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Study on Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia

by , Posted on 25th Apr 2013

Director of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Jelena Ristic, participated in a public hearing in the National Assembly of Serbia whose subject was the study on investment in early childhood education in the country.

The National Millennium Development Goals specify that by 2015, 70% of children from 3 to 7 years old should be in preschool education, with a special focus on children from marginalized groups. Plan is also to double the number of preschool institutions, with uniform geographical distribution.

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, has studied the financial feasibility and developed costing models for ensuring preschool education for all 3 to 5.5 year old children in Serbia.

The importance of preschool education is remarkable. It promotes children’s early development, which will also have positive benefits to the nation.

The gains from early learning take many forms. Children perform better in education, which in the short term saves costs by reducing school drop-out and grade repetition, and in the longer term improves educational attainment and achievement. Children’s health improves with intrinsic benefits to the child and a reduction in governmental spending on health care. Also, children are less likely to become involved as adolescents or adults in criminal and other dysfunctional behavior.

Academic achievement and early school leaving are best tackled during the preschool years, and at much lower costs than later interventions.

Compulsory, free Serbian schooling starts with the Preparatory Preschool Programme (PPP) currently covering approximately 90% of children aged 5,5 to 6,5.

Currently 48% (84,000 out of 177,000) of 3 to 5,5 year olds are enrolled in kindergarten, while 93,000 children of the same age are not in any preschool programme. The draft National Strategy of Education Development for 2020 has set an enrolment target of 75%, which would require an increase of about 40,000 places.

Of the children currently in kindergarten approximately 62% of them are in the full-day programme and another 30% attend the so-called half-day programme. Only 7% of the enrolled children of 3 to 5,5 years old are in threehour programmes designed for child development rather than daycare.

The benefits of enrolment are the highest among the more disadvantaged groups, however, the latter are in reality underrepresented. Access among the richest 20% of the population is over three times higher than among the poorest 20%. For Roma children, access is extremely limited, almost regardless of income.

In rural areas, access is about half of that in the cities: 28,7% versus 56,6%. Among Roma, 10% of urban children are enrolled, against a mere 4,1% of those living in the countryside. Children with disabilities are under-represented as well. While about 5% of the children in this age group have a disability, only 1,2% of enrolled children are those with disabilities.

The Study concludes that the introduction of a universally accessible 3 to 4 hour preschool education programme for all children aged 3 to 5,5 would be a cost-effective measure to benefit the Serbian state and its citizens.

Preschool education plays a very important role in children’s development. Apart from improving health and success in education, it enhances labor productivity and even the nation’s prosperity and competitiveness in the long run.

Photos: @vemicphoto

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