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Policy impact analysis: providing additional support to students from vulnerable groups in pre-university education

The Study “Providing Additional Support to Students from Vulnerable Groups in Pre-University Education” was prepared by UNICEF and the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. This study provides an overview of the institutional and legal framework, policies and measures aimed at enhancing the education of poor and vulnerable children in Serbia (with focus on measures within the educational and social welfare systems) and/or that should be analyzed further with respect to their social and financial impact.

Based on the analysis of the current situation – primarily focused on low socioeconomic status families (including the Roma), the study provides recommendations on introducing new and reviewing and enhancing the existing measures, including recommendations for legislative amendments where necessary. Furthermore, the study recommends policies/measures that require additional research/primary data collection, or those which should by further analyzed in view of their social and financial impact.

The analysis is predominantly focused on current pro-poor education measures with inputs included about selected social welfare measures, about measures initiated and implemented by NGOs, and about measures which are international best practice, all of which are also separate reports included as annex in the present volume. The analysis yields drawing up of recommendations including measures for which also costing and cost benefit calculations are added.

The document may be downloaded here.

The immediate purpose of this analysis is to contribute to the development of measures for more effective support to the students from vulnerable groups at all pre–university education levels and to provide recommendations on legislative and institutional changes required for that sake. The broader purpose of the analysis is to offer a thinking tool for advocacy, sustained awareness and broad social commitment towards respectful integration of children from vulnerable groups and poverty background in education that will enable and empower them to seek prosperous employment and live a life with dignity.

The analysis focuses primarily on low SES families (including Roma) defined as the lowest quintile of SES as the target group of our interest, which corresponds to the OECD definition of children from disadvantaged background, and can include also parental unemployment, low education, and life in remote rural areas. However, in order to allow for a wide scope of analysis we are, where appropriate, referring also to vulnerable groups in terms of children with disability and/or learning difficulties.

The analysis of bottlenecks in the education trajectory of low socioeconomic status children provided an insight into areas that require designing new measures and areas in which the existing measures should be enhanced or redefined or further research is needed.

The recommended measures are grouped into three categories – the first concerns strengthening the basic support, in particular material, for vulnerable and poor children, the second – enhancing education support for these children, and the third – enhancing active inclusion and outreach social services.

1. Basic education support measures for vulnerable children

1.1   Child allowance is a long-standing program in Serbia and the largest program targeting poor children. This measure should be improved in terms of targeting, coverage and modernization and its link to school attendance, i.e. its function as a conditional cash transfer, should be strengthened.

1.2. Meals and clothing are essential needs of children from poor families. Clear responsibility for the daily provision of meals and periodic provision of clothing must be established, since the support is currently fragmented, insufficiently predictable, unsystematic and lacking full coverage.

1.3. Modernization of instruments of support for children from disadvantaged families by co-funding their education costs. It is necessary to ensure the provision of free textbooks to poor and vulnerable children in all grades, better targeting of the scholarships and dormitories system and introduce a mentoring system in support of education of children from vulnerable groups and poor families.

2. Education support improvement measures

2.1. Modernization of instruments for early childhood preschool inclusion of vulnerable children

The education and social welfare systems should review and modernize preschool attendance benefits. Preschool attendance subsidies should be available to beneficiaries irrespective of whether they receive child allowance or not. Local governments and preschool institutions should be supported in planning and providing services, and private service providers’ capacities should be used.

2.2. Reviving and modernizing remedial teaching

It is necessary to amend the framework of laws and bylaws, include the quality of remedial teaching as an indicator in both external evaluation and self-evaluation, develop a framework for its implementation at the school level (with focus on preventing failures, rather than remedying them), develop manuals, offer training, monitor coverage and impact (pedagogical value added), reward good practice. The modality of provision should be in line with children’s needs and possibilities. Since this measure is already funded (through teachers’ workload), only minor additional investments in training and manuals are required.

2.3. Put school libraries and ICT to use for support measures

It is necessary to enable everyday use of libraries and IT equipment for students (open access to books, provide comfortable space to spend time in libraries, set up IT equipment for students’ use, extend library opening hours to cover the entire day, from morning till evening), organize school campaigns for furnishing and adaptation of libraries, promote libraries in schools (develop projects on different subjects, exhibitions, meetings, classes), train librarians in a new proactive role and enable the involvement of parents as assistant librarians.

2.4. Reviving school development planning

It is necessary to introduce small school grants to pilot innovative school campaigns for dropout prevention (a wide range of activities, e.g. creating an alumni organization, organizing visits by successful alumni who come from poor/marginalized families, mentoring, peer learning, parental involvement, networking etc.), conduct evaluation, reward success and disseminate good practices.

3. Provision  of active inclusion  and outreach social services

3.1. Enhance systematic provision of outreach services to the poor

It is necessary to initiate systematic identification of these services and providers and define minimum standards for a set of services (parents, information on entitlement etc.), which is the basis for licensing service providers and, therefore, also for recognizing their importance through local governments’ funding decisions and systematic country-wide implementation. Local social planning should recognize the need to fund these services, and IPA funds should also be directed towards them.

3.2. Prioritizing education needs of vulnerable children in the interventions by centers for social work

Case management and active inclusion should apply to each beneficiary of financial social assistance and of child allowance in case of school-age children; capacities of centers for social work should be strengthened; institutional cooperation among centers for social work, municipal offices, schools and inter-sectoral committees should be enhanced.

3.3. Ensuring parental participation and training

Training in parenting should be provided to all families receiving child allowances and financial social assistance as a social service provided by the municipality; identification of these services and service providers and the definition of minimum service standards should be initiated, which will provide the basis for licensing service providers and recognizing their significance through local governments’ funding decisions in accordance with the mechanism provided by the Law on Social Welfare. Regular training in how to support the education of their children should be provided to all parents who have not completed secondary education – as schools’ obligation; the training program, manuals and fact sheets for parents should be developed.

The total annual costs of the proposed package of measures require increasing the budget of the ministry responsible for education by between 7.4% and 10%, i.e. they entail expenditures amounting to between 0.33% and 0.45% of the GDP. On the other hand, the measurable long-term societal benefit resulting from the introduction of these measures, expressed in terms of higher earnings and lower social welfare benefits, is estimated at about €7.8 billion and is about seven times higher than the initial investment.

In addition to the non-measurable societal benefit in terms of better health, higher security and greater social cohesion, the above economic argument of sevenfold return on investment in supporting education for poor children unquestionably supports the need to invest in the proposed package of measures.

 

 
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