4. Early childhood education and care
In North Macedonia, early childhood education and care (ECEC) provision aims to provide care and education to children from birth until the age of 6 years, when they enter primary education. In practice, children usually start attending preschool when they are 8–9 months old. ECEC is not compulsory. Preschool education is classified as International Standard Classification of Education level 0 (since 2002).
The learning and teaching components of preschool education are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science, whereas the management and organisation of the work of preschool institutions falls under the remit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in cooperation with the municipalities.
There are two types of centre-based ECEC settings. The majority of children attend preschools (detska gradinka), which include nursery groups (jasli) for children under the age of 3 years. A small number of children aged 3–6 years attend centres for early childhood development (centar za ran detski razvoj). Centre-based provision can be public or private. Public provision predominates, with 95 % of children attending preschool being enrolled in public preschools. The enrolment rate of children aged 3–6 years in 2019 was 40 %, which is far lower than the European Union’s recommended level of 95 %. Participation in preschool is also low across minority groups. According to a United Nations Children’s Fund report, over half of children of North Macedonian ethnicity attend preschool education, compared with fewer than one in five children of Albanian ethnicity. Only 2.6 % of 4-year-olds from Roma communities attend preschool education.
Parents or guardians pay fees only for children who attend the full preschool programme. The key national documents that shape teaching and learning in preschools are the Early Learning and Development Standards and the Curriculum for Early Learning and Development.
There is also home-based ECEC provision, regulated under the conditions of the Child Protection Law. Home-based ECEC can be provided in the child’s home, in the home of the individual providing care (neguvatel), in the premises of the service provider (agencija za davanje uslugi) offering home-based provision or in other premises that meet the conditions set by the law. Responsibility for home-based provision is in the hands of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.