Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting
As specified in the Law on Preschool Education, the procedure for admission to an early childhood education and care (ECEC) institution is determined by the institution itself, and it has to be approved by its founding body. Children aged 6 months to 3 years can attend a nursery programme and children aged 3–5.5 years can attend a kindergarten programme. When applying to one of these programmes, parents or guardians have to provide documentation on their child’s medical check-ups, along with other personal documentation. Parents or guardians may choose any institution regardless of their place of residence as long as the institution has adequate capacity.
Regarding the compulsory preschool preparatory programme (PPP), relevant local authorities are responsible for keeping and providing ECEC institutions with lists of children who have reached PPP age. Children admitted to this programme must not be younger than 5.5 years or older than 6.5 years at the beginning of the school year they are about to attend. Parents or guardians are responsible for enrolling their child in PPP classes and they may choose their desired school or preschool institution. All PPP institutions are required to admit children regardless of the place of residence of their parents or guardians. Children who are foreign citizens residing in Serbia, children without citizenship, those without a documented place of residence or other personal documents, internally displaced children and refugee children undergo the same procedure and requirements for PPP enrolment as those who are Serbian citizens/residents.
Priority in admission to public institutions for each ECEC level is given to children from vulnerable groups, as prescribed by the Law on Preschool Education and by the By-law on the Establishment of Enrolment Priorities for Preschool Institutions. A list of priority groups is determined by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. As established by the abovementioned by-law, priority is given to the following groups:
- children from vulnerable groups:
- children who are victims of domestic violence;
- children from families entitled to some kind of social protection and children deprived of parental care;
- children from single-parent families;
- children from socially deprived environments;
- children with disabilities;
- children from families with seriously ill or disabled children;
- children of seriously ill parents or guardians;
- children of disabled war veterans or internally displaced/exiled persons;
- children assigned by social work centres;
- children from unsafe environments;
- children of parents or guardians who work or study full time;
- third or any subsequent child in a family;
- children whose siblings are already attending the ECEC institution they are applying for.
Group size and child/staff ratios
ECEC activities are carried out with groups of children. These groups may consist of children of the same age or different ages, except in PPP classes, which are intended for children between 5.5 years and 6.5 years of age. The size of the groups is determined by law for each age level, but may vary by 20 % if there is a justification.
Maximum number of children per group by age group
Maximum number of children per group
6 months to 1 year
1 - 2 years
2 - 3 years
3 - 4 years
4 - 5.5 years
5.5 - 6.5 years
As prescribed by the Law on Preschool Education, the number of groups in each institution is determined by the ECEC institution’s principal, according to the number of children admitted, working conditions and the approved programme. An ECEC institution at local government level / established by local authorities that is territorially independent has a dedicated number of units where the same ECEC programme is carried out. The number of groups per institution as a whole varies from 5 to 100.
Typical groups may not have more than two children with a disability, in which case the total number of children in the group is reduced by three for each child with a disability.
ECEC programmes are delivered by ECEC teachers (in ECEC groups with children aged 3 years and above) and nurses (with children younger than 3 years of age). Other professionals, namely psychologists and pedagogues, provide support. They do not work with children on a daily basis but only when it is necessary to monitor children’s behaviour, needs, etc.
ECEC teachers who work with children aged 3 years and above must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s-level qualification (4 years of education at International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) level 6). The minimum qualification level for staff who work with children from 6 months to 3 years of age can be below bachelor’s level (it can be 4 years of education at ISCED levels 3–5 or 3 years of education at ISCED level 6). Initial education of preschool teachers engaged in early childhood education is provided at secondary medical schools, colleges of applied studies (teacher training colleges) and universities (teacher faculties).
In accordance with the By-law on Detailed Conditions for the Establishing, Start of Work and Performing the Activities of Preschool Institution, an ECEC institution appoints one or two teachers or nurses per group of children depending on the duration of daily work in a group. For example, for a 4- to 6-hour-long programme, there should be one employee per group; for a 9-hour-long programme, there should be one full-time employee and another employee (with 63.6 % of working time) per group; and for an 11- to 12-hour-long programme, there should be two full-time employees per group. Every employee who works directly with children works shifts in their institution.
In addition, in accordance with the same by-law, an ECEC institution with up to 23 groups of children has one psychologist or one pedagogue. Institutions that have between 24 and 48 groups of children must employ both a psychologist and a pedagogue, and institutions that have more than 48 groups of children must employ three professional associates (one additional psychologist or pedagogue). Moreover, an institution that has between 72 and 80 groups of children must have a professional associate who is in charge of ill-health prevention and healthcare. The largest ECEC institutions, with 80–100 groups of children, must have in addition one professional associate who is in charge of social care.
Annual, weekly and daily organisation
According to the Law on the Education System Foundations, the organisation of ECEC programmes is coordinated with the school year (1 September to 31 August).
The PPP, regulated by the Law on Preschool Education, lasts for at least 9 months during the school year prior to enrolment in the first grade. The exact days of the start and completion of the programme are determined by each institution’s annual plan.
Pursuant to the Law on Preschool Education, working hours are determined by each ECEC institution based on the parents’ or guardians’ and children’s needs and on the parents or guardians council recommendation.
There is no minimum number of hours per day for ECEC programmes in nurseries and kindergartens. Parents or guardians choose from programmes with different hours per day to select one that best suits their needs and working hours:
- half-day programmes (up to 6 hours per day, up to 3 days per week),
- half-day programmes (up to 6 hours per day, Monday–Friday),
- whole-day programmes (9–12 hours per day, Monday–Friday),
- multiple-day programmes (longer than 24 hours).
In the 2020/2021 school year in Serbia, there were 216 570 children who attended ECEC programmes; 23.4 % of that number were children aged 6 months to 3 years and 76.6 % were children aged 3–6.5 years. Regarding the length of stay in an ECEC programme per day for children aged 6 months–5.5 years, half-day programmes (both 3 days per week and Monday–Friday) were attended by 4.5 %, whole-day programmes were attended by 95.5 % and multiple-day programmes were attended by only 0.01% of children in 2020/2021 (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Report on ECEC, 2020/2021 School Year, no 092, 2021).
The PPP requires attendance for a minimum of 4 hours per day. The programme may also consist of whole-day educational activities and optional specialised programmes, as determined by the interests of children and their parents or guardians, ECEC institutional capacities and resources provided by local authorities. In the 2020/2021 school year in Serbia, compulsory PPP classes were attended by 64 535 children; 57.4 % attended whole-day PPP classes and 42.6 % attended PPP classes lasting 4 hours per day. The number of children attending a PPP institution was 96.4 % in 2020/2021 (Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Report on ECEC, 2020/2021 School Year, no 092, 2021).