SKOPJE, 6 March 2018: The Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Mila Carovska and UNICEF Representative, Benjamin Perks today opened a three-day strategic workshop to conduct a systematic analysis of the pre-school education system and develop a road map to increase access to quality pre-school education. The initiative is the first major step towards universal pre-school coverage for children aged 3-6 in the country.
This workshop is organised to identify priority interventions needed to accelerate progress towards the European Union target of 95% pre-school coverage, with focus on quality. The pre-school coverage of children aged 3-6 in the country in 2017 is 35% which is far from the desired target.
“The Government has made a commitment to increase coverage and to improve the quality of preschool education and care,” said Mila Carovska, Minister of Labour and Social Policy. “Over the next three days we are doing a critical review of resources – human, physical, financial – to be able to develop a roadmap and action plan to ensure all children in the country access quality pre-school.”
The Minister went on to add, “If we do not invest in quality pre-school we will have lower performance in primary, secondary and higher education, and so we will not have a cadre of professionals who will move the economy of the country in the future.”
Currently the only access to pre-school programs in the country is through kindergartens and a small number of early childhood development (ECD) centres. Given the way the system is structured to serve working parents in urban areas, children who need pre-school most – children from poor and rural communities - are precisely the ones missing out. Furthermore, greater emphasis has been given to delivering “care” as opposed to “quality early education”.
“Early childhood education and care is critical to lay the foundations for later success in life in terms of education, well-being, employability, and social integration,” said Benjamin Perks, UNICEF Representative. “Not all communities need a big expensive kindergarten with a full day programme. The ECD centres are a proven cost-effective alternative where children attend an organized learning program for a few hours a day and parents have access to information on how to support child development at home.”
Over the three-days stakeholders from government, World Bank, civil society, practitioners and donor community – using a new UNICEF-developed conceptual framework and diagnostic and planning tool – will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the pre-school sector and develop an action plan to accelerate reforms.
The comprehensive review will consider action needed in planning, budgeting and management of both human resources such as pre-school teachers and physical resources such as infrastructure; quality curriculum and access to learning resources that stimulate child development; competencies of pre-primary teachers to promote positive development; participation of families and communities in early childhood development; and establishing accountability and quality assurance mechanism.