Quality Inclusive Early Childhood Education
Every child deserves access to quality and inclusive education
The right to education starts with the right of every child to access quality and inclusive early childhood education and care (ECEC).
The coverage rate of children with ECEC in Serbia is increasing for all age groups, but it still remains below the EU 2030 goals, and the situation was further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, the coverage of children aged 6 months to 3 years reached 28 per cent (EU target 33 per cent), at the age 3–5.5 the coverage is 66 per cent (EU target 96 per cent), while coverage of the mandatory preschool programme one year before school was 97 per cent.
In 2018, the new preschool curricula framework was introduced, which recognizes the importance of preschool age in developing lifelong learning skills, such as self-confidence, openness, curiosity, persistence, resilience and creativity. This was followed by systemic capacity building support.
Programme Area Goals
We will work to strengthen the early childhood education and care system, building on previous results reached in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and other partners. With equity as an overarching goal, preschool quality and access will be improved by further developing the capacities of the ministry, other relevant institutions and preschools, as well as by improving intersectoral coordination.
UNICEF and partners are supporting the Ministry of Education to build capacities of preschools for implementation of the new preschool curricula framework through the innovative, comprehensive capacity-building programme, which includes blended learning, peer learning, mentoring and communities of practice. Support will be provided to further professional development of preschool teachers, expert associates and directors that includes use of digital technologies. Innovative financing and service models, potentially including public–private partnerships, will be identified for equitable access to quality preschool.
The indicative CPD output is that by 2025, preschool education quality and access are improved through strengthened institutional capacities, governance (including for public–private partnerships) and intersectoral coordination at the national, regional and local levels, and preschool teachers have increased competencies to apply modern inclusive preschool pedagogies.
Our goal is that by 2025: 80 per cent of girls and boys aged 3 to 5.5 years are enrolled in preschool education.
There are inequities in enrolment of children 3–5.5 years old between urban and non-urban areas and between children with different socio-economic status.
Data show that coverage of children living in informal Roma settlements is 7 per cent, children from the poorest families is 11 per cent, while the coverage of children living in rural areas is 25 per cent. When it comes to mandatory preschool only 76 per cent of children living in Roma settlements and 83 per cent of children from poorest households attend it.
Data indicate that, although the law on preschool education (2010) and relevant by-laws stipulate that children from vulnerable groups should have priority in enrolment, these regulations are not being applied effectively. To be so, a number of areas require improvement, such as an unevenly distributed network of kindergartens and lack of places, lack of transportation, costs associated with attendance, parents’ attitudes, quality of provision and transition to preschool programmes based on play and the quality of relationships; reforming the initial education competencies of preschool teachers; opening of kindergartens to the local community and better communication with the family; as well as the planning of local inclusive preschool policies.
The ECEC curriculum reform in Serbia has been an entry point for broader access to and improved quality and equity of ECEC to ensure that ‘Every Child Learns’.
To support ECEC development at decentralized levels, UNICEF will initiate more work on governance at the local level and cooperation with ministries in charge of local self-government and finance, and associations of local self-governments.
Continuous support to preschools is needed to manage and implement innovative pedagogies and enhance the system for professional development of practitioners, including through preschool communities of practice and enhancing capacities for using digital technologies.
Quality risks arising from rapidly expanding access through the private sector need to be reviewed. Development of a clear equity framework is important to prevent widening of the equity gap as the ECE sector develops, and equitable financing models for public–private partnership need to be established. All aspects of preschool education reform will be documented and best practices used for knowledge sharing and learning.