The Pivotal Role of Early Childhood Education
Parents and grandparents talk on benefits of early childhood development centers opened in 16 facilities across Kosovo
Lipjan, February 2021 – At the first door on the left, at the entrance of the only primary school in Gadime village of the Municipality of Lipjan, there is always a hostess. It is the educator Drita Qerimi – Avdullahi, the one who welcomes every day the 33 children attending early education in her classroom. Today she welcomes us, the UNICEF team. Drita educates children aged two to five years old. One of them is Tara, three years old, whom her grandfather, Nehat Ejupi, brings to educator Drita’s classroom every day.
“She enjoys coming to school,” grandfather Nehat tells us. “In the past she didn’t like coming to school, but since she started coming to teacher Drita, my niece Tara is very happy to come here and she happily talks about the games she plays and things she learns,” he continues with a smile the story of his niece Tara, who had had difficulties socializing with other children before she started learning at the Early Childhood Development Center in Gadime.
This Center, along with 15 others, like the one in Gjakova, one in Gjilan, one in Dragash, two in Zubin Potok, three in Zvecan, three in Vushtrri, and two in Mitrovica, is among the first community-based centers in Kosovo, dedicated to Early Childhood Development in the most remote areas. Their purpose is to provide opportunities for increased inclusion of children in early education, and to stimulate communities as well as public institutions to invest in early education as a foundation for children’s development, in order to achieve their full potential.
Albana Shabani, mother of Ajan 5 years old and Ajla 3 years old, provides the best example of this. Both of her children are attending early education for the first time at the Center in Gadime village. Albana says that her children were hyperactive and had difficulties socializing with other children. “They didn’t listen to me about anything I suggested or asked them to do,” she says, talking with relief about the opening of the Center in the village she and her family lives. “In addition to being very close, we immediately saw the change. I am extremely satisfied with the learning and development of my children,” she says. “They socialize more, understand better, they have learned to do many things on their own and have improved their behavior. This is all thanks to teacher Drita and her work,” Albana says.
416 children aged 3-6 years old are already included in the programs of 14 out of 16 early education centers supported by UNICEF in partnership with the Center for Psycho-Social Development, Bethany Christian Services, Santa Marija and Center for Democratization, and thanks to the financial support of the Austrian Development Agency. The Program for strengthening of early childhood development services, in addition to including the opening of centers, also provided trainings on the early education program for educators, has enabled content development for the digitalDistance Early Education platform, launched in March 2020 with the Ministry of Education, has organized discussions and trainings with parents to raise awareness about the importance of parent engagement for maximum early childhood education, and has led to the distribution of learning material kits to the centers. Thus, the project has ensured that the services provided to children are professional but also have the required technical support, particularly considering the fact that it started very close to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drita Qerimi Avdullai, educator at the early education center in Gadime, specifically highlights the role the early education platform has had (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“We started working in January 2020, and right after that we went into lockdown in March. Had it not been for the activities of the platform, it would have been difficult for us to overcome the situation,” she says. Drita also stresses that the parents were extremely interested in working with children. “There is a wrong perception that parents do not work with children, or fathers do not work with children. What I could notice is that they are interested, but they need someone to tell them what to do because they do not know. Therefore, if someone helps them, like me and such projects, then they will work,” teacher Drita says. Institutionalizing the Centers and granting their long life is a condition the project has imposed to municipalities. A good example of this practice and expression of interest to continue opening sister Centers is the municipality of Lipjan.
The Director of Municipal Education Directorate in Lipjan, Elmaze Behluli is convinced that such centers would greatly contribute to children’s development. However, despite the fact that her department has already added educator Drita to the teacher payment system,
Mrs. Behluli talks about the budgetary limitations they have as every similar request has to approved by MES, which is strained with similar requests due to the overriding need for more educators at municipal level. “The needs are paramount and the benefits enormous, but the budget is limited,” she says. “It was a huge challenge, particularly because we were faced with a pandemic, but it was worthy as we were able to see how beneficial it is for children, especially in areas like Gadime, which is overpopulated and has never had such a center before. Parents and families showed avid interest,” Director Elmaze concludes.
Early childhood education remains one of the priorities of UNICEF Kosovo. This is because recent data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report indicate that only 15 percent of children aged 3-4 years old in Kosovo attend early childhood education, ranking Kosovo among the countries with the lowest percentage of participation in early childhood education in Europe and Southeast Asia, while early education is the impetus to children’s cognitive development, learning and understanding and, in other words, trains them for life.