A Disturbing Report Card: Croatian Government Fuels Barriers To Education For Children With Disabilities

Luka Wagner gets to school  helped by his mum Photo: Screenshot TV hrt.hr 3 November 2014

Luka Wagner gets to school
helped by his mum
Photo: Screenshot TV hrt.hr
3 November 2014

Dozens of teacher’s aides who help students with disabilities, were dismissed on Monday 3 November pursuant to the decision made last Friday by the Croatian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. In the counties that were successful in the competition for EU funds, funding for aides from NGOs that applied in the second call for funding applications was denied even though they were encouraged to apply for this European funding by the Croatian Ministry of Education.

In order to best understand what teachers’ aides mean to students with disabilities it’s perhaps best to read the letter by Luka Wagner, an exceptionally good sixth grader from a primary school in Rijeka, who has cerebral palsy. The text of the letter was originally published by Croatian TV – HRT.

Croatian TV reported that, as a result of these cuts to teacher’s aid the families of children with disabilities are left in trying circumstance, Luka’s family ttried to see if they could find the money to pay for his teacher’s aide or have his mum attend classes with him. Luka started to cry: “No, I don’t want that. Because, whose mother attends class with them, whose!?” he sobbed like tru young man yearning for independence despite his disabilities. As the need for teacher’s aide is immediate Luka’s school found a way to help him temporarily – the school’s physiotherapist sat in the classroom with him for a while. So, there are no more teacher’s aids employed by the Cerebral Palsy Association and the city council employs only very few and funds will need to be found to help these children with disabilities to have the support they need to access education within regular schools. Luka’s school says that someone at higher levels of government will need to find a way of returning teacher’s aides positions in schools where they are needed.

And while the authorities and parties negotiate, address the problem Luka reads his letter:

Luka Wagner 3 November 2014 Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr

Luka Wagner 3 November 2014
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr

Am I different from other people?

I have cerebral palsy. Am I different from others because of that? I am not. I have two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs, parents who would bring down the stars from the skies if I needed them and I have wonderful friends. That which angers me the most in life is when people say: ‘He’s a child with special needs.” I have no special needs. I have the same needs as all other people on Earth, the need for understanding, friendship, love, going to a friend’s place and to the movies. I only need help menu is only needed help to satisfy these needs I have.

I’m surrounded by wonderful people and true friends who provide me with great help. I was afraid of what will happen when I go to school. A thousand questions went through my mind, but one thing that bothered me the most: ‘What if they do not accept me because I cannot do everything like they can?’. I cannot walk alone, my helper is my walker, getting my books out of my bag is a problem for me and my classmates did that for me until I got an assistant, a teacher’s aide. My classmates would even get into an argument over who and when would we be my helper, because they sincerely wanted to help me with what I cannot do by myself. The fact that I play football with them says how much they have accepted me. Of course, I cannot run, but I am the best goalkeeper in the world. My walker takes up half of the goal space, and so rarely does the ball pass through to the net behind me.

The first days of this school year made me and my mum cry. Why? Because I did not know if I would have an assistant in the classroom this school year so I asked friends via Facebook to turn up at school wearing yellow T-shirts as a sign of their support for me that the first day of school, they come in yellow T-shirts as a sign of support for me and for all the children with developmental disabilities in our fight for our constitutional rights, in this case, the right to education. You guessed? Of course they came in yellow T-shirts and with that showed once again that I am not different from them, I just need their help.

Now, at the end of this letter I ask the question: ‘Am I really different from the other twelve-year-olds?’”

And the education system, sadly, says he is different. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport reacted: it passes the responsibility onto the local authorities “who have received EU funds from social programs and that these funds should be used for teacher’s aides (not state budget!).”

This government of Croatia has serious problems in understanding the state budgetary meaning of the right to education and its responsibilities in securing access and sustainability to the rights to education, guaranteed under the Constitution! A government simply cannot pass on the funding for teacher’s aides in schools to non-government or other community organisations or funding avenues that are dependent on the success of a funding applications, year by year or so. Teacher’s aides for education of children with disabilities are not a social or welfare issue. It is not a matter of depending on the goodness of volunteers or vulnerabilities of families with children who have disabilities and need support in accessing education. Such an attitude and approach  creates and fuels barriers to education access, which children with disabilities need to grapple with and fear from, year after year.


Such a fate simply cannot do! The government must ensure that not only the right to education is ensured but also that the access to that right has no barriers.


Luka Wagner Won gold last year at Croatian Boccia Competition

Luka Wagner
Won gold last year at
Croatian Boccia Competition

Many children with disabilities are currently not attending school due to lack of teacher’s aides, in some cases parents have attended to their child in the classroom so that their child could be at school – this though is neither possible for all nor appropriate. A child with disabilities should not have to deal with issues of access to education alongside coping with their disabilities.

The Minister of Social Politics and the Youth, Milanka Opacic, says there is no money in her portfolio or state’s budget for teacher’s aides and hopes the Ministry of Education has applied for funds to the EU because “that was the only way to get enough funds.” The Ministry of Education say that they are “still looking for a model to solve this situation.” (!)

The Education Minister Vedran Mornar is nowhere to be heard on this matter so far; he has fobbed it off to his equally incompetent assistants. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if he gets rid of few of his assistants and advisers together with some other government ministers and utilised the freed-up funds for teacher’s aides for children with disabilities in regular, socially inclusive schools. Every developed society has the responsibility and mandate to ensure people with disabilities are included and access barriers removed or optimally reduced. Evidently, the Croatian government has not caught up in its laws/regulations with the United Nations Convention On Rights Of Persons With Disabilities – heck, it hasn’t caught up with its own Constitution and associated laws when it comes to the rights and access to education for all children. Getting rid of these human rights hoodlums in Croatian government will be the day Croatia may truly start to shine on all levels of humanity. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


Josip Grabovac 8th grader at Primary School "Dr Franjo Tudjman" in Knin pleads:  "Please return my  teacher's aide  into my classroom" Screenshot: hrt.hr news 4 November 2014

Josip Grabovac
8th grader at Primary School “Dr Franjo Tudjman” in Knin pleads:
“Please return my
teacher’s aide
into my classroom”
Screenshot: hrt.hr news 4 November 2014


  1. Nice !

  2. annathrax says:

    Gosh this is just so sad. Those kids deserve better. .

  3. Great article & very sad in deed, surely there are some multi millionaires in Croatia with a heart that can spare a few dimes to help these poor kids & their poor families. This is a note worthy story that needs more publicity & urgent attention. All the best of wishes to Luka Wagner, his mother/family & other kids in a similar situation to Luka’s predicament. Chin up Luka & keep smiling. dont worry things will work out for you & mum

    • Thank you Stipe it is so distressing to see children suffer and we should all work towards being advocates fir the rights of people with disabilities thank you

  4. Reblogged this on Beautiful Awareness and commented:
    Just some “awareness” Have a great Wednesday friends!

  5. ..just KEEP voting for the COMMUNISTS and Croatia will go far!
    You know that Slobodan Milosevic was also a Tito COMMUNIST, but at least he was for Serbian interests! The “Croatian” communists (Mesic, Josipovic, Milanovic, vlasi such as Vesna Pusic et al.) are ALSO for Serbian interests! Go figure……!!!
    But, at least the Serbians KILL their traitors! The serbs are such nice people!

  6. Michael Silovic says:

    I think the solution is to to have college students who study education as a major should be volunteering to be teacher aides as part of the curriculum which they can receive credits towards their degree. One of the things I learned in Croatia is that there is not a big network of volunteers to assist people in simple tasks but if we have a major issue such as the floods then we seem to come together as a whole.The idea of having wealthy people / church donate money will not last long as education is the responsibility of the goverment and the parents.Sadly this current goverment does not have it’s priorities straight when it comes to dealing with the problems of internal Croatia. On this blog a few years ago we discussed the education system and need for reform as those of us looking in from the outside see a more clearer picture of what is happening but as always the Croatian goverment fails to listen to the people that have a better grasp of what is needed until it is too late. Educating children with disabilities is not an easy task by any means. Raising a child with disabilities is even harder.

    • Certainly, Michael, I think it would be a good idea to combine student placements like that as compulsory part of teacher education. I any event it is the government’s responsibility to ensure access to education and Croatian government is failing miserably children with disabilities in this case

  7. This is appalling but I am not surprised. The Commis (and Nazis) would see fit to have all these children forgotten, abused, or exterminated. Look at how children with any disabilities are treated in places like Russia, Romania (read so-called x-Commi countries)… See Nicolae Ceausescu’s legacy of children rotting in vile state-run facilities. Or the abandoned children of Mogilino, Bulgaria. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EGPTg9fjo4
    Despite what the Reds claim, they treat any children, and adults as well, with any mental or physical disabilities like they are second-class citizens. Were it not for the Catholic Church in Croatia and Bosnia, these poor souls would be on the streets or worse. Shame on this government in Croatia. They can find thousands to line their personal pockets, decorate their villas but leave these poor children to fend for themselves. +++ Note too: the Croatian government gives money to NGO’s who belong to groups who are demonizing Croatian defenders AND they give funds to Chetnik publications!!! Madness.

    • Yes, Veronika, there are sad, sad stories when it comes to children and people with disabilities in these countries, there’s a long way to go until they are included into the society as equals, with rights – it’s up to all of us to advocated on their behalf since the governments are not doing a fair or good job of it.

  8. That is heartbreaking.

  9. Nice, Ina ! 🙂

  10. I sent this on to my oldest daughter who has a masters and teaches special education in North Carolina. Why are the Croatian people not taking care of each other? Is it left over from Communism? Nazism? What will it take to give them a true democracy? Very good post. Hugs, Barbara

    • There is a great deal of care in Croatia for people with disabilities, Barbara – it’s the government that is making life difficult and intentionally avoiding to take the responsibility in ensuring that not only education is provided but, equally important, access to it. It seems they do not know the importance of barriers that children and people with disabilities are faced with and to work on removing or alleviating these. Thank you, so much, on your care. So, I would not attach such appalling actions to any political regime but to incompetence of government.

  11. Reblogged this on IdealisticRebel's Daily View of Favorites.

  12. Such a wonderful letter Ina.. One that should make those in power who made these cuts sit up and think, there for the grace of God go I..
    Here in the UK it was the Carer’s within the Care centres of those with learning difficulties which had jobs axed.. The Cut backs in local government hit hard the Day-care Centres too. As they cut staff and increased attendance Fees.. And altered hours.. Which left many disabled people unable to get access.. And those carers and relatives who needed some relief the Respite care was also reduced.. It seemed to us who worked in Support the Care had gone out of the Caring industry.. And Profit comes before People..
    Luka is a little Champion.. And I hope his voice in the form of this letter is heard far and wide..

    Many thanks for sharing..
    Much Love Sue xox

    • Yes, Sue, Luka has made sure the issue remains a news item and the battle continues with some positive results in sight. Support for people with disabilities seems to suffer everywhere and battles for it keep emerging. Advocacy is a strong ally and we keep it rolling as, I believe, a society is judged in many ways through its care for those who are vulnerable and need support such as those with disabilities. Cheers and thanks on the comment

  13. Unbelievable… and these are the people running Croatia! It’s shameful.

  14. This is very sad to read. Students with disabilities or special needs are entitled to understanding and an opportunity to get a proper education.

  15. This sounds like Trump’s America.

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