UNICEF calls for expansion of comprehensive early childhood programmes for Roma children to address continuing social exclusion
Roma Early Childhood Inclusion report
Skopje, 14 May 2012 – At a regional conference on “Early Childhood Development and Quality Education for Roma”, organized by the Government under its current presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015, UNICEF called for increased investment of core governmental services for the expansion of early childhood development (ECD) services to ensure all children are given an equal start in life.
The call for more inclusive and comprehensive early childhood programmes builds on the findings of a national study on “Roma Early Childhood Inclusion” commissioned by the Open Society Foundations, the Roma Education Fund and UNICEF, as part of the regional Roma Good Start Initiative, partially funded by the European Union.
“Inclusive early childhood development services are essential to improving school readiness and to giving young Roma children an equal starting point as they enter primary school, while reducing the likelihood that they will enter ‘special schools’,” said Mr Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative. “The most effective, ECD services are multifaceted and include early childhood health (including prenatal services for mothers), development and education initiatives that are accessible and flexible enough to be available to all families, including the most marginalized.
Mr. Yett added that flexible, community- based ECD services need to be established and scaled up. These centres could provide health screening and medical referrals; and regular liaison with social services for children considered to be at risk.
“I’m happy to see that this country is making positive steps in the right direction,. and we hope will soon be introducing new legal provisions , allowing more flexible arrangements and more equitable funding for services.,” Mr. Yett said.
The national report highlights that national kindergarten and preschool systems are failing to and include many Roma children. The last official statistics on the ethnic background of the children in public kindergartens in the country shows that the number Roma children that attend nurseries (0-2 year) is 0.9 per cent of the total number of children in the youngest age group and 1.7 per cent among the children in kindergarten groups (2-5).
It highlights that while overall coverage of Roma by the education system is relatively high, large gaps in coverage and educational attainment remain. The report emphasizes the need for a systems approach that utilizes pre-service and in-service training, for ECD professionals as well as effective monitoring and evaluation systems, to help ensure that the needs of all marginalized children are being met.
Furthermore, the report notes the disproportional representation of Roma children in special schools (schools for children with special needs). The estimates - based on various sources - highlight that Roma children account as much as one third of all children in special primary and secondary schools in this country.
The national report reviewed the adequacy of policies, the effectiveness of basic services with regard to Roma communities and young Roma children in particular, and identified good practices in early childhood care and education.
Among the good practices noted were alternative early learning development services – community based services that have been running in selected vulnerable communities in the country and serve as a model for scaling up to ensure greater reach. The report noted that traditional kindergartens are often too rigid in responding to the needs of marginalized children, including Roma.
“We understand that the early childhood period is the foundation of individual development and, not least, of lifelong health and education. Investments must be made from the beginning if Roma children are to acquire the health, knowledge, attitudes and skills to continue education and become part of a skilled European workforce,” said Dr. John Bennett, an internationally acclaimed expert in early childhood development policy and the report’s lead researcher.
The national study on “Roma Early Childhood Inclusion” was one of four (reports were also developed in Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia) conducted as part of the regional Roma Good Start Initiative. To download a copy of the nation report please click here (English Version, Macedonian Version); to download reports from the other participating countries, the overview report and other resources, please click on www.romachildren.com.