WASHINGTON, February 22, 2017 — Serbia has joined global leaders in Early Childhood Development by investing in its children to support their success, drive the long term competitiveness of the Serbian economy, and create growth and jobs. Serbia is adding about 17,000 preschool spaces for children thanks to a new Euro 47 million Inclusive Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Project approved yesterday by the World Bank Board of Directors.
“The fact that 25 percent of children worldwide are stunted is a global crisis that threatens to lock young people into lives of poverty before they reach their fifth birthday,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Investing in children’s education and care is not only the right thing to do, but also enhances economic competitiveness. With early stimulation, good nutrition, and regular preschool, children learn more and earn more as adults.”
The ECEC project will support an increase in preschool facilities and the availability of qualified teachers, and include measures to enhance access of vulnerable groups through a targeted grant scheme for participating municipalities. Investment in early childhood development falls short in the Western Balkans. Serbia is a country where only one in two children has access to pre-school education. Even when focusing on children ages 4 and above, the enrollment rate in Serbia is low in comparison to the Europe 2020 enrollment target of 95 percent. Most EU member states have enrollment rates between 85 and 100 percent.
Furthermore, access to early education in Serbia remains inequitable. More than 80 percent of wealthy children are enrolled in Early Childhood Education and Care programs, compared to less than 10 percent of children from the poorest families. Access for Roma children averages only 6 percent. The ECEC project will bring universal access to early childhood education and care within reach in Serbia.
The new project will go beyond strengthening formal education. In at least 30 municipalities the project will support learning and information for parents and caregivers about how to promote early stimulation for infants and young children. They will also benefit from better services for health, nutrition, and managing stress provided at home and in their communities.
The Inclusive Early Childhood Education and Care Project builds on the “Early Wins for Lifelong Returns” partnership to promote Early Childhood Development that was launched by the World Bank and the Novak Djokovic Foundation in August 2015. This partnership combines the Bank’s deep knowledge and programs on ECD with the commitment of Serbian tennis champion Djokovic to bringing attention to the social and economic benefits of ECD programs for children around the world. The partnership aims to advocate for the importance of early childhood education globally, and work to improve access to quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children in Serbia and beyond.
“This is an exciting day for children in Serbia,” said Novak Djokovic. “We are very happy to see that this fantastic early childhood development project with the World Bank is coming to our country. It brings us one step closer to ensuring that every child is given equal access to the resources needed to support their growth and development. I was fortunate to have a loving family and support from an early age to pursue my dreams, and my team at the Novak Djokovic Foundation has been working hard to build those same foundations in Serbia so others have the same opportunities to become champions of their dreams too.”
The project represents an important shift for Serbia, demonstrating a sustained commitment to early childhood education as a foundation for inclusive growth. The World Bank Group and the Novak Djokovic Foundation hope that Serbia’s investment in its future will serve as a model throughout the Western Balkans and beyond.
The project was designed under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, in close cooperation with partners such as UNICEF, Open Society Foundation, the European Commission and other partners who are active in Early Childhood Development sector. These collaborations ensure synergies and complementarities on the ground and enhance the relevance, impact, and sustainability of Early Childhood Education and Care interventions.
The ECEC project joins a World Bank portfolio of about US$1.6 billion aimed at accelerating inclusive growth and creating jobs in Serbia.