of quality for educational institutions; the council also approves curricula and proposes final and Matura examinations, textbooks, and teaching aids for the Ministry. At the same time, the Vocational Education and Adult Education Council independently develops a list of educational profiles, standards of achievement, curricula, and a qualifications framework, and facilitates connections between education and the labor market for the sectors of education under its authority.2

The national curricula prescribe the number of classes, teaching goals, and objectives for each subject, determine subject content for every grade level, and provide detailed instructions for teachers to follow when teaching the subjects. The curricula are used as a basis for evaluating education in schools. Teachers are granted a degree of flexibility in implementing the curriculum as long as they follow the prescribed goals (i.e., in certain subjects the number of classes for certain topics is prescribed, while in other subjects teachers are allowed to determine how many classes to devote to certain topics). The curricula for certain subjects contain prescribed teaching units and a prescribed annual number of classes, and allow teachers the flexibility to determine the number of classes to devote to each unit. The curricula for other subjects (e.g., The World Around Us in the first and second grades of primary school) prescribe the teaching units, as well as the number of classes for their implementation.

The management of education in Serbia is highly centralized, especially the financial aspect. The strategy for the development of education in Serbia envisions greater pedagogical autonomy of schools by 2020, encouraging school initiative, as well as greater autonomy of teachers as pedagogical and subject experts.3

The Serbian education system is organized in the following levels: preschool education (ISCED Level 0); first cycle of primary education (ISCED Level 1); second cycle of primary education (ISCED Level 2); secondary education (ISCED Level 3); basic academic and vocational studies (ISCED Levels 5 or 6), which last three or four years; master academic and vocational studies, as well as specialist studies (ISCED Level 7); and doctoral studies (ISCED Level 8).4,5

Preschool education is provided in nurseries (for children ages 6 months to 2 years) and kindergartens (for children ages 3 to 7). Preschool providers develop their own program guided by unified basic principles for the preschool curriculum. Since 2006–2007, preparatory preschool education for at least nine months has been compulsory.6

Primary education is compulsory and free of charge, and consists of two cycles: general classroom teaching in Grades 1 to 4 and subject teaching in Grades 5 to 8. Compulsory education totals nine years in Serbia (preschool education included). Children enroll in the first grade when they are 6½ to 7½ years old (in exceptional cases, enrollment may be postponed for one year). At the end of primary school, students take a final examination intended to evaluate student attainment of general standards. Enrollment in secondary school does not depend on passing the examination. Some secondary schools require students to pass an entrance examination that demonstrates extraordinary skills.7 Secondary education is free, lasts three or four years, and takes place in secondary schools. After completing the fourth year of secondary school, students take the Matura examination, which is used to determine eligibility for enrollment in higher education.8

Tertiary education comprises academic and vocational basic studies (three to four years), after which students may pursue master academic or vocational studies or specialist studies (one to two years). Students may continue their formal education with doctoral studies (three years), which prepare students for independent scientific research. At state universities, education is free for a specified number of students with the exception of doctoral studies, for which students must pay tuition fees.9

Since 2012, the standards for evaluating the quality of educational institutions have been regulated with the newly introduced practice of evaluating educational institutions externally at least once every five years.10

Languages of Instruction

Education in the Republic of Serbia is carried out in the Serbian language. For members of an ethnic minority it may be carried out in their mother tongue. The minority languages in Serbia are Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, Hungarian, Macedonian, German, Romany, Romanian, Ruthenian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Croatian, and Czech. Teaching is provided in a minority language if there are at least 15 students for whom the language is the mother tongue at the time of enrollment in the first grade of primary education. (In some cases, native language teaching may be implemented for a smaller number of students.)11 According to data from 2011, primary school teaching was offered in Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Croatian.12