- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

UNIJE, Croatia Anabeli and Robi board a plane and off they go to school.
The two eighth-graders aren't millionaire's kids. Their six-minute flight in an old Cessna is the only way they can get from the tiny island of Unije to a school on a larger island where they can learn, play soccer, and argue and laugh with other children their age.
The Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea is dotted with about 1,000 islands. About 60 are populated, and the years are long gone when the archipelago was rich in wine, fish, olives and culture. Most island-dwellers have migrated to the mainland, looking for jobs, higher education and a more modern, easy life.
Today, most islands are desolate, with a few elderly holdouts. Apart from the summer tourist season, the stone houses and Renaissance palaces are empty, and the bells of Roman-era churches rarely peal.
But there are still children two here, five there and they need to go to school. The authorities and parents struggle to make it possible.
Fortunately, there are school buildings on most islands, remnants of more crowded times. The teachers hired by the Education Ministry instruct different grades math for a second-grader, literature for two fifth-graders and biology for a pair of eighth-graders.
Ivanka Mohoric, 39, is a teacher on Unije. Twice a week, however, her son, Robi, along with Anabeli Ibrahimovic, is sent to the regular school on Losinj, a bigger island.
"They must see and learn how it is among other kids of their age before going to high school," said Mrs. Mohoric, whose family lives in the school building on Unije. "Otherwise, it would be a shock to them."
It's all possible because Unije, which once played host to an army base, has an airport, and a private airline provides a plane. The government pays the costs.
On the southern island of Drvenik, teacher Dunja Zuro persuaded the authorities to pay for a camera, television and computer so two fifth-graders, Nada Mestrovic and Nane Vulas, can attend class in the coastal village of Trogir by video link.
"They are forced to seek their own, individual ways of learning," said Sime Simicevic, an Education Ministry official, "but that's the islanders' fate."
It's a fading way of life.
On the small island of Srakane, a school remained in operation for just two children. When they reached high school age, their parents moved to the mainland, and the school was closed. Today, only two 80-year-olds live there.
"I hope that one day, people will begin returning to the islands," said Katica Sagur, 68, from Unije. "Life is so different when you hear children laughing."

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