ABU DHABI, Nov 21 — A Dh6.25 million humanitarian scheme funded by Dubai Cares will help to put more than 7,000 Bosnian children into early education over two years, with greater inclusion for disabled children.
Increasing Early Learning Opportunities for Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a partnership between the Dubai charity and the UN Children’s Fund, seeks to provide a sustainable education framework for children aged between 4 and 6 in the country.
Under the initiative, 400 Roma children and 350 youngsters with learning delays or disabilities, aged between 4 and 5, now have access to preschool education. This week, a delegation from Dubai Cares traveled to Sarajevo and neighboring towns and villages to view the progress of the work. Under current standards in Bosnia, compulsory free education only begins once a child reaches 7, missing out on vital early development.
“Education is one of the most powerful tools that can be utilized in the fight against poverty,” said Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares.
“Its significance is amplified in evolving nations like Bosnia and Herzegovina, where educated youth will have to play a key role in the prosperity and growth of this country.
“This program will help develop the human capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina, providing an opportunity for more children to enroll and benefit from pre-school education. “Children in 30 percent of all municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina will now have access to pre-school education.”
The latest statistics from UNICEF show that at most, only 15 per cent of the children across the country are enrolled in preschool education, regarded as essential for the pupils’ future education and employment. The figure drops to just 2 per cent for the country’s marginalized and poorer Roma population, estimated to be as many as 100,000 people. The key objectives of the initiative are social inclusion, education for disabled children and more learning hours.
The mandatory time spent in early-years education in most parts of the country is 150 hours a year, or about three months of tuition, and applies only to the year before children start primary education.
With help from Dubai Cares and UNICEF, and in partnership with the local government, it is hoped that children will start preschool at the age of 4, with a minimum requirement of 300 hours. Attendance in the country’s preschools follows an economic trend, with 31 per cent coming from the country’s richest quintile.
The leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina faces significant challenges when implementing education policies. Thirteen ministers of education must be consulted before agreements can be reached and there is an overall lack of funding. The country has 10 cantons, or regions, with 142 municipalities in all. Initially the funding from Dubai Cares was intended for only 15 municipalities but it has since been divided between 45 to have greater societal impact.
Local leadership has hailed the initiative as an important step towards the greater educational goals of the nation. “I hope that the cooperation between Dubai Cares with the relevant institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be continued in the future, as a product of our mutual satisfaction,” said Dr Zlatko Lagumdzija, minister of foreign affairs and deputy chairman of the council of ministers. “These projects are a direct investment in children and knowledge, the two highest values for the future of our country and the whole world.”
In Visoko, a town just outside Sarajevo, the program has been welcomed by locals.
“We have large waiting lists and many children waiting for vacancies,” said Amra Babic, the mayor of Visoko. “There used to be two buildings here used for preschool education that could cater for 300 children. Unfortunately the other building was destroyed during the war and we have still not found a suitable replacement.
“The future of a country depends on education of its people, on the opportunities for learning. We are very grateful for projects such as this one, supported by UNICEF and Dubai Cares,” he added. –IINA