T-Mobile partners with UNICEF to Expand Early Childhood Development
Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) today announced a partnership to expand early childhood development services. The initiative aims to ensure all children have equal opportunities for healthy physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development in the first five years of life.
“The first five years of life are the most important in a childs development and have long-term consequences, said Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative. “It is during these early years of life that the brain develops most rapidly, and it has been scientifically proven that children who attend high-quality early childhood programmes do much better when they arrive in school and are more likely to succeed later in life
The only access to early childhood development programs in the country is through state-funded kindergarten programs and a small number of early childhood development centers opened with UNICEF support. While access to services has increased slightly in recent years, currently only 1 in 5 children (22%) aged 3 to 5 access ECD services.
Unfortunately, given the way the system is currently structured- only 43 of all municipalities have kindergartens and 90% are in urban areas, mostly in Skopje - those children who need it most are precisely the ones missing out. Only 6% of children living in rural areas participate in ECD programmes and almost no children (0.3%) from the poorest households do so.
Through the partnership, UNICEF and Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia will work towards closing this gap through addressing parenting and caregivers education, opening new centers for early childhood development, and improving the quality of the learning programme in kindergartens.
"Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia and UNICEF have the same goal - we want to improve the quality of life for children, especially those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and through this partnership we plan to achieve just that, said Ms. Lea Lipsha, Director of Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia. “We plan to ensure that all children in Macedonia, regardless of their background get equal opportunities to develop to the fullest potential in the most important years in their life - the first five. And for this we need to mobilize the entire community, because it is of national interest.
The ECD centers that will be opened through the partnership build on a model piloted by UNICEF. Formally recognized in the most recent changes of the child protection law, ECD centers are a cost-effective alternative to kindergartens. They best service communities that are unlikely to have a kindergarten, such as rural and marginalized communities. Children attend an organized learning program for a few hours a day and parents have access to educational programs on how to work with children at home. The program offered through the centers is based on UNICEF supported Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS).
Currently twenty (20) such centers have been established through UNICEF programme with the support of local governments. Through this partnership, Foundation T-Mobile for Macedonia will donate at least US$50,000 to open additional centers.
While the initiative primarily focuses on providing children with opportunities to develop to their full potential today, UNICEF highlights that investing in ECD has long-term benefits for the whole country including the business community. Commending the most recent changes in the child protection law, and government commitment to expand services, UNICEF notes that the foundations for the business community to get involved to making service universal are now in place.
“Universally available early childhood development is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, continued Mr. Yett. “The evidence is clear that children who attend quality early childhood development programmes are less likely to drop out of school or get involved in crime, and more likely to complete higher education and earn higher income. Reduced burden on the social system, and a better skilled work force have proven to make up for the costs of expanding early childhood education.
In addition to opening new centers, the partnership will include a national campaign to raise awareness among caregivers about the importance of nurturing safe and stimulating environments for young children. “This project has long-term benefits and will need the support from other business partners, media partners, the municipalities, agencies and individuals, the general public, continued Ms. Lipsa. Recognizing the importance of mobilizing the entire community the partnership will also provide opportunities for all those who want to put children first to make their contribution and be involved.