04 SES 04 C, Within the Inclusive School: Building spaces, promoting participation
Over the last several decades, participation in preschool programs has become much more common and public support for these programs has grown dramatically. Importance of investing in preschool education for both social and individual level has been supported by the bulk of research evidence.
At society level research findings suggest that the most return from investments in education is given by investments in early development and learning (Heckman, 2008). At individual level, a substantial body of research evidence shows that preschool education promotes children’s cognitive development (Barnett, 1995; Meyers et al., 2004), as well as positive social and emotional outcomes (Schneider & Byrne, 1985). At the same time, it is now well established that preschool programmes have the largest effect on learning and development of children from vulnerable groups (Hundert et al., 1998; Reynolds, 1994; Reynolds et al., 2001).
Focusing on preschool education through the lens of inclusiveness reveals that high leverage activities in preschool education were mainly focused at increasing coverage. Despite that attendance among children from vulnerable groups remains relatively low in most countries. On the other hand, inclusiveness of the preschool programmes remains underexplored (Magnuson et al, 2004). Moreover, understanding of what would be inclusive preschool program appears to differ among different stakeholders (Odom et al., 2004).
For the abovementioned reasons it seems that development of concept of inclusive education at preschool level is the first step in monitoring and enhancing quality and equity of preschool education. The paper aims at presenting the process of developing framework conceptualizing inclusiveness of preschool education in Serbia, which will guide the monitoring and evaluation of educational interventions and reforms through a set of key indicators.
There are at least three rationales for undertaking this process in Serbian educational context. First, data suggest low equity of preschool education. In the terms of access to education, Law from 2009 introduced a year-long preschool preparatory program (PPP) as mandatory. Additionally, pedagogical assistants have been introduced and served as outreach service and educational support to the students form marginalized groups, with emphasis on Roma students. In period of five years, these measures resulted in increased coverage of children from marginalized groups by preschool education. For example, preschool coverage of Roma children from settlements increased from 35% to the 62.9% (MICS, 2010; 2014). When it comes to the reasons for non-attending PPP, studies show that there are barriers in the access. Among them the most prominent is distance of the institutions delivering PPP (14.3%), as well as lack of documents (9.1%). In addition, parents frequently report that they are not informed on the compulsory nature of PPP (6.9%), while 5.8% of parents report that PPP is not useful enough (MICS, 2014).
Underdeveloped strategic goals related to inclusive preschool education allow different stakeholders to build different expectations and regarding them different evaluations of inclusive education. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to develop framework which includes key indicators that could be understood as system level expectations of inclusive education in certain point of time, as well as guidelines for future developments.
Moreover, in countries with the rudimentary form of information system in education, as it is Serbia, it is particularly important to set up a consistent monitoring framework for all management levels that would allow that all the data on different levels are used in their full potential.
The process of building framework for monitoring inclusive education at preschool level will include four phases: preparation, development, piloting and revising. In the preparatory phase three sources of data will be used. Desk analysis of international experiences related to monitoring and evaluation of inclusive education at preschool level will aim at exploring the scope of indicators, procedures and instruments used for monitoring. Having in mind the gap in literature regarding this topic in Serbia, desk analysis of national policy documents and research findings related to inclusiveness of preschool education will be complemented with semi-structured interviews conducted with three experts dealing with preschool education in Serbia from different positions (representative of Ministry of Education, university teacher and researcher from civil society organisation). The third source of data will be findings of the first comprehensive monitoring using already established Framework for monitoring inclusiveness of primary and secondary education in Serbia (Kovač Cerović et al., 2014; Kovač Cerović et al., 2016). Based on the preparatory phase findings, the input, process and output indicators of preschool education inclusiveness will be developed by team of researchers. The indicators will be accompanied by short instruments for different relevant actors (children, parents, preschool teachers, principals, preschool associates). Comprehensiveness and adequacy of proposed Framework for monitoring inclusiveness of preschool education will be ensured through peer review process, while the instruments will be piloted in 4 preschool institutions. Based on the findings of pilot phase, revisions of Framework will be made. Main study aimed at exploring inclusiveness of preschool education in Serbia using Framework will be conducted using stratified sample. In the first step clusters of municipalities will be developed according to the most relevant, available variables at municipality level that effect inclusivity of preschool education (coverage, number of children enrolled beyond capacities, percentage of Roma population, number of users of social support, etc.). In the next step, preschool departments from each of the municipality clusters will be selected having in mind setting (urban-rural) and size of the preschool department. Number of preschool departments per cluster will depend on the size of the cluster, it is expected that each cluster will be represented with at least 2 preschool departments. Overall sample should comprehend 20 preschool departments.
The Framework is intended to be comprehensive and comprehensible tool which could serve multiple purposes for different stakeholders. Namely, the Framework will be operationalized as a set of instruments that can be used individually, in various functionally connected series or as a whole set, depending on the needs, i.e. on the monitoring objective. This will make it possible to extract the views of a single stakeholder (e.g. pre-school teachers or parents) about specific areas, compare views of different actors on specific issues (e.g. the quality of additional support), or to make specific combinations of areas and specific actors’ views. It is important to underline that standardized instruments will be suitable and easy to use for each of the possible focuses envisaged by the Framework indicators. As we already mentioned, the Framework will be developed to allow the production of information for different purposes, e.g. annual or multiannual report on the state of affairs in inclusive preschool education at national or local level, external evaluation and self-evaluation of pre-school institutions, as well as developing and conducting research on different aspects of inclusiveness of preschool educatio. Expanding existing Framework from primary to pre-school education is an excellent way towards building connections between these two fragmented levels. It enables building continuity between these levels, as well as common understanding of what inclusive education is on different levels of education. Since recently, preschool education in Serbia become focus of different initiatives trying to make a shift from conception of pre-school education as a care to the pre-school education as environment for learning and developing. Therefore, findings from the comprehensive monitoring of quality and equity of pre-school education will enable more focused and more relevant initiatives in the future, as well as more efficient use of scarce resources.
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