Brief Intro to the Serbian School System

A ruler, a notebook, pens and pencils, and other school essentials.

For many kids, school days are the best days of their lives. However, parents being parents can’t help but worry — and that goes double for you if your little one goes to school in a foreign country. Luckily, knowing basic facts about the Serbian school system will make a huge difference.

So, since Serbian education is unique in many ways, we’ll shed light on those peculiarities. Plus, we’ll introduce helpful vocab and phrases to help you navigate this bitter-sweet time.

So, read on to get all the info.

The School Year

There are two signs that it’s September in Serbia — the irresistible smell of ajvar in the air and parents frantically buying school essentials in bookstores and supermarkets.

Yes, the school year in Serbia starts in September. So, the first semester (prvo polugodište) typically lasts until the end of December. Conversely, the second semester (drugo polugodište) starts in January and ends in June.

There are also two long school breaks — summer vacation (letnji raspust) and winter vacation (zimski raspust). Another longish break falls around Orthodox Easter and is called Uskršnji raspust.

Levels of Education in the Serbian School System

Since education levels in the Serbian school system differ from other countries’ systems, we’ll explain each.

Vrtić i predškolsko (Kindergarten and preschool)

The first step of education begins even before actual school starts. Namely, many children go to a vrtić (kindergarten) from a very young age. These can be private or public.

However, not all parents send their kids to kindergarten. In fact, it’s still common for grandparents to take the role of unpaid babysitters. This practice is known as baka servis (grandma service).

And despite its convenience, this tradition can be a double-edged sword. Namely, grandmas and grandpas, as much as they love their grandchildren, tend to undermine the parents’ rules. Expectedly, this often leads to resentment.

But in any case, preschool education is mandatory. So, even the parents who utilize baka service will have to sign their kids up for preschool education for at least one year. Typically, a local elementary school will organize predškolsko (preschool).

The goal is to socialize children and prepare them for school with the help of a preschool teacher (vaspitač/vaspitačica).

Osnovna škola (Elementary School)

Once they turn seven, it’s time for children to start elementary school. In Serbia, elementary education is mandatory and lasts eight years.

It may sound too long, but actually, there’s no middle school in this country. In other words, when students graduate from elementary, they go straight to high school.

The first 4 grades are more basic; there are fewer subjects, taught by a single teacher — učitelj/učiteljica.

Then, from the fifth grade, it’s time for more advanced subjects like geography, physics, and chemistry. This time, each subject has a separate teacher, and these are referred to as nastavnik or nastavnica.

Srednja škola (High School)

Before moving on to high school, students will take prijemni ispit (an entrance exam).

Depending on the results, previous grades, and interests, students can choose between gimnazija (preparatory high school) or stručna srednja škola (vocational high school). This stage lasts between 3 and 4 years, and the teachers are now profesor and profesorka.

Fakultet (University)

After another entrance exam, some students attend higher education. In other words, they go to fakultet (university).

This stage lasts 3-5 years, but more ambitious students can go on to master studies (master studije), or even doctoral studies (doktorske studije).

Regardless of the level of education, the ultimate goal is to obtain a diploma (degree) — and, you know, learn something in the process.

Students throwing graduation hats in the air
Diplomiranje 🎓

International Schools

If you’ve moved to Serbia from abroad, you might want to enroll your child in an International school. After all, there’ll be children from all over the world, and subjects are taught in various world languages, so your kid might benefit from such an environment.

And as long as you’re in Belgrade, you’ll have a good choice of such schools. You can check this link for a list of International schools, including basic info and fees.

The obvious downside of international schools, though, is the pricy tuition fees. On the other hand, public education in Serbia is free. Ultimately, you should weigh your options and choose what’s best for your family.

Marks and Grades (Ocene)

Now let’s talk about what parents are most curious about — the grades. During each semester, students take tests, which can be either written (pismeni) or oral (usmeni).

Each time, they get a mark — ocena. These are taken into consideration when calculating zaključna ocena (final grade).

In the Serbian school system, marks and grades span from 1 to 5, 1 meaning the student failed and 5 being the best. We read them like this:

1 – jedinica

2 – dvojka

3 – trojka

4 – četvorka

5 – petica

As you can see, the lowest grade is jedinica. However, a slang word with the same meaning — kec — is more common. So, if your child comes home from school and tells you Dobila sam keca iz matematike (I got an F in Math), your reaction might be something like this:

A woman with an angry expression, holding her hands up in the air.

The grading system changes at the university level, and grades go from 6 to 10. As 6 is the lowest grade, those who don’t achieve even that will fail the course and have to retake it.

School Subjects (Predmeti)

Next, let’s talk about the subjects. These are the ones that kids need to take from the first grade:

  • Srpski (Serbian language)
  • Matematika (Math)
  • Fizičko (P.E. class)
  • Muzičko (Music)
  • Likovno (Art class)
  • Engleski (English)

Next, here are the subjects that students take in higher grades of elementary school:

  • Geografija (Geography)
  • Biologija (Biology)
  • Istorija (History)
  • Fizika (Physics)
  • Hemija (Chemistry)
  • Informatika (IT class)

Aside from the mandatory ones, there are two optional subjects — veronauka  (religion) and građansko vaspitanje. The latter teaches students how to relate to society and the environment.

Useful Vocab and Expressions

At last, you’ve got the gist of the Serbian school system. Now, let’s get practical! Here are some useful phrases and vocab to help you talk about schools and education.

Učionica (Classroom)

In Serbian, a classroom is called učionica. Naturally, it’s where student spend most of their time while at school.

An empty classroom.
Učionica

Razred and odeljenje (Class)

Razred is a grade. So, when students start elementary school, they are in prvi razred (first grade). Then, next year, they go on to drugi razred (second grade), and so on.

Each grade is split into several classes — odeljenje. So, for instance, if your child is in this class — 5/2, it’s read like peto dva, and it means that your kid is in 5th grade, class 2.

Razredni starešina

Starting from the 5th grade, razredni starešina (razredna/razredni for short) will be your go-to teacher. Namely, each class is assigned to a teacher who’ll be responsible for it until graduation. 

So, whether your kid broke a window or you want to discuss their grades, you’ll talk to this teacher.

Domaći zadatak (Homework)

What kid doesn’t love domaći zadatak (homework)? Well, most of them don’t, and that’s why they’ll use any excuse in the book to get out of it.

Ekskurzija (School trip)

Ekskurzija (school trip) is most parents’ nightmare. And this isn’t just because they worry when their kids are away from home, but because they tend to cost an arm and a leg.

Nevertheless, kids love them. After all, that’s a rare opportunity where they can behave kao pušteni s lanca (unleashed).

Roditeljski sastanak (Parent-teacher conference)

On the flip side, roditeljski sastanak (or roditeljski for short) is most students’ nightmare. That’s because it’s an opportunity for parents to hear all about that broken window we mentioned earlier.

A meme with the captions [Me explaining to my mom why she doesn't need to go to the parent-teacher conference]
Me explaining to my mom why she doesn't need to go to the parent-teacher conference 😬

Produženi boravak (After-school care)

Parents who work long hours can sign their kids up for produženi boravak. That way, they can be sure their kids are fed and taken care of, of course, in exchange for a fee.

Izostanak (Absence)

Another thing you’ll need to deal with is your kid’s absences (izostanci). Each izostanak can be either opravdan (justified) or neopravdan (unjustified).

To illustrate, if your child catches a cold, you’ll need to go to the school and vouch for that. Otherwise, it’ill be a neopravdani izostanak, and you don’t want these to pile up, trust us. 

Bežanje sa časova (Cutting classes)

Speaking of absences, when your kid decides to cut a class, that’s bežanje sa časova. Although most Serbian parents forbid their children from doing this, most of them have skipped a class or two themselves in their youth.

Cracking the Serbian School System

Finally, you’ve got all the info you need to figure out the Serbian school system. And while your child is learning, nothing’s stopping you from beefing up your Serbian, too.

That way, you’ll be able to talk to the teachers and other parents — plus, the whole process will be much more enjoyable.

So, if you want to up those speaking skills, check out our group Serbian lessons. Who knows — you might even meet other learners whose kids go to schools in Serbia.

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