Give All Children the Same Chance

May 27, 2015

Tony Verheijen B92 Blog

Many studies show that education is one of the keys to escape the poverty trap. So, how can we ensure to give all children the chance to reap the benefits of a good education? There are numerous facets in answering this question, but one of the important ones is to provide them with Early Childhood Education.

Why? Because early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth.  The years between birth and six lay the foundation for subsequent learning and development. Early Childhood Education, among other things, enhances school readiness, improves children’s’ cognitive and general skills, increases school enrolment and lowers repetition and drop-out rates.

Experts have calculated that investing in children’s pre-school education gives you extremely high results for the money (what experts call “return on investment”). Let me just give you a few examples which show some of the results of the concept.

In Bangladesh children who received center-based pre-school education outperformed their peers by 58 percent on standardized test. In Columbia children who received a comprehensive community-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) intervention were 100% more likely to be enrolled in third grade, indicating lower dropout and repetition rates for program children. In Argentina one year of preschool was estimated to increase the average third-grade test score in mathematics and Spanish by 8%. And in Jamaica high-quality ECD interventions improved children’s cognitive development, and boosted the earnings of those with developmental delays by 25%.

So, where is Serbia? Well, the picture is bleak. In 2007, Serbia and Albania had a similar percentage of children enrolled in pre-school education – around 50 % of all children. Montenegro at the time was at a very low, close to 30 percent. In 2012, some 70 percent of children in Albania were enrolled in pre-school education, while in Montenegro 60 percent of them went to pre-school. Romania and Bulgaria the situation is even better (around 80 and 85 percent respectively). At the same time, in Serbia less than 60 percent of kids went to pre-school. Particularly dire is the situation among the Roma children: only five percent of Roma boys and seven percent of Roma girls living in informal settlements attend some kind of pre-school. And if you come from a poor family you are ten times less likely to go to pre-school than children who were born in rich families.  

Having in mind what I said earlier, this means that children in Serbia, Roma kids and children coming from poor families have less chances of learning more and better than children in other countries, children from other ethnic groups and kids born in wealthy families.

All this can be changed. The World Bank finances more than 70 projects focused on Early Childhood Development around the world (of which Early Childhood Education is part). We have the skills, the knowledge and we can support countries in ECD reforms. And there are many partners and stakeholders doing excellent work in this area such as the Novak Djokovic Foundation, UNICEF, and the Open Society Fund. There are many educators and practitioners in Serbia ready to make a change. So let’s join forces and make sure that all children in Serbia have the tools at hand to escape the poverty trap and contribute to society.