Save the Children in North West Balkans has been supporting accesses to quality Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) programs for 10 years in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H). Since 2006, we are investing our efforts in advocacy activities, establishing strategic partnerships with ministries of education of Republika Srpska, Federation of B-H, Zenica-Doboj, Central-Bosnia, Una-Sana, Tuzla, Bosnia-Podrinje and Posavina cantons and Brcko District in order to enable higher access and improve quality of preschool education.
SCNWB contributed to passing the framework (national-level) law that requires every child to attend at least three months of pre-school education prior to entering first grade, in the attempt to increase access to pre-school education. And when that law was finally passed, it took more than six years for all regions (cantons and entities) to harmonize their legislation in order to accommodate this requirement, and this has not yet happened everywhere.
To ensure conditions for the implementation of this law, SCNWB, to date, established 233 ECCD units and 13 ECCD centres throughout the country open to about 6500 children annually. In addition, this year we have provided optimal packages of didactics and supply materials for 150 classrooms in Republika Srpska (RS) that organize compulsory preschool programs prior to primary school enrolment, covering some 4000 children. In addition, specialised training programs were organized for education professionals working in these units and centres in order to improve quality in the execution of the preschool programs.
Years of continuous work have paid off and today, some areas of the country reached almost 100% inclusion of children in some form of preschool education (e.g. Tuzla Canton).
“Having in mind importance of early development, Save the Children invests for more than a decade in this critical phase of child development. Working on several fronts and exploring what works the best, we opted to cost efficient and hardest to reach approach in which we bring preschool program to the furthest areas, leaving no child behind. Thousands of children living in rural end excluded areas are this way given the opportunity to enjoy full benefits of preschool education,” states SCNWB Program Implementation Manager Fatima Smajlovic.
First five years of a child’s life are of key importance for his or hers future development, this is the time when their potentials are being developed and when the basis for their intellectual, social and emotional development are set. This phase of a child’s life is even more important for children with disabilities.
For this reason, SCNWB equipped ECCD centre within the Day centre for children with disabilities in Gradiska. This centre is daily opened to six children with disabilities that are coming on regular basis and several other children, mostly from rural areas, who are only able to come periodically. Majority of beneficiaries are children with mental disabilities.
“All activities are adjusted to their specific needs and we try to ensure every day that every child has a day filled with appropriate developmental activities and activities they show the interest in. Children with severe mental disabilities are constantly monitored and assisted by professionals, making sure they make the best from the centre’s services, “ describes social worked from the centre Vanja Trninic.
Day centre is also open to any other children of pre-school age, who don’t have access to institutional preschool education. During our visit to the centre, we have met there Lana* (5), Nina* (3) and Mona* (2) with their mother Nikolina. They are regular visitors to the centre since the spring 2015. To bring her three older daughters to the centre, Nikolina has to leave her baby girl Pepa* at home with relatives.
“They learn more for an hour we spend in the centre than they learn at home. Here they have different developmental games, they draw, write… In reality, I don’t have time to teach them at home, I give them pencil and paper and leave them on their own. Here, they have professional assistance. After each visit to the centre, they are happy like they were in the best place in the world. They love to draw, so after the visit they come out with their drawing and show them to our whole neighbourhood. And the most important thing – they have no prejudices towards children with disabilities. Here, they all play together and they are all equal,” stresses Nikolina.
Her eldest daughter Lana will enrol to first grade this September. “She’s five, she’s still a little girl, but she’s bright and takes in knowledge very quickly, so I believe she is ready for the school. When I give her a task to write letters or numbers at home, she writes the whole pages, we already have several notebooks full. Also, things she learns in the centre, she repeats at home.”
We are born ready to learn and still, many of us don’t get a chance for a good start and equal opportunites. Ten years of working in the area may seem a lot, but SCNWB believes this is only a beginning in the process of ensuring that every last child has continues and optimal access to inclusive and quality preschool education.
*Names are changed in order to protect identity.