Barbara Japelj Pavešić
Karmen Svetlik
Educational Research Institute

Overview of Education System

Slovenia is a Central European country with a population of 2,063,077 (as of June 2015), one third of which is younger than 30 years old.1 The Constitution of Slovenia guarantees free education for all students from Grades 1 to 13, as well as university studies up to ISCED Level 5. Education is compulsory up to Grade 9 of elementary school. At the beginning of the 2013–2014 school year, there were 162,932 Slovenian students ages 6 to 15 enrolled in 453 elementary schools, with 330 affiliates of these schools providing instruction for Grades 1 to 5 only. In the same year, 1,846 students were recognized as children with special needs and were enrolled in programs with accommodations.2 With the exception of four private schools, all Slovenian elementary schools are public.3

In Slovenia, administrative responsibilities for education are distributed among national authorities, local authorities, and schools. At the national level, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport is responsible for developing and implementing educational policies for all pretertiary education, including music, adult studies, and special needs education.4 The Organization and Financing of Education Act5 and the Elementary School Act6 describe the basic principles of compulsory schooling up to Grade 9, and determine the following: the requisite number of school days and holidays; school entry, grading, and remedial policies; and education policies for children with special needs. Every year, ministry decrees provide updated lists of approved textbooks, the school calendar, financial policies for schools, and policies and amounts of governmental financial support.7 The Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport also supervises the management of schools: setting requirements concerning employment of teachers, staff, and educational facilities; specifying standards and criteria for teaching and funding; and determining enrollment procedures and the rights and duties of students, teachers, and other employees. Lastly, the ministry specifies knowledge assessments and oversees the National Examination Center, which prepares and conducts external national examinations in Grades 6 and 9 for mathematics, Slovene language, foreign languages, and in Grade 9, one additional subject determined by the ministry. This center also prepares the final examination, the Matura, for the end of general academic secondary school (Grade 13).8

At the regional level, the National Education Institute provides a link between the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport and local schools, with each school assigned to one of the institute’s regional offices.9 Subject matter specialists from the institute offer schools professional counseling and help implement curricular changes and new teaching methods and technologies (e.g., Information and Communications Technology). The institute also prepares and implements regular teacher professional development at the regional level, and develops new teaching strategies through collaboration with teachers.

Local authorities are responsible for maintaining school buildings and facilities. The ministry selects elementary and secondary school principals according to recommendations from local authorities, schools, and school boards. Each school’s principal and board are responsible for hiring teachers and making decisions about the school’s day-to-day work.10

The Council of Experts for General Education, the consultative body of the government, and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport make decisions regarding education from kindergarten to the end of general academic preuniversity programs. The Council of Experts adopts national curricula, standards of knowledge, and external examination content. It also approves textbooks, which are reviewed by the National Education Institute and its Curriculum Council, the National Examination Center. The National Research Institute is responsible for providing the ministry with research findings, proposals for educational changes, and data from national and international research studies, as well as from national evaluations of implemented educational system reforms.11

The Slovenian education system consists of preschool education (1- to 6-year-old children), compulsory elementary education (Grades 1 to 9), secondary education (Grades 10 to 13), and higher tertiary education.12,13 Preschool education is provided in kindergartens and includes daycare, meals, and education emphasizing the individuality of each child, following the national curriculum for kindergartens.14 More than three quarters of all children enroll in kindergarten, and the government encourages enrollment in kindergartens with financial support for parents.15

Elementary education lasts nine years and is divided into three 3-year cycles. The compulsory portion of elementary education comprises regular morning lessons and “activity days”—individual days reserved for subject-focused activities. In the afternoon, schools offer optional activities such as art, music, sports, and foreign languages. Schools also provide educational assistance for children with special needs, additional remedial and advanced classes for main school subjects, and after school care in Grades 1 to 6.

Secondary education is offered at two year to four year vocational and technical secondary schools and at four year general secondary schools, called gymnasia. Completing gymnasia studies and passing a national examination in which they culminate (Matura) are prerequisites for entrance to any academic course of study at the university level. In a gymnasium, subjects are taught at the most advanced level and there is no tracking or streaming. Most students (40 percent of each age cohort) choose gymnasia and pass the Matura, and enter university studies. Technical secondary schools offer the national vocational Matura examination at the end of Grade 4. Passing this examination is required for higher vocational programs or technical studies at the high school or university level, but does not qualify students to continue on the academic track.

Exhibit 1 presents an overview of the education levels and the mathematics and science subjects taught at each level.

Exhibit 1: Levels of Education in Slovenia

Level Ages General Description Mathematics and Science
Subjects Offered
Younger Group
Older Group
Not compulsory; provides 4 to 9 hours of daycare and learning activities, based on national curriculum for kindergarten Mathematics, science, language, society, art, and sports as separate areas of the curriculum, with specific and defined learning goals and proposed activities for each age group
Elementary Education
Grades 1–3 6–9 Compulsory; all subjects taught by a general classroom teacher Mathematics and environmental education
Grades 4–6 9–12 Compulsory; general classroom teacher in Grades 4 and 5 for all but up to two specific subjects (e.g., music, English, sports) taught by specialists; specialist teachers for all subjects in Grade 6 Mathematics; science and technology in Grades 4 and 5; natural science in Grade 6; all compulsory
Grades 7–9 12–15 Compulsory; specialist teachers for all subjects; students choose additional subject(s) for 3 hours per week, from science or an area of social science from school options Mathematics in Grades 7 to 9; natural science and geography in Grade 7; physics, chemistry, biology, and geography in Grades 8 and 9; all compulsory;  optional subjects from science area: experiments in chemistry, astronomy, computer science, and astronomy
Secondary Education
(Grades 10–13)
15–19 Not compulsory; offers the most advanced programs in all subjects; completing gymnasium and passing the Matura (final examination) with three compulsory and two optional subjects required for university study Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and geography are compulsory subjects; mathematics is taught in all four grades and science subjects in at least three grades; mathematics is a compulsory subject on the final Matura examination, while the examinations from science subjects are only required for some fields of future university study (e.g., science and medicine)
Other Secondary Schools
(Grades 10–12 or
15–18 or 19 Not compulsory; technical and other specific secondary schools or vocational schools; allows students to enter nonacademic, postsecondary programs Mathematics and science subjects taught as compulsory subjects in most grades, but difficulty level is lower than in gymnasia
Tertiary Education
Academic University Study 19 and older Not compulsory; most studies are in the form of consecutive three year undergraduate program, two year master’s degrees, and three year doctoral degrees (first, second, and third levels of study according to the Bologna reform)16 Mathematics and/or science courses compulsory for STEM studies
Nonacademic Postsecondary 19 and older Not compulsory; two year to three year programs to attain specific knowledge or vocational skills

Elementary and secondary schools support the well-being of each child. Students from economically disadvantaged families receive additional support for school meals and transportation to schools. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport and the Ministry for Health together provide all students with general and dental health prevention programs during school hours.

Mathematics and science subjects are an important part of elementary and secondary education. Assessment in mathematics is compulsory in all national examinations (Grades 6, 9, and 13). The grades on the mathematics and Slovene language of the national examination in Grade 9 are used as selection criteria for entering secondary school. Because all future university students have to finish gymnasia with Matura, almost half of the age cohort receives preuniversity science and mathematics education at the most advanced level and passes the final mathematics examination at the end of preuniversity education.17

Optional lessons in advanced mathematics for interested students are offered in most elementary schools. All students may compete in national competitions in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics at the school level, and top achievers continue on to regional and national level competitions. The most successful students are awarded a small financial grant for gifted students (e.g., the Zois stipend) during their secondary schooling.

The ministry also supports elementary students’ informal learning of mathematics and science financially. Through the Program for Young Researchers, students can work on a one year research project in mathematics, science, computer science, economics, or another academic area of interest under the supervision of their specialist subject teacher and compete for awards given by the Organization for Technical Culture of Slovenia.18 Other institutions or organizations, such as the House of Experiments, the Technical Museum of Slovenia, the Festival of Science, and nature camps provide mathematics and science learning activities during regular school days or special activity weeks.19,20

Languages of Instruction

The official language is Slovene (also referred to as Slovenian). According to the 2002 Census, approximately 0.1 percent of the population living in Slovenia comprised members of the Italian minority and 0.3 percent members of the Hungarian minority.21 In the northeastern part of Slovenia (Prekmurje), all schools are bilingual (Slovene and Hungarian), while in the southwestern part of Slovenia (Slovenian Istra), the language of instruction is Slovene or Italian. In TIMSS, Slovenia tested students in Slovene only. Italian minority schools were not included in the TIMSS sample, while students from bilingual Hungarian minority schools were given TIMSS instruments in Slovene.