Thousands gathered in Zagreb's central square on Wednesday for a protest of support to an integral curricular reform, held under the slogan "Croatia Can Do Better", with students saying that they did not want to be hostages to irresponsible political elites and teachers saying that they wanted schools to educate children to be free-thinking individuals.

According to police estimates, 25,000 people gathered for the protest. There were no reports of incidents.

The initiative Croatia Can Do Better asked for the continuation of the curricular reform, which they said had been stopped due to political pressure, and insisted that money be ensured for its implementation.

It called on the parliament to adopt a unanimous conclusion to support the reform, the expert team in charge of it and the reform model.

Student Karlo Horvat called on politicians to get their hands off the curricular reform.

"I want them to get their paws off a process in which countless hours of hard work, desire, competence and good will have been invested," he said. He added that students did not want to cram but think, create and debate, calling on politicians not to force him to leave Croatia.

Ida Loher, a teacher who participated in the curricular reform, said that this was the first time someone had asked teachers what they wanted the school to be like and that some 400 teachers and experts from all over the country had joined in a patriotic wish to work together for the sake of a better future, while another 60,000 joined in an expert debate.

They have shown, she said, that teachers want schools with students who will be able to apply in real life what they have learned, students who will become active citizens already in school benches, students who will not leave their country and who, together with their teachers, will explore their own creativity.

Loher said that the curricular reform should continue the way it had started so that children could have the education every 21st century child deserved.

She said that Boris Jokic and other members of the national expert team in charge of the curricular reform, who resigned last week citing political pressure, had devised a new type of education based on cooperation, competence and openness.

"We are here today, with you, because we want the reform to continue with the same participants, the same leadership, the same goal but a different kind of political support - the real support," said Loher.

She said that politicians were expected to adopt binding decisions on the financing of the reform and on the autonomy of all working groups involved in the curricular reform.

Teacher Ana Hinic said that citizens had the full right to demand change.

"They think that we will allow them, after all the destruction, to destroy our hope for a better life. You irresponsible, malicious politicians, this is the first time teachers and professors have devised a document that translates hope into reality and that is why you will not get it," said Hinic.

That document will shape the future generations, said Hinic, adding that she wanted her pupils to be warm, emphatic and free-thinking human beings.

Therefore we cannot accept insistence by Science and Education Minister Predrag Suster to all of a sudden add to the national expert team "various experts".

"The only thing we agree with the minister on is that too serious a thing is at stake. That is why we want the work of experts - teachers who have been working on the curricular reform to be supported unambiguously and without any hidden agenda," said Hinic.

"Croatia can do better, we are all for the future, for tomorrow, for kids who will not be boarding buses for Stuttgart but will know how to make their life good here," said Hinic. 

The teachers working on the curricular reform want all children, average ones, special ones, below-average ones and children with difficulties to get a chance and for good people to teach them good things. "We want well-educated and free-thinking children. We we all benefit from them," she said.

High school teacher Toni Milun said that the curricular reform would bring changes that were in harmony with the current time.

He said that in all industries computers and robots were increasingly replacing people, which was why numerous jobs were being phased out while even more interesting, more exciting jobs were being created.

"During the education process I should learn how to learn because I will have to learn anyway for the rest of my life. That is the message this curricular reform is sending," Milun said.

He concluded by saying that it was vital to develop in students the competences most demanded on the labour market: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, team work. "We must not miss the autumn deadline. We must do our best for the experimental part of the reform to start this autumn," Milun said.

Union leader Sanja Sprem said that one should trust experts and teachers, their competence, honesty and dedication to the reform.

A representative of the Croatia Can Do Better initiative, Nikola Baketa, demanded that the parliament turn down conclusions of the parliamentary Committee on Education on expanding the national expert team with new members, and defend the reform, while unionist Darko Seperic called on the parliament to adopt a resolution on education as a national strategic interest that would be binding on all governments.

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