“If Red Riding Hood knew how to share – everything would be fine – the wolf would eat the cookies and everyone would be accounted for!” resolve a group of pre-schoolers after hearing the well-known story and discussing it. Their critical thinking was enthusiastically encouraged by their teacher Lejla Medosevic in Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre Plavi cvijet (Blue flower) in Gorazde, equipped by Save the Children.
This Centre offers pre-school education to children that had no opportunity to attend other pre-school programs or institutions. Here, they can prepare for school through two-hour workshops twice a week. Currently, there are 35 pre-schoolers attending the program, but the Centre also caters to educational needs of younger children (three-years and older) and school children who are behind their school program.
During our visit in December, we met a group of some 20 pre-schoolers eager to take part in the workshop and show what they have learned. The workshop included reading of the Red Riding Hood story, discussion about it, and then a small play – with their teacher’s help, they created paper masks, puppets and performed a play like real actors!
“All activities here are performed in line with the four core values the Centre is built on – cordiality, solidarity, creativity and equality. We believe that the biggest investment needs to be in early childhood care and development, if we lay good foundations, everything that comes afterwards will be good too,” stresses teacher Lejla Medošević.
Six-year old Haris* is especially attached to his teacher and he is working hard to earn extra points. “I respect the rules. My friend Alen* doesn’t respect the rules. I try to reason with him, but he only repeats what I say,” complains Haris.
His mother, Alida, couldn’t hide her satisfaction with her son’s progress and the program in general. “I am very happy that there is a place like this for children. The teacher is fantastic, she teaches them about real values, respect, she prepares them for school. I noticed that Haris* is more observant now, he shows bigger interest in new things. He was always an active child, and with this program he builds upon that.
According to official figures, only 14.6% of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H) attend some form of pre-school education. Save the Children in North West Balkans has been supporting access to quality Early Childhood Care and Development programs for the past 10 years in B-H. Since 2006, we have been investing our efforts in 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, Brcko District and municipal authorities in order to enable greater access to and improve quality of preschool education. And indeed, the municipalities provided space and covered the running costs of the ECCD units, Save the Children equipped the space and provided didactic materials and supplies, while at the same time building the capacities of pre-school teachers and caregivers to implement a three-month obligatory pre-school program, while the
Cantonal authorities committed to fund the salaries of the teaching staff.
“Having in mind the importance of early development, Save the Children has been investing for more than a decade in this critical phase of child development. Working on several fronts and exploring what works best, we opted for a cost-efficient and hardest-to-reach approach in which we bring preschool program to the most remote areas, reaching every last child. Thousands of children living in rural end excluded areas are this way given the opportunity to enjoy full benefits of preschool education,” says Save the Children in North West Balkans Program Implementation Manager Fatima Smajlovic.
Save the Children also 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, Save the Children, to date, established 207 ECCD units and 15 ECCD centres throughout the country open to about 6,500 children annually. In addition, in 2016 we provided optimal packages of didactics and supply materials for 150 classrooms for compulsory preschool program prior to primary school enrolment in Republika Srpska, reaching some 4,000 children. Moreover, specialised training programs were organized for 520 education professionals working in these units and centres in order to improve the quality in the execution of the preschool program.
*Names are changed in order to protect children’s identity