Dear Deputy Ministers,
Dear Mayors and Deputy Mayors,
Dear partners and guests,
Thank you for joining us today to discuss the challenges and opportunities for scaling up early childhood development systems and services in Bulgaria.
This topic is close to all of us at the World Bank as the evidence clearly demonstrates that development during a child’s earliest years holds the key to success later in life. With more than 20 years’ experience at the World Bank I can confidently say that early childhood development is one of the smartest investments a country can make.
Evidence suggests that an additional dollar invested in quality preschool programs will yield a return of between 10 and 30 LEVA. Young children who receive early stimulation interventions as infants and toddlers earn 25 percent higher wages as adults. Every LEV invested in nutrition brings back a return on investment of 18 LEVA.
We know that children have this amazing capacity to learn fast in their early years. They absorb all the stimulation that they are given and it is our responsibility as adults to nurture this. Their brains are growing at amazing pace – while I am struggling to stop mine slowing down!
Since my arrival in Bulgaria two years ago I had the privilege of visiting many children centres around the country developed under the Social Inclusion Project, which we supported. This has been one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of my job. And everywhere I went – in Burgas, or Yambol, or Vratsa, or Blagoevgrad, or Sofia I’ve been inspired by the energy and smiles of the children, the passion and enthusiasm of teachers and caretakers, and the joy and satisfaction of the parents.
I would like to thank the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy for the excellent partnership and strong commitment we have enjoyed in bringing the Social Inclusion Project to a successful completion.
Today, we want to share with you some of the lessons learned in the implementation of this project. We want to use the time we have together today to discuss what needs to be done to achieve the target Bulgaria has established to increase enrolment of kids in the kindergarten from current 82% to 95% by 2020.
Today we have the opportunity to have our discussion guided not by our own preconceived ideas, but by data, evidence and experience.
Let me be provocative and pose some questions to help frame today’s discussion.
First: What will it take for Bulgaria to reach the target of 95% of kids enrolled in kindergartens?
Second: Is enrolment enough or does it take more? Like other services, it’s not just about access, but also about quality.
Third: What would it take motivate parents to send their kids to kindergartens? And here I am not talking about parents from Sofia who desperately want to send kids to kindergartens, my point is about those parents from rural areas and marginalized communities who does not see the benefits and so keep their children at home.
Fourth: How is the government organized to develop these services? The municipalities are at the forefront, but they are relying on the support of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and for the Ministry of Education and Science, and for the Ministry of Health. Delivering comprehensive and quality early childhood development services in an integrated and effective way is a challenge for every country in the world – Bulgaria is not an exception. So what does Bulgaria need to do?
My daughter told me last year: “Dad, you have a problem. You have one ear that cannot hear and one ear not listening”. Today is all about listening and hearing. I feel privileged to be part of the discussion.
Today in the room we have the people with experience and people that have done some important research and so have data and evidence. I have great expectations for today’s event and looking forward to getting your insights on this important topic.