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Schools of Life – a Community that Makes Children’s Dreams Come True

by , 5th Feb 2020

In Serbia, only every fifth child from rural households goes to kindergarten. Our Foundation wants to give these children a chance to grow and learn together too. That is why we are opening our Schools of Life in villages all across Serbia.

Little Laza from the village of Ljig wants to learn and give his effort so one day he could help his mom and dad take care of their farm. Before enrolling in the School of Life, Nevena from Merošina had never seen so many toys and books in one place before. At the School of Life in Jalovik, Stevan learned that plants cannot survive without sunlight. We open Schools of Life for Laza, Nevena, Stevan and other children from rural areas throughout Serbia so they could grow and learn together!

In Serbia, only every fifth child from rural households goes to kindergarten. Most residents left these areas for various reasons, leaving only a small number of children to live in the villages. Houses are often very far away from each other, which makes it difficult for children to play together. Local governments in these areas are particularly faced with the financial challenges of covering the costs of pre-school education. Therefore, many children in villages throughout Serbia, who are often materially disadvantaged, unfortunately, miss the opportunity to grow in a stimulative educational environment such as kindergarten and to develop their full potential.

Our mission is to change that and give every child a chance to make his dreams come true!

See how little Laza hangs out with his friends at the School of Life in the village of Ljig.

Since 2013, our Foundation has been implementing the project “Schools of Life – Together for Childhood” to provide access to quality preschool education to children from rural areas aged 3 to 5.5 years who, until now, for various reasons, were in no way included in one of the preschool programs. The project is implemented in cooperation with CIP – the Center for Interactive Pedagogy, as a strategic partner, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.

The project “Schools of Life – Together for Childhood” consists of two parts:

  1. Opening of the School of Life – reconstruction and adaptation of existing spaces for a safe and stimulating stay of children; and
  2. Empowering all stakeholders– training for local community representatives, parents, educators and other professionals in the field of early childhood development and education.

So far, we have opened Schools of Life in 12 municipalities – Ljig, Raska, Knić, Kraljevo, Merošina, Vladičin Han, Šid, Lučani, Pećinci, Vladimirci, Odžaci and Mačvanski Prnjavor.

Renovation of the School of Life in the village of Jalovik.

Renovation of the School of Life in the village of Jalovik.

Brick by brick – together for childhood!

A big part of our achievements lies in our close collaboration with local authorities. Local authorities help us find an already existing non-used building that we can renovate and adapt to children’s needs.

Thanks to our collaboration with local authorities, Schools of Life are becoming a strong element of the communities. While children are getting the quality education they deserve, at the same time, the entire community has long-term benefits that can be passed on for generations. By opening kindergartens in these rural areas, we are investing in their economy. Namely, if there are no quality schools, families have to move to other cities to provide a better future for their children. This further contributes to centralization in Serbia and impoverishment of rural areas.

However, with the opening of the Schools of Life, we encourage families to stay in the villages. To date, more than 840 children have been enrolled in Schools of Life.

In addition to the adaptation of the space, space is equipped (indoors and the yard) following the needs and interests of children, as well as the necessary didactic material. Equipping also includes supplies for the smooth functioning of the School for at least six months.

Teacher hugging children from the School of Life in the village of Lucani.

Teacher hugging children from the School of Life in the village of Lucani.

Teachers – the heartbeat of the Schools of Life

An important part of the Schools of Life is investing in quality teacher training. Our partner in this project, CIP – Center for Interactive Pedagogy, provides educators with mentoring and training approved by the Institute for the Advancement of Education, where they have the opportunity to learn how to apply some new teaching methods, how to approach children more interactively and how to work with parents.

In addition to other professional and personal skills, educators also learn how to:

plan activities based on children’s interests;

– recognize the children’s initiative and include it in their curriculum;

transform their role from the position of the knowledge transmitter into the role of the common seeker for the answers that children ask;

adapt the working environment to children with the help of parents and the local community;

– make greater use of available environmental resources and cooperate with local authorities and parents; and

-use different techniques and instruments to evaluate children’s development and progress.

“This training has had a great impact on my personal and professional development. My perspective on teaching has changed – I realized that a basic understanding of information is only the beginning, not the final goal of learning. My colleagues and I have also changed our approach to children. We now know how to listen to their needs in a better way, we are more accessible and have more energy to work with them, thanks to the motivation conveyed to us by our mentor. The support of our mentor meant a lot to me– he directed me and helped me resolve all my professional concerns, “ says Branka Alanovic, one of the trained teachers at the Macvan Prnjavor School of Life.

Until now, more than 950 teachers and educators have received CIP training as part of the School of Life project.

Co-founder and the global director of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Jelena Djokovic, at the opening of the School of Life in the village of Kukujevci.

Co-founder and the global director of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Jelena Djokovic, at the opening of the School of Life in the village of Kukujevci.

Schools of Life – a learning community

Schools of Life are not just kindergartens, but a place for meeting, gathering and sharing activities for all – children, educators, parents and the local community.

For a quality preschool program, cooperation with parents is crucial because they know the interests of their children best, their dreams and their desires. Therefore, they can help teachers plan a program based on children’s initiative in a real and authentic environment.

“The kindergarten should be a ‘learning community’, and parents are a vital part of such community,” explains Staniša Cabarkapa, a mentor who led the CIP training program in the village of Macvan Prnjavor.

Unfortunately, more than 140,000 children in rural parts of Serbia do not have the same opportunities as Laza, Nevena and Stevan. Our Schools of Life are the backbone of our mission – that every child in Serbia has access to pre-school education. We look forward to the opening of new Schools of Life with your support!

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