This is the first time that all first graders will be getting free textbooks (Photo: Vedran Zganec Rogulja/PIXSELL) This is the first time that all first graders will be getting free textbooks (Photo: Vedran Zganec Rogulja/PIXSELL)

All primary school students are getting free textbooks this year. Some schools will also be operating on a different calendar, giving them more breaks during the year, but each lasting fewer days. The new school year also brings the launch of the new school curriculum, the School for Life program, which is starting in all first, fifth, and seventh grades of primary school and for all first year high school students.

This is the first time that all first graders will be getting free textbooks, whereas before only some cities, like Zagreb, paid for the books out of their budgets. Parents are also eager to find out just what kind of changes the new program will bring.

Education Minister Blaženka Divjak underscored that the reformed curriculum will unburden students of rote learning and will focus on critical thinking and creativity.

"We are not just opening our doors to students today, we are opening the doors of our schools to the future," Divjak said.

The new program will not only affect 150 thousand students, but 40 thousand teachers, who have been preparing for months. Some had said that they received too little "live" training for the new program, while others said on-line workshops and resources were plentiful and instructive.

High school students are expecting to spend less time memorizing and more time thinking and problem-solving.

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was in Sesvete on Monday to lend her support to the incoming first graders in local schools there.

"School, for me, has to bring you joy, as well as give you knowledge, and teach you mutual respect and social skills," she told reporters.

The Ministry also reports that there was an increase in trade schools this year for the first time in some years. This comes after the trade school curriculum was also overhauled.

There are around 500 fewer first graders this year than in 2018. That number reflects Croatia's declining birth rate. Even more strikingly, there are no first graders enrolled this year in 137 schools around the country and many districts are closing facilities in small rural communities. Leading that list are Vukovar-Srijem County and Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. The decline is not the case everywhere, however. In Split, more than 1700 first graders started school today.