Since Serbia transitioned to democracy in 2000, its education system has faced challenges in regard to access, equity, quality and financing. However, in recent years the country has made major efforts to rebuild and improve its education system.
The distribution of schools in Serbia does not correspond to its population. Although the gross enrollment rate (GER) for preschool education is 98% overall, the GER is as low as seven percent of children in rural areas. These children sometimes have to walk between three to 10 km on way to school.
Serbia adopted the Law on Foundations of the Education System in 2009 to address this issue. This law was meant to provide opportunities for the marginalized, economically disadvantaged and internally displaced students in Serbia.
A major inequity gap exists for children with special needs. According to a 2010 statistic, only 1% of children with disabilities have access to pre-primary education. These children are also more likely than non-disabled peers to drop out of school. Resources are particularly scarce for students with physical impediments.
In 2008, UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to address inequity. The goals in the Memorandum were to establish a foster care system for children with disabilities as well as establish new standards for accountability and protection of child rights.
Serbia’s learning outcomes are below the region’s international average. This low performance is due in part to the school system’s failure to address the psychosocial needs of children emerging from conflict. School safety, drinking water and restroom sanitation also need improvement.
A “School without Violence” (SwV) initiative has been implemented across the nation to improve school quality and yield safer school environments. It includes the development of plans for crisis situations, a parent’s manual and the promotion of fair play in sports.
Although the level of government spending on education in Serbia (3.8%) is comparable to other European countries, its outcomes are poorer. This is due in part to Serbia’s inefficiently small classrooms.
To increase efficiency, the World Bank suggests consolidating under-enrolled classes by shifting students to other classes in the same school. This would reduce education costs by 10%.
According to Minister of Education M. Srđan Verbić, education in Serbia needs to be broad and flexible with its curriculum. This will provide students with the skills necessary for any job in the global workforce.
The Education Reform Initiative of Southeast Europe (ERI SEE) has the potential to establish one such framework for educational qualifications. It will also better distribute funds for education in Serbia. This cooperation in the education sector will cumulatively optimize school networks and increase school readiness and quality, ensuring equal access and high-quality education to all children in Serbia.
– Liliana Rehorn