Members of parliament agree that universal coverage of children by preschool education is possible in Serbia
© UNICEF Serbia / 2013
BELGRADE, 9 April 2013 – Serbia has one of the lowest rates of
participation in the preschool education in Europe – 44%, compared to
85% in EU member countries. The participation of children from ethnic
minorities, children living in poverty, and children with disabilities
is even lower – only 8% of Roma children, 22% of children from the
poorest families and 29% of children from rural areas.
In cooperation with UNICEF, the Committee for the Rights of the Child of
the Serbian National Assembly organised a public hearing today on the
importance of investing in early childhood education. This was attended
by representatives of several parliamentary Committees, and
representatives of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological
Development, UNICEF, preschool institutions from various parts of
Serbia, civil society, and academic institutions.
“The function of the Committee for the Rights of the Child is to make
sure that the laws recognising the best interest of every child are
adopted. It is equally important, however, that we monitor the manner in
which such laws are being implemented in practice, and request that
more attention be paid to resolving issues which have negative effects
on children, i.e. that new solutions be adopted which make it possible
for no child to be left behind or marginalised. One of the mechanisms we
have at our disposal is a public hearing“, said MP Ljiljana Lucic,
deputy chairperson of the Committee for the Rights of the Child.
Addressing the meeting, Minister of Education, Science, and
Technological Development Zarko Obradovic said: “Serbia has a long
tradition of preschool education and a widespread network of preschool
institutions. We have a good Law on Preschool Education, and one of the
priorities of the Strategy for the Development of Education in the
Republic of Serbia by 2020 is the promotion of concepts of early
childhood development and learning. However, although the rate of
coverage of children aged 3 to 5.5 by preschool programmes is on the
increase, more than half of children of this age still do not attend
early childhood development programmes.”
The results of the study Investing in Early Childhood Education in
Serbia – Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education,
which is the outcome of cooperation between UNICEF and the Ministry of
Education, Science, and Technological Development, were presented at the
The study has shown that preschool education services are not being used
by those who need it the most, that the current network of preschool
institutions is inadequate in terms of geographic
coverage and physical capacity, and that local authorities are bearing
80% of preschool education costs. The study presents evidence that the
introduction of universal coverage by preschool education through 3 to
4-hour programmes is financially feasible and cost-effective:
- Introducing universality of access and coverage for all children aged 3
to 5.5 would be a cost-effective measure which would benefit both the
Serbian state and all its citizens, and would have the highest chances
of reaching the most vulnerable.
The 3 to 4-hour programmes should be free of charge and available to all
children aged 3 to 5.5. The gradual introduction of these programmes,
first for children aged 4 to 5.5 and then for 3-year-olds, would
decrease the pressure both on physical capacities for preschool
education and the additional funds needed.
- 3 to 4-hour programmes are the most cost-effective way to provide preschool education.
As there is no real difference in developmental outcomes between
full-day and shorter programmes, and as the costs of shorter-day
programmes are significantly lower, 3 to 4-hour programmes have the most
favourable cost-benefit ratio.
- Enrolment of all children currently outside the preschool education
system into 3 to 4-hour programmes would require an investment of up to
46 million Euros.
The cost of 3 to 4-hour free-of-charge programmes for all children aged 3
to 5.5 amounts to around 60% of the current funds provided by local
budgets for preschool education.
“Since early childhood education has such a powerful influence on
children and brings such exceptionally great benefit to society as a
whole, it should be recognised as a programme of interest at state
level. In today’s Serbia, however, the entire responsibility for
financing preschool education falls on local authorities and parents.
And since the great differences in the level of municipal development
are not a good starting point for providing equal opportunities to every
child, it is absolutely necessary to create a better formula for
financing and co-financing preschool education“, pointed out Judita
Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative in Serbia.
Members of Parliament and those attending the public hearing agreed that
it is necessary to take the following measures in order to achieve
universal coverage of children aged 3 to 5.5 by preschool education:
- Preschool education should be a strategic interest and obligation of the state.
Given its importance, overall benefits to the state and high rates of
return on investment, preschool education should not solely be the
responsibility of municipalities and parents.
- Responsibility of local authorities to finance preschool education should be re-examined.
The Republican Government should intervene and support underdeveloped
municipalities to reach higher preschool education coverage rates, with
the possibility of extending this support to all municipalities in the
- Further development of the preschool education network should be
primarily based on the educative function of preschool education.
The possibility of making use of existing municipal premises and
leveraging partnerships with donors, the private sector and other
stakeholders interested should be explored.
- Demographic trends should be further analysed.
Negative demographic trends have been a key driver in increased rates of
preschool education coverage in Serbia, but they have alone been
insufficient to increase coverage rates up to the desired national
targets. Therefore, these trends should be further analysed to determine
the extent to which further decreases in the numbers of children will
free primary school capacities and leave space for their utilization for
The Committee for the Rights of the Child will submit the conclusions
and recommendations to the responsible ministries and monitor their
For more details, please contact:
Social Policy Specialist