A. Kisic, M. Hudjek

Varaždinska Županija (CROATIA)
Varaždin County, one of the twenty counties in Croatia, places a great emphasis on educational strategy. According to the law, in Croatia the counties are authorized to control the network of primary and secondary schools. This is why Varaždin County has found partners for its development in 33 primary and 14 secondary schools with around 20 000 students altogether. The county has started the project of the Centers of Excellence, which work on detecting and including the most prominent students from different schools. The goal is to create a county that is prominent for its technological advances, innovations and places a great emphasis on education and knowledge.

This unique project was started in 2007 and it develops continually. The Centers of Excellence are aimed at students with special talents, students who are successful and are eager to expand their knowledge. Every Saturday they come to Varaždin, the County's capital, where they do additional work guided and mentored by the top teachers. The project is logistically well organized, so the students have free transport and meal. Basically, everything is aimed at the student and the process of acquiring new skills and knowledge. The first Centres of Excellence were organized for Maths, Physics and ICT because in Croatia the number of students who decide to study these subjects at universities is continually decreasing. In more developed countries, the skills acquired by learning these subjects are among the most important factors of development. In the past, Maths and Physics served as the basis for the development of technical, technological, biological, medical and other sciences, and combined with ICT their importance is even greater.

Due to the growing interest, the County's Department of Education has started new centres which have been given all the necessary logistical and financial support. During the school year that ended in June, there were 9 Centres of Excellence altogether (besides Maths, Physics and ICT, there were also Centres for Entrepreneurship, Chemistry and Croatian, as well as the last three organized – Biology, Communications and New Technologies). Due to the growing interest of the students, some Centres have introduced entrance exams, which serve as a guarantee that the students will be able to keep up with the demanding programme for the talented ones. There are some 800 students in the system at the moment (top 4%), who are guided by around 100 mentors, all of which are the County's top experts.

This unique project is supported and acknowledged by the community and the Croatian Ministry of Education, but it is entirely financed from Varaždin County's budget. The costs for this year are around 300 000 €, which is approximately 1% of the County's overall budget. This is only one among the many County's projects that are aimed at education (54% of the budget is directed at education).

The value and importance of the project is best represented by the fact that Varaždin County has 27 state champions in different subjects and disciplines from primary and secondary schools, 28 vice champions and 24 students who were placed third. This is the results of the work of the Centres of Excellence as well as other projects in education, such as building gyms or expanding schools. Varaždin County is the only county in Croatia where the majority of the students (87%) attend classes only in the morning.