Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme provides directions and recommendations on the organisation of programmes and working methods with children from 6 months to 6.5 years of age. This document specifies the objectives and outcomes of a preschool programme, makes general recommendations and includes all relevant guidelines for early childhood education and care (ECEC) staff who work with children in nurseries, kindergartens and preschool preparatory programme (PPP) classes. It is up to the institution to develop programmes and up to the ECEC staff to choose the content and specific methods based on this document. The ECEC programme that each institution must draw up should contain general information about the institution, the types and duration of teaching and care activities, collaboration with families and local authorities, ways of achieving ECEC principles and goals, and methods of performance monitoring/evaluation.
In addition to the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme - Years of Ascent, the ECEC programmes developed by each institution should also be based on the Law on the Education System Foundations and the Law on Preschool Education.
The new approach and the document Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme were developed by the representatives of the Institute for Improvement of Education, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Institute for Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Belgrade and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. When implementation began, support in the form of training, development of manuals and guidelines, horizontal exchange mechanisms and mentoring to institutions was provided through an inclusive project on preschool education, implemented using funds obtained as a loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The new approach is fundamentally different from the approach set out in previous guidelines for ECEC teachers. Much more autonomy, but also responsibility, has been given to ECEC teachers because, under the new approach, they are required to develop activities according to their experiences with children, not just follow a prescribed programme. In addition, one of the most relevant characteristics of the new approach is child-centred ECEC, which means that a holistic approach to child development is a priority. This approach encourages children to make choices about what they will learn and explore, and to take learning into their own hands, not just to be directed by an ECEC teacher.
Another relevant document for the development and implementation of nursery and kindergarten programmes is the By-law on Standards of Conditions for the Realisation of ECEC Programmes, which specifies ECEC beneficiaries, space, equipment, duration and types of programme.
The compulsory PPP for children aged 5.5–6.5 years is carried out pursuant to the binding guidelines provided in the By-law on Detailed Conditions for the Preschool Preparatory Programme Implementation.
Areas of learning and development
The aim of the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme is to provide guidelines for the comprehensive development and well-being of a child through an integrated approach to learning, play and other activities, as well as to help them to build meaningful relationships with peers and adults in an inspirational space. In accordance with this by-law, the new preschool programme recognises the relevance of the development of children’s lifelong learning, self-confidence, openness, curiosity, reflection, resilience, creativity and play. The most relevant competencies recognised in this document are communication; digital competency; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; learning to learn; initiative and entrepreneurship; social and citizenship competencies; cultural awareness; and expression.
The most relevant principles of the programme are as follows.
- A child is the focus of the programme, as a competent, creative and unique individual, full of potential and willing to learn and play. Children are seen as active participants in a peer group and community as a whole.
- The participation of parents or guardians and collaboration with the community are prioritised in the programme. Parent and family involvement is encouraged by engaging adults in joint activities and also through engaging the local community.
- Preschool teachers have a new role because the foundations of the programme is to be used only as a guide for the preschool institution programme. ECEC teachers and all other practitioners in the preschool institution are to use the foundations of the programme as a starting point in dialogue with colleagues, parents or guardians and children about the activities.
- A preschool institution, the environment where the preschool programme is to be conducted, is seen as a place of living and learning, and also as a place of inclusive, reflexive and democratic practice and critical pedagogy.
- The physical environment is an inspiring and stimulating environment for learning, which provides opportunities for children to freely explore, experiment, discover and work with others.
- In ECEC, the focus should be on long-term objectives, not short-term outcomes and achievements; an integrated approach to child learning and development; and evaluation with the aim of improving practice, not only evaluating outcomes.
According to the By-law on Detailed Conditions for the Preschool Preparatory Programme Implementation, the PPP’s function is to provide equal conditions for all children, enrich their social and cognitive experience and enable all children to be in the same or a similar position when they start primary school. In addition, the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme does not specify precise short-term outcomes for the PPP, only thematic areas, competencies and aspects of child welfare, using key phrases such as ‘to feel’, ‘to be’, ‘to be able to’, ‘to be competent in’ and ‘to do’. The aspects of welfare and competencies specified are relevant for both the PPP and kindergarten, as well as for nursery.
Preschool teachers are free to choose teaching methods according to their preferred teaching style and the individual needs, wants and competencies of children. In the absence of a detailed curriculum, teachers have a very important role in the delivery of the programme, as well as in any modifications that may be appropriate in view of the children’s needs, interests and abilities.
Preschool teachers choose and create materials considering the welfare of children, principles regarding which are set out in the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme, which recognises the importance of children’s feelings, characteristics, skills and previous experiences. Moreover, some of the materials should be chosen in cooperation between children and preschool teachers according to the current interests of the children. This is particularly the case with natural materials such as cloth, wood and clay. In line with the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme, all participants in an ECEC institution, including children, parents or guardians, preschool teachers and other staff, are responsible for choosing and preparing materials. This pedagogical approach is applicable to the whole ECEC programme, including nursery, kindergarten and the PPP.
There is no formative or summative assessment during ECEC programmes. Personal records of progress for each child are kept and updated in ECEC institutions.
Transition to primary school
One of the main principles specified in the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme is continuity in education. Continuity is based on developing lifelong learning competencies and connecting ECEC institutions with schools, families and local communities. Some recommendations for approaching transitions are made in the Fundamentals of the Preschool Education Programme: an ECEC institution should cooperate with a school by organising mutual visits and joint activities, exchanging information, preparing parents or guardians and children for the transition from kindergarten and the PPP to school, and organising particular activities and taking action to connect practitioners, children and parents or guardians from kindergartens and schools (sporting activities, art workshops, friendship programmes, celebrations, festivals, exhibitions, performances, etc.)