Despite latest trends, great majority of pupils attend optional religious studies in elementary and secondary schools.
In Croatia, Krapina-Zagorje County holds the record with as much as 98.79 percent of all elementary students attending Catholic religious studies, while the smallest share of students, 65.58 percent, attends religious studies in Istrian Country. In primary and secondary schools, Catholic religious studies are attended by 86.10 percent of students, Orthodox studies by 0.67 percent, Islamic studies by 0.59 percent, while non-religious ethics classes are chosen by 17.94 percent of high school students, reports Večernji List on November 23, 2016.
From a total of 323,845 pupils in primary schools in the 2015/2016 school year, Catholic religious studies were attended by 291,464 pupils, Orthodox by 2,623, and Islamic by 2,019 students. In secondary schools, out of 169,228 students in the same school year, Catholic studies were attended by 133,070 students, Orthodox by 701, and Islamic by 409 students, while 30,359 students chose to attend non-religious ethics classes.
In the four years from 2012 to 2016, the share of students choosing Catholic religious studies fell by 1.3 percent. The largest decrease was recorded in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (2.95 percent) and Istrian County (2.8 percent), followed by Varaždin County (1.88 percent) and City of Zagreb (1.81 percent). The only county in which the share has increased is Lika-Senj county (2.14 percent).
Fran Staničić from the Faculty of Law in Zagreb, who teaches Religion, Law and Society course, is not surprised by the number of pupils who attend religious classes, since it is part of the Croatian traditional culture. “It is not possible to remove religious classes from schools, because Croatia is committed to it by an international treaty signed with the Holy See. I do not see any problem with religious classes being taught in schools, but the teaching methods should be different. The main problem is that in primary schools there is no replacement for those who do not attend religious classes, which can lead to feelings of exclusion for those children. This should be avoided by introducing a replacement course or by scheduling religious classes as the first or the last class in the day”, said Staničić. “In some countries, there are religious studies in schools, while in others there are not. It is wrong to insist on secularism in Croatia because Croatia is not a secular state in terms of the strict separation between the church and the state.”
Religions sociologist Ivan Markešić agreed that the problem was the fact that religious studies classes are usually scheduled for middle of a school day and that no substitute courses, such as ethics or religious culture, are offered to students in primary schools.