Education is one of Varaždin County’s priority objectives. Through school construction models and the building and upgrading of school and sports facilities, conditions have been created for the implementation of quality educational programs that greatly exceed legally prescribed standards. This approach especially targeted talented student groups who required a different approach to work that utilises modern teaching methods and access to aids which were not present in the conventional teaching process.
Varaždin County began working with gifted mathematics and physics students during the 2002/2003 school year, incorporating additional classes that took place in Varaždin County primary and secondary schools. A year later, in the 2003/2004 school year, Varaždin County launched a Supplementary Tutorial Project with Talented IT Students, which aimed to promote an interest in information technology in primary and secondary school students and equate this work with talented information technology students. Project implementation was supported by the Croatian Information Technology Society. Additional classes for students were conducted in the form of ‘winter’ and ‘spring’ information technology camps, i.e. during the winter or spring holidays. These classes were held in 16 locations.
The reason why additional classes were initiated in these areas lies in the fact that mathematics and physics are the foundation of the development of technical, technological, biological, medical and other sciences in the past and, together with computer science, they have a special significance for the development of not only these subjects, but also many other sciences and activities. Their importance, amongst other things stems from the fact that, in order that students can enrol in secondary schools, their good if not excellent results in mathematics and physics are the most commonly required criterion. It is well known that, within Croatia, fewer students opt for science, mathematics and technical studies, while in developed countries knowledge and expertise in these areas are amongst the most important factors in progression. Varaždin County had already recognised the importance of additional investment in STEM programmes 15 years ago.
An analysis of this work with talented students was conducted and the main disadvantages of such an organisational structure were identified: work with students took place at multiple locations and involved an uneven standard of school equipment, groups and an ability-based classroom system, but the system was expensive and year-on-year there was a steady increase in the number of students interested in additional classes. This analysis led to identifying the following objectives: to organise student’s work in a single location for both primary and secondary schools, which aimed to promote generational solidarity, provide an even standard of equipment and access and use of new technologies, provide students with the best mentors, and in turn ultimately create a more efficient and cheaper system. All this was made possible when centres of excellence were first organised in the manner that they are organised today.
The first centre of excellence that started working was the Centre for Excellence in Mathematics, which was founded at the Varaždin Secondary Mechanical Engineering and Transport School in 2007. Branko Topić, a Professor of Mathematics, was Head of the Centre. Today, the Centre for Excellence in Mathematics has 180 students and 21 mentors. Participants at the Centre have achieved significant results at national competitions and participated in international competitions and Olympiads. So far, the Centre has organised 3 Mathematics Festivals of Varaždin County, in which over 1,100 students and 200 mentors have participated.
The next Centre that was established was the Centre of Excellence in Physics which was founded in 2008. The Centre’s headquarters are based in the Varaždin Secondary Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School. Damir Kliček, a Professor of Physics at the Varaždin Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School, is Head of the Secondary School Centre, and Damir Švelec, a Physics Professor at Sakcinski Ivanec Primary School, is Head of the Primary School Centre. The aim of the Centre for Excellence in Physics is to discover talented students and develop their abilities for research work, scientific thinking and problem solving through the themes of physics – a fundamental natural science based on the development of modern technologies, medicine and many other interdisciplinary areas.
In 2009, work started on the Centre for Excellence in Information Technology in the Varaždin Grammar School. Because of its outstanding results and excellent equipment, this School has also passed on its rich and positive experience to the Centre. Every year, primary and secondary school students are offered a variety of workshops, ranging from multimedia to programming, which include specially prepared competitions for all categories and levels. The mission of the Centre for Excellence in Information Technology is to develop and advance students in the application, development, and programming of information technology, with the ultimate goal being participation in competitions, further education and the labour market.
Entrepreneurship, especially student entrepreneurship, is an important part of the educational process. At the primary educational level this is achieved through student cooperatives that represent activities as an important educational element, and the goals, tasks and programmes of the student cooperatives are determined within a school and are appropriate to the needs of the wider society and aim to develop local and traditional skill-sets within the environment in which a school operates. At secondary school level, student entrepreneurship is also realised through school cooperatives and ‘practice companies’. Because of the need to disseminate the knowledge in entrepreneurship, in the 2010/2011 school year the Centre of Excellence in Entrepreneurship was established at Varaždin’s Secondary Business School, and Katica Kalogjera Novak is currently the Head. Students at the Centre acquire entrepreneurial knowledge and skills required to independently and successfully establish and manage companies.
The Centre for Excellence in Chemistry, with its headquarters in Varaždin School of Construction, Natural Science and Mining, was founded in the 2010/2011 school year. The goal of the Centre of Excellence in Chemistry is to develop the habits of close observation of all events, independent and critical reflection on these observations and the independent formation of conclusions and ultimately opinions on these events. Chemistry, as a subject, serves as an ideal field in which skills and abilities can be developed. In this way students can acquire knowledge that is useful in their everyday lives, no matter what profession they choose in the future. The Centre of Excellence in Chemistry teachings are similar to scientific research strategies. It starts with problems and assumptions. Students then experiment, individually or in groups, to check an assumption or solve a problem and, on the basis of their results, then make a conclusion. The Head of the Centre for Primary Schools is Mihaela Vrbnjak Grđan, a Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the 6th Varaždin Primary School, the Centre for Secondary Schools is headed by Vesna Vrček, a Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the Varaždin School of Construction, Natural Science and Mining.
The Centre of Excellence in Croatian has operated at the Varaždin Secondary Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School since the 2010/2011 school year. Head of the Centre for Secondary Schools is Valentina Šinjori, and Head of the Centre for Primary Schools the Professor Nataša Sedlar from the Ludbreg Primary School. The Centre has a wide range of activities, and offers interesting and active language learning, broadens knowledge of language and literature, encourages student research and creativity, develops collaboration and communication skills and enables use of this acquired knowledge. Many years of work at the Centre for Excellence in Croatian resulted in the launch of First School Television.
The Centre for Excellence in Biology was founded in 2013 and its headquarters are in the First Varaždin Grammar School. Head of the Centre is Martina Vidović, a Professor of Biology at the First Varaždin Grammar School. Work at the Centre is based on research and experiential learning, problem solving, and the design and implementation of independent student research. With the active adoption of these working principles, students strive to develop the skills required to observe and detect cause-and-effect relationships in nature, draw conclusions and use creative and critical thinking that incorporates modern technology in data collection, statistical processing and graphic presentation and analysis of the results obtained, providing development of the skills necessary to pursue higher education, scientific activity and more successful inclusion on the labour market.
In 2013 work started at the Centre for Excellence in New Technologies (CENT) which operates at the Varaždin Secondary Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School. The purpose of CENT’s work is to provide primary and secondary school students with the requisite knowledge for further education and work. CENT offers innovative, customised programmes to primary and secondary school students that enable an increase in knowledge in the field of new technologies, thus responding to the demands that global developmental trends have set before us.
The Centre of Excellence for Communication was founded and has operated under this title since 2013 in the Novi Marof Secondary School, when it joined the County Network of Centres of Excellence. However the active teaching of communication skills has been going on since 2008, when the Novi Marof Secondary School opened an Education – Communication Centre. Currently the Centre is headed by Snježana Pejnović, BSc. Psy. (Novi Marof Secondary School). This Centre is unlike other Centres, as it educates both teaching and non-teaching staff.
The goals of the Centre of Excellence for Communication are as follows:
• Identifying talented students at Varaždin County schools for inclusion in programmes at other Centres of Excellence,
• Producing individual profiles of those students attending Centres of Excellence,
• Providing recommendations to mentors drawing up enrichment programmes on the basis of the individual profiles of talented students,
• Support, educate and advise teachers, teaching assistants, headmasters/headmistresses, mentors, parents of talented students, talented students with special needs on the provision of appropriate work programmes for talented students, advise on professional orientation, etc.,
• Develop research on identifying and improving work programmes for talented students in addition providing educational tools and material,
• Work on a public awareness campaign for the needs of talented students,
• Develop and implement a programme of mental strengthening and preparation for talented students.
• Develop and implement a work programme for talented students in the field of creative thinking development,
• Include talented student in E-twinning programmes, and
• Cooperate with other European locations to exchange knowledge and experience on talented students.
Varaždin County supported the founding of the Centre of Excellence in Handball at the 1930 Varaždin Handball Club. The Centre of Excellence in Handball started work in the 2014/2015 school year. The basic task of the Centre include: intensive and professional educational for younger age categories, maintaining competitive standards and training and educating the professional staff.