UNICEF to support key recommendations on Early Childhood Development in Kosovo
Prishtinë/Priština, 12–14 July 2011 – In support of the findings and recommendations emerging from the Yale University assessment report on Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Kosovo, the UNICEF Office in Kosovo will host a series of events spread over three days to raise awareness among key stakeholders of the need for greater investment in children aged 0-6.
Commissioned by UNICEF Office in Kosovo, the report has been prepared by Yale University’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and offers an analysis of existing policies and programmes that impact the lives of young children, and provides policy recommendations that serve, from a rights perspective, to ensure that children are able to develop to their fullest potential.
Scheduled events surrounding the release of the report will include a high-level meeting with decision-makers from Kosovo’s Health, Education and Social Protection Ministries as well as a separate workshop with key technical representatives from within these sectors and NGOs involved in the programming and delivery of supporting services. The workshop, to be conducted alongside a team of international consultants from Yale University, will be followed by a technical meeting to strategize the implementation of the report’s key recommendations in Kosovo. The itinerary will conclude with an advocacy meeting, bringing together representatives from bilateral aid agencies, international donors and non-traditional partners, to encourage broader stakeholder collaboration and involvement in national ECD programmes.
The early years of a child’s life are of critical importance, laying the foundation for future survival and meaningful community engagement as healthy, productive adults. Yet it is the early childhood years that often receive the least attention and lowest allocation of resources from governments around the world.
Globally, more than 200 million children under five fail to receive adequate care to meet their basic needs and develop to their full potential – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Poor health and weak learning facilities continue to deny children their right to a nurturing, protective environment that recognises and upholds their intrinsic worth, dignity and best interests.
Early Childhood Development is a holistic concept that includes focus on proper nutrition, education, early stimulation – through both play and learning opportunities - and reinforcement of positive interactions with caregivers and other family members, in order to encourage the best possible physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. With the highest infant mortality rate in Europe, estimated at 44 per 1000 live births, Kosovo’s maternal and child health status is cause for alarm. High levels of unemployment and poverty, particularly among minority and marginalised populations, leave children highly vulnerable to other serious risks that limit their opportunities for development. A 2010 Survey on Nutritional Status that measured the height of children involved in the study against World Health Organisation standards found that 15.5% of Kosovo’s children are stunted, with 4.7% severely stunted (UNICEF 2010).
The low rate of preschool enrolment is of further concern, lagging far behind both regional and European levels. While the enrolment rate for pre-primary education is approximately 70%, the proportion of children from ethnic minorities is in the single digits, thereby indicating a disparity in enrolment into early educational opportunities. Currently, less than 10% of children aged 3 to 6 years old have access to early childhood education and development programmes. The largest area of need with respect to ECD is a gap in services for parents of young children. It was noted that parenting and caregiving programs, an evidence based strategy for improving child outcomes is absent from the work of the health, education and protection sectors.
“It is critically important that Kosovo’s children receive the best possible start in life, which includes building and strengthening systems and institutions that uphold their rights - enabling them not only to survive, but thrive”, says Kosovo UNICEF Head of Office Johannes Wedenig. “A coordinated, cross-cutting set of policies that recognises Early Childhood Development as a key investment in a healthy and productive population is therefore essential to realising this goal.”
According to the 2011 draft report, “Joining Forces for the Integration of Early Childhood Development Policies and Services in Kosovo”, a more holistic approach to early childhood development is needed in order to close existing gaps between the needs of Kosovo’s children and the current policy framework. Key recommendations include supporting greater parental involvement in child health, education and protection through increased community-based parental education programmes and activities, significantly expanding access to quality early learning services in rural areas and developing a more coordinated and comprehensive governance infrastructure, with a focus on improved legal mechanisms and structural funding from the central level.
The recent findings of this report accordingly serve to strengthen this agenda and underscore the importance of cross-cutting collaborative initiatives that specifically target the youngest, and most vulnerable, members of Kosovo’s population.
Organised by UNICEF Office in Kosovo, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the series of events validating the report’s conclusions will commence mid-month with the dissemination workshop, to be closely followed by the remaining proposed activities.
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