Investing in preschool education is cost-effective and universal coverage is possible, UNICEF states
Presentation of the study on "Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia – Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education”
BELGRADE, Serbia, 25 September 2012 – The results of the study on Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia – Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education present evidence that the introduction of universal coverage of preschool education through 3-4 hour programmes is financially feasible and cost-effective.
In Serbia, the enrollment rate is on an upward trend; today it is about 25 per cent higher than it was in 2005.
“Yet, over half the children in the country are not included in any kind of early preschool programme. These are the children who need them the most – children from rural areas, those living in poverty, Roma children. And Preschool education is particularly beneficial for children from deprived groups”, said Judita Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative, addressing the conference.
The study, produced as a result of the cooperation between UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, shows that:
Higher enrollment rates are associated with children from better off families, parents with higher education and from urban environments with significantly lower rates among the poorest, rural and Roma children.
Frequently preschool institutions are absent from locations with the highest need (i.e. under-developed and rural areas).
As the majority of people benefitting from this expenditure are from higher socio- economic groups, this brings into question the principles of social justice and equitable distribution of available resources.
In order to achieve universal coverage of children from 3-5.5 years old, the following should be done:
Given its importance, overall benefits to the state and high rates of return on investment, preschool education should not be only the responsibility of local governments and parents.
The national Government should intervene and support underdeveloped municipalities to reach higher preschool coverage rates in the future, this support could be extended to all municipalities.
This expansion should explore making use of existing municipal premises and leveraging partnerships with donors, the private sector and other stakeholders interested in expanding physical capacities.
The negative demographic trends have been a key driver in increased rates of preschool coverage but alone are not sufficient to increase coverage rates to the desired national targets. Therefore, these trends should be further analyzed to determine the extent to which further decreases in the number of children will free primary school capacities and leave space for their utilization for preschool programmes.
The study provides evidence that the introduction of universal preschool coverage through 3-4 hour programmes is financially feasible and cost-effective. Specific recommendations, thus, are:
The 3-4 hour programmes should be free of charge and available to all children 3 to 5.5 years old. The gradual introduction of this provision, first for children 4 to 5.5 years old and then for those 3 years old, would decrease the pressure both on physical capacities for preschool and additional resources needed.
As there is no real benefit seen in developmental outcomes for a full day rather than a shorter program, and as shorter day programme has significantly lower costs, 3 to 4 hour programmes have the most favorable cost-benefit ratio.
The cost of the 3-4 hour free of charge programmes for all children 3 to 5.5 years old presents around 60% of the current funds provided by municipal budgets for preschool education.
The full Technical Report on “Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia — Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education” is available here
The brochure, based on the full Technical Report, is available here
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