Preschool education – a necessary condition for the development of every child
As a response to the COVID-19 crisis, Roma parents have received support in order to properly encourage their children's development in times of difficult access to early education
HERCEG NOVI, 18 DECEMBER 2020 – Due to the coronavirus crisis that has led to the closure of kindergartens over a long period of time, Roma and Egyptian children have found themselves at increased risk of ceasing to attend or not being enrolled in kindergarten. On that occasion, UNICEF organized a special educational programme for parents of Roma and Egyptian children in order to point out the importance of early education, but also to support them to face as easily as possible the additional challenges of parenting that the new situation imposes.
Instead of the previous workshops for parents that were organized in kindergartens, this year parents for the first time received educational materials in the form of brochures in Montenegrin and Albanian, after which professionals from the Pedagogical Centre had one-on-one telephone sessions with each parent individually. Through individual sessions, Roma parents received advice on how they could support and motivate their children at home as parents, while the preschool institutions were closed.
Ermina Tafa, the mother of 5-year-old Matej, who is currently not going to kindergarten due to the pandemic, says that the individual sessions were very useful and have helped her face the threat of coronavirus infection. She is especially satisfied because she is additionally motivated to support her child's going to kindergarten, but also to give him all the necessary support at home.
I learned that children should go to kindergarten, acquire new knowledge, socialize with their peers and spend high-quality time there in order to fit into society more easily before going to school. I realized that children should have freedom, not be afraid of discrimination or separated from their peers, and behave like every other child, regardless of the difference in our national or religious backgrounds.
She adds that the brochures have helped them spend their time better while at home.
There are a lot of games in the materials, the kids love them and are very dedicated to them. Although I have a lot to do, I have found time for us to play together at home. In this way we are becoming closer, the children are behaving in a more relaxed way and are getting away from their phone and the internet, which is very useful.
We managed to find out from the playful Matej, who did not have time to stop playing, that he had learned to wash his hands regularly when he went to kindergarten or when he returned home, as well as that he has many friends.
I enjoy kindergarten because I get to hang out and we play all the time. I have my best friends there, Andrej and Amar, and we play Ludo (a board game) or catch and various other games. I am very happy because the kindergarten happiness score is an A+!
The programme coordinator, Milos Bulatovic, points out that the achievements of this programme are visible on several levels because, during these challenging times, both parents and children have received the support of professionals who have extensive experience in working with them.
Through counselling discussions on pre-defined topics, families have had the opportunity, in the new context, to gain new information about stimulating children at an early age, as well as to be empowered and supported in enrolling or continuing to take children to preschool institutions. Certainly, all in accordance with the current epidemiological situation.
Through the modified UNICEF programme, mediators are now playing a more active role than before, and they have received some additional information from psychologists about the importance of early childhood development which they could go on to share with Roma parents.
Social Inclusion Associate Sanja Knezevic is aware of the importance of personal contact with Roma families, which, as she says, cannot be replaced by any other type of communication. She believes that the UNICEF programme is well designed and that the results are visible.
Parents have realized that enrolling a 7-year-old child in school is ineffective unless his or her mind has previously been developed in kindergarten. Parents have become aware that early education affects the overall development of children, who achieve better results in the first grade compared to those children who have not gone to kindergarten. At the same time, as they say themselves, the mothers have more time to do their chores and then dedicate themselves to the child when he or she comes home from kindergarten.
UNICEF Education Officer Ivana Cekovic reminds that every child needs to be provided with access to high-quality and inclusive education, regardless of where they live.
The importance of preschool education and upbringing is also greater for children who come from vulnerable groups, given that this is how a lack of support and opportunities for learning in early childhood is compensated. During the time when attending kindergarten was not possible, the necessary support to parents and children aimed at strengthening parental competencies was provided through this programme.
UNICEF's Programme “Preschool Education for Roma and Egyptian Children: Raising Awareness of Roma and Egyptian Parents on the Importance of Preschool Education”, supported by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), is being implemented in Herceg Novi, Tivat, Podgorica, Niksic and Berane, and it has included 150 Roma and Egyptian parents during the current year.