Kindergarten without Frontiers
Great Expectations in Veliki Izvor
Veliki Izvor is an agricultural village with a population of 2,600 people, situated six kiloimeters away from the town of Zajecar in Eastern Serbia.
It is famous for the production of nursery plants, and contrary to many other villages in Serbia, it does not suffer from a population outflow.
The village has a primary school attended by some 200 pupils. Pre-school aged children, however, have not been covered by any sort of education or activities that would improve their early development.
The Veliki Izvor villagers - children, their parents and teachers alike - are happy that, within the "Kindergarten without Frontiers" project, the activities have begun for the opening of the kindergarten where children will spend four hours a day with their peers playing together, and engaging in all sorts of creative and educational activities.
The needs are real. Milica's grandmother says that the girl is lonely and introverted. She is scared of any new surroundings, unfamiliar faces and situations.
When asked what she will do this winter, she says she will watch TV. She cannot think of any other activity.
But when asked what she would like to do in the kindergarten, her eyes sparkle.
"I'd like to have a slide here," she says.
Then she looks at Milena's drawing and says: "I'd like to learn how to draw and to play with Milena and Dunja."
A special dialect is spoken in Veliki Izvor, which mixes Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian.
The children that spend their preschool years only with their family members face a number of difficulties when starting primary school education.
The village teacher, Mr. Miomir Petkovic, says that some first-graders do not utter a word from the beginning of the school year in September until February.
They are ashamed to speak, can hardly understand their teacher and have poor social skills.
For these reasons, the teacher emphasizes the opening of the kindergarten as a major step forward.
The opening of the kindergarten in Veliki Izvor is part of the "Kindergartens without Frontiers" project implemented by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Science in cooperation with local governments and preschool institutions in 10 municipalities in Serbia.
The space in Veliki Izvor is provided in the municipal government's building, adjacent to the post-office and community office.
Thanks to good cooperation with the municipal authorities in identifying a suitable facility, only minor adaptations are needed in order to adjust the space to the children's needs.
Even though the conditions are still modest, the municipality of Zajecar, UNICEF, through support from IKEA, will ensure that the kindergarten is functional, pleasant and motivating.
The colours will be warm, the rooms bright, sanitary facilities renovated, chairs and tables adjusted to children's height. And, most importantly, everything will be safe and cosy in order to help children who have never left their family surroundings adapt to a new environment.
The kindergarten in Veliki Izvor is a proof that commitment, good will and modest resources are sufficient to make a significant improvement for children and their community.
Preschool teachers have been identified, and their training is to begin shortly.
Their task will be to help facilitate the inclusion of children from vulnerable groups in the kindergarten. In this way, all of the children will be better adapted to society and ready to enrol in primary school.
Dunja cannot be made to smile, let alone say what she would like to have in the kindergarten yard.
Her mother Nikica says that it will take time for her to adapt, and for now, she is mostly silent and reluctant to take part in the activities. But she is looking forward to going to the kindergarten and keeps asking her parents to take her to there on Saturdays and Sundays.
As her mother is talking, Dunja comes closer to the table and shows her drawing. It is the kindergarten – with an abundance of details. Finally, Dunja is smiling.
Milena's mother, Violeta, emphasizes that even those parents who were aware of the importance of early development could not do much for their youngsters.
She hopes that the kindergarten will have an additional function – to educate parents about the importance of the period from the third to the fifth year of life of a child for his or her psycho-physical development and later success in school and life.
"Our children have got a chance", said Violeta.
The three girls, all dressed in pink from their heads down to their toes, go out to the yard. They are sticking together, even though they have only met recently.
They know that they are on the same mission – to step out from their family milieu into a world of socialising, playing and of course, learning.
Less than half of all children aged 3-5 in Serbia attend some type of organized preschool education. Current coverage for the general population is only 44%, dropping to 8% for Roma children, 22% for the poorest children, and 29% for children from rural areas.
Although precise data are not available on the participation of children with disabilities in early education, anecdotal evidence shows that it is extremely limited (below 2%).
The new Law on the Basis of the Education System adopted in 2009 has strong provisions aimed at improving the inclusiveness and quality of education.
This Law was used as the basis for the new Law on Pre-school Education, which aims at increasing the inclusion of vulnerable groups and those without access to services into the early learning programmes.
The Law has opened a space for the establishment of alternative pre-school programmes, as well as community care and learning centres.
In close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science, UNICEF Serbia is helping to model the provisions of the new Pre-school Education Law that relate to expanding services for the most vulnerable children as a part of wider efforts of the Ministry.
This will involve design and support to diversified service provision tailored for particular vulnerable groups - namely children in rural areas, Roma and children with disabilities.
The development ofs pecialised programmes adapted to the needs of children and families will facilitate the most efficient usage of existing capacities.
By participating in diversified models, all children will be able to exercise their rights to learn and play through socializing and enjoying creative activities.