Era, a little child from Pristina, has a hurried morning routine. Her parents get her ready for kindergarten and pack her breakfast. Era is one of Kosovo’s fortunate kids. Most people don’t get the chance to go to kindergarten or learn early skills that will set them up for success in the future. When they reach adulthood, Era’s peers born today will only be 57% as productive as they could be if they had access to early comprehensive health and high-quality education programmes.
Early childhood development (ECD) is crucial for the development of human capital, according to the research. The best investment a nation can make to develop human capital that fosters economic growth is in early childhood education.
The fact that Kosovo’s human capital cannot keep up with the demands of the rapidly changing global economy is one of the biggest barriers to the country’s economic development. Nowadays, the majority of younger Kosovars lack the fundamental abilities needed in the workplace. Infant mortality and under-five mortality rates, for example, are significantly higher than in the European Union. And according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), three out of every four kids in Kosovo are still functionally illiterate by the age of 15. All of this was only made worse by COVID-19. Teacher strikes, school closures and disruptions due to ECD centres, and learning instability also don’t help.
The majority of the difficulties listed above are prevalent in children’s lives from a very young age. Only 23% of Kosovo’s 36–59 month old children exhibited developmentally appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy. The illustration of Kosovo’s ECD access is instructive. Kosovo has very low rates, compared to peers in the Western Balkans who generally have higher preschool service coverage. Only Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to maintain such limited access in the area.
Admission, excellence, and equity
Due to these gaps, investing in ECD must be done quickly and consistently. But what can be done right now to ensure that Kosovars in the future can realise their full potential?
Increased enrollment in high-quality ECD services is necessary to give every family an opportunity to use them. Kosovo is in a good position to take advantage of opportunities. Despite the low ECD enrolment, the system as a whole offers a variety of public, private, and community-based services. The current balance of public and private services, if scaled up, might guarantee flexibility to respond to the nation’s quickly changing demographic trends.
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Access alone, however, is insufficient for a child’s development; ECD quality is essential. Building and supporting quality assurance systems, enhancing teacher credentials, improving teacher skills continuously, digital parenting platforms, early detection of child developmental issues, high-quality learning environments supporting child development, a modern science informed curriculum, and updated teaching and learning materials are just a few ways to increase quality. The daily interactions between teachers and students are what define quality and undoubtedly require additional focus. According to a World Bank research that will soon be published, educators struggle to apply the play-based curriculum and do not provide enough support for independent child activities.
ECD needs to be more equitable. Today, children in Kosovo’s rural areas are three times less likely than their peers in the cities with the highest enrollment rates to be enrolled in ECD services. The availability of children’s books is also lower in the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian populations than in the overall population: only 4% of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian children own at least three children’s books, compared to 27% of the general population. Additionally, there is a significant disparity in Kosovar children’s engagement in ECD among socioeconomic categories.