Serbia: Educating All Children Equally

April 9, 2013

World Bank Group

As laws in Serbia evolve to further include children with disabilities into schools throughout the country, the World Bank Group is working with the government of Serbia to help ensure these laws are successfully implemented. The Delivery of Improved Local Services Project has helped train teachers and introcude new methodologies to increase inclusion the particiaption in the country's education system.

 

Vesna Kostic, World Bank Senior Communications Officer, Belgrade Office

Until recently children with any kind of learning difficulties in Serbia were grouped together and educated in special classes or schools. The approach, almost by default, exacerbated their troubles.


" Today boys and girls with similar learning difficulties come from all over Belgrade to enroll in our school "

Five years ago Đurađ Plavšić, headmaster of "Duško Radović" Elementary School in suburban Belgrade took the initiative and decided that a boy with Down's Syndrome shouldn't be singled out in such a way. Mr. Plavšić put him in a mainstream class with other children.

"People considered this a courageous decision at the time. There was no law to back it up. My colleagues expressed a dose of fear as they had no knowledge of how to work with these children. But with teamwork and good will we have accomplished quite a lot: the child is in fifth grade now. Today boys and girls with similar learning difficulties come from all over Belgrade to enroll in our school," says Plavšić.

In the mean time, laws have changed to include children with disabilities in mainstream Serbian schools. Building on this, a project supported by the World Bank financed ways of enforcing the new legislation. The Delivery of Improved Local Services (DILS) Project trained teachers to include children with learning disabilities in standard classes and supported the development of individual learning plans for every pupil. It helped introduce teaching assistants as well as peer learning and experience-sharing among education professionals.

"With a professional interpreter, I can have complete information. Children or cousins, they don't always know sign language fully. With a professional interpreter I am calmer, I am more confident that the communication will go as it should be and that I will receive 100 percent of the information," Ilic says.

And as communication among the disabled and the rest of society improves, so, too will confidence and mutual understanding.

"Through this project, we managed to test services and to find out which ones are important to beneficiaries, which ones make their lives easier and include them in society," says Vladimir Pesic, Assistant Minister of Labor and Social Protection. "And later we made these services sustainable at both the national and local level."

"You know, when I started on my own I felt I was going through fog. DILS helped us lift that fog, and cleared our path," explains Plavšić.


" He progressed so much that I almost don't recognize my child anymore "

And it helped smooth the way for Petar Plećić, a ten year old with Asperger's Syndrome. His teacher Dragana Tošev, was among 12,000 in Serbia trained through DILS to work with vulnerable children.

"The most important training for me was how to develop an individual learning plan, and how to evaluate it. This enables me to have an individual approach to pupils and then to see what works, so I can continue with it, and to see what doesn't work so that I can correct it. It also helped me to identify that communication and independence are Petar's weak points, and to design specific steps to address these issues," explains Tošev.

Petar's mother Jasmina Plećić says "Petar and kids like him need the opportunity to study with girls and boys without learning difficulties if they are to develop their full potential. His teacher has found a way to improve his learning curve immensely. He progressed so much that I almost don't recognize my child anymore." Plećić adds, "Other children in his class also benefit from having him. They feel better and they are kinder to each other."

DILS benefited 484 schools in 153 Serbian municipalities and enabled the inclusion of children with learning difficulties, and children from marginalized groups, such as Roma, who might otherwise stay outside the education system entirely.

Đulijeta Šulić was hired as a Roma mediator and is proud of what has been achieved in the Krivak settlement. Krivak is home to 15,000 Roma people; few children were enrolled in pre-school or elementary school. Most didn't speak Serbian or have documents needed for education, social protection or health care before the project started.

"At least 90 percent of children aged 3 to 5 years from the settlement are signed up for pre-school thanks to the interventions of the DILS project. We provided transportation for them from Krivak to kindergardens. We worked with parents to ensure that their kids regularly attend elementary schools. In cooperation with the local community, we helped them acquire all necessary documents allowing them to use education, social protection and health services. Our help was instrumental in improving their knowledge of Serbian, which makes their learning better and easier," says Šulić.

DILS supported the inclusion of Roma children in 56 Serbian municipalities, involving 55 pre-schools, 140 schools and 55 non-governmental organizations.ILS supported the inclusion of Roma children in 56 Serbian municipalities, involving 55 pre-schools, 140 schools and 55 non-governmental organizations.

"DILS blazed the trail for good inclusive education in Serbia for all vulnerable groups of children," says Zdenka Milivojević, of the project implementation unit. She added that it laid the groundwork for inclusive education to be the norm in the future.

 

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12,000
people in Serbia trained through the DILS Project to work with vulnerable children