UNICEF supported study provides a financially feasible plan for a fourfold increase in access to early childhood development services
Skopje, Wednesday, 27 October 2010, Mr. Xhelal Bajrami, Minister of Labour and Social Policy and Mr. Sheldon Yett, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative launched a report on funding options to increase access to early childhood development (ECD) services for four and five year olds from 23 per cent to universal coverage.
The report, titled “Fair Play”, highlights that there are inequities in the current system of financing early childhood development (kindergarten) services. Overall ECD coverage for children aged 0-5 remains low at 14% in 2008 and most of the children who benefit from these services come from urban double income families.
“Multigenerational studies across countries have found that all children can benefit from well designed ECD services, but the biggest impact by far is on those who are the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative. “Unfortunately, given the way the system is currently structured in this country, those children who need it most are precisely the ones missing out,” continued Mr. Yett.
Enrolment is predominately the privilege of the richest 40% of the population. Fewer than 2 per cent of children in rural areas have access to formal ECD programmes.
The report looks at how - within existing fiscal constraints – the Government can restructure the system to ensure all children, and in particular the most vulnerable, have access to early learning development programmes.
As a first step, the plan proposes introducing half-day early childhood development programmes through community based centers for 4 to 5 year olds and then later expanding the inclusion to younger groups as the fiscal space and other financial opportunities improve.
“Revisions of the Child Protection Law are needed to institutionalise cost effective to alternative kindergartens,” said Mr. Xhelal Bajrami, Minister of Labour and Social. “We also need to consider the possibility of introducing additional subsidies for low income families,” continued Minister Bajrami.
Other legal changes are required to ensure a system of per capita funding to municipalities so the transfers used for ECD services reflect population size rather than the existence of current infrastructure. The Minister has pleaded to introduce these changes next year.
The plan proposes that part of the resources for the half-day program can be mobilized by a modest increase in the fee for full-day kindergarten.
The report was published by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and developed with UNICEF support. It was commissioned as part of the process of developing the national ECD policy to ensure universal access to early childhood development services, with a special focus on the most vulnerable groups of children. The strategy pursued to achieve this national goal includes: diversifying early childhood development services; and more specifically promoting cost-effective alternatives to the already existing public kindergartens to ensure a comprehensive system in which kindergartens maintain an important role.
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