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Investing in preschool education is cost-effective and universal coverage is possible, UNICEF states

Presentation of the study on "Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia – Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education”

BELGRADE, Serbia, 25 September 2012 – The results of the study on Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia – Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education present evidence that the introduction of universal coverage of preschool education through 3-4 hour programmes is financially feasible and cost-effective.

In Serbia, the enrollment rate is on an upward trend; today it is about 25 per cent higher than it was in 2005.

“Yet, over half the children in the country are not included in any kind of early preschool programme. These are the children who need them the most – children from rural areas, those living in poverty, Roma children. And Preschool education is particularly beneficial for children from deprived groups”, said Judita Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative, addressing the conference.

The study, produced as a result of the cooperation between UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, shows that:

  • Currently preschool services are not used by those who need them the most

Higher enrollment rates are associated with children from better off families, parents with higher education and from urban environments with significantly lower rates among the poorest, rural and Roma children.

  • The current network of preschool institutions is not adequate in terms of geographical coverage and physical capacity

Frequently preschool institutions are absent from locations with the highest need (i.e. under-developed and rural areas).

  • Local governments are bearing 80 per cent of current preschool education costs.

As the majority of people benefitting from this expenditure are from higher socio- economic groups, this brings into question the principles of social justice and equitable distribution of available resources.

In order to achieve universal coverage of children from 3-5.5 years old, the following should be done:

  • 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 be only the responsibility of local governments and parents.

  • Policy makers should revisit the responsibility of local governments to finance preschool education.

The national Government should intervene and support underdeveloped municipalities to reach higher preschool coverage rates in the future, this support could be extended to all municipalities.

  • The further development of the network should be primarily based on the educative function of preschool education.

This expansion should explore making use of existing municipal premises and leveraging partnerships with donors, the private sector and other stakeholders interested in expanding physical capacities.

  • Demographic trends should be further analyzed.

The negative demographic trends have been a key driver in increased rates of preschool coverage but alone are not sufficient to increase coverage rates to the desired national targets. Therefore, these trends should be further analyzed to determine the extent to which further decreases in the number of children will free primary school capacities and leave space for their utilization for preschool programmes.

The study provides evidence that the introduction of universal preschool coverage through 3-4 hour programmes is financially feasible and cost-effective. Specific recommendations, thus, are:

  • Introducing the universality in access and coverage for all children aged 3 to 5.5 years would be a cost-effective measure to benefit the Serbian state and its citizens and would have the highest chances of reaching the most vulnerable.

The 3-4 hour programmes should be free of charge and available to all children 3 to 5.5 years old. The gradual introduction of this provision, first for children 4 to 5.5 years old and then for those 3 years old, would decrease the pressure both on physical capacities for preschool and additional resources needed.

  • 3 to 4 hour programmes are the most cost-effective way to provide preschool education.

As there is no real benefit seen in developmental outcomes for a full day rather than a shorter program, and as shorter day programme has significantly lower costs, 3 to 4 hour programmes have the most favorable cost-benefit ratio.

  • Enrollment of all children that are currently out of preschool education into 3-4 hour programmes would require investment of maximum 46 million EUR.

The cost of the 3-4 hour free of charge programmes for all children 3 to 5.5 years old presents around 60% of the current funds provided by municipal budgets for preschool education.
Participation of parents in cost sharing should remain for children using full-day programmes. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development could propose a national set of criteria for fee reduction and fee waiving for the full-day programmes, based on equity principles. There is also scope to increase the share of full-day costs paid by parents, based on their wealth status.

The full Technical Report on “Investing in Early Childhood Education in Serbia — Costing Models for Universal Coverage of Preschool Education” is available here

The brochure, based on the full Technical Report, is available here

For more details please contact:

Jadranka Milanovic
Communication Officer
Tel. 063-336-283

Aleksandra Jovic
Social Policy Specialist
Tel. 063-348-104



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