Inspiring spaces for enquiring minds
A combined approach from the CEB and the government of Montenegro is bringing innovation and efficiency into new preschool facilities in the country.
Preschool education provides children with basic skills that help them acquire a solid knowledge basis for later. This age is crucial for the overall development of a child’s abilities – evidence shows that neurological development is most intensive in children up to five years of age, indicating the importance of stimulating learning in young children.
There are substantial positive social and economic benefits of preschool education to society. Investing in early education has a much greater impact than any subsequent investment during a lifetime. Studies also show a link between preschool attendance and subsequent school attainment.
According to the Ministry of Education, the enrollment rate for preschool facilities in Montenegro is 53% for children aged 3-6 – low by European and international standards. By comparison, the European Union, which identifies early learning as one of its priorities, has a goal of 95% of children aged 3 up to compulsory school age to be covered by early childhood education. Montenegro aspires to join the European Union and is involved in ongoing EU accession negotiations.
Montenegro’s enrollment figures mask significant regional differences in preschool attendance. In the capital Podgorica and in coastal areas there’s a lack of facilities to meet the needs of children. In the less developed north of the country, the demand for preschool education is low.
A strategy for change
The government recognises that these figures reflect a lost opportunity and has committed to bringing the enrolment rate up to the European standard. In order to provide early learning to children from all groups in Montenegrin society the government adopted a ‘Strategy for Early and Preschool Education 2016-2020’, which includes the latest evidence-based findings and best practice in early childhood education.
“The main goal of the strategy is to increase the coverage of children by preschool education in line with international standards," explains Arijana Nikolić, General Director for Preschool Education at the Ministry of Education of Montenegro. “Two other goals – to ensure the quality and sustainability of the system of preschool education – are as important.
“We are fully aware of the challenges ahead and we want to make sure that the strategy is implemented according to the timelines and in line with the principles of quality and equity.
We want all children in Montenegro to have access to a quality, functional and equitable system of preschool education.”
The CEB’s involvement
In 2013, the CEB approved a €10 million loan to co-finance construction of seven new preschool units as well as the refurbishment of all existing preschool facilities in four municipalities. The project aims to improve the physical environment and create better learning conditions to enable all children to develop their full potential.
Yet there is much more to this project than bricks and mortar. One of the project’s key ambitions is to improve the design of kindergartens across Montenegro in keeping with modern education trends, creating more efficient, flexible and child-friendly preschool facilities. A more efficient use of spaces also contributes to lower construction and maintenance costs.
“Kindergartens are moving from a very strict, institutional structure to becoming open environments, which can be closed when necessary,” says Jure Kotnik, a renowned architect who collaborated with the CEB on the project.
“There is a lot of self-learning now, with big emphasis on social interaction. You need a space to meet but, at the same time, you need spaces to retreat to and relax. Spaces need to offer dynamic areas and quiet areas.”
Inspiring great design
To develop capacity both at the Ministry of Education of Montenegro and within the wider community of architects and engineers in the country, the CEB supported the development of a database of design solutions for building or renovating high quality educational facilities based on an open, innovative and flexible approach to design.
“We focus on the re-use of spaces: for example, stairs can be a small amphitheatre. We have suggested the most durable solutions, made of natural materials. We avoid complexity and emphasise functionality,” says Kotnik.
“It’s often not about the space, but how you use it,” he adds. “And it’s vital to leave options to the kids to influence the space they have. It’s not like sitting on a bench in school. Now you are trying to do things as smoothly as possible, learning through play. In an open kindergarten, children move to spaces that trigger their interest.”
The database in action – Zagorič, Podgorica
The database of design ideas is proving its effectiveness – the new pre-school designs are cost-efficient and provide a more flexible use of learning and play areas.
Zagorič is the first kindergarten co-financed by the CEB’s loan that demonstrates the benefits of the new approach. Its playrooms are spacious, there is direct access from the ground floor rooms to the playground outside, and foldable doors between rooms provide flexible space. The building itself, following the guidelines, is 400 sqm smaller than other kindergartens of similar capacity, making it more cost-effective and cheaper to maintain.
Commenting on the CEB’s involvement, Arijana Nikolić says, “The key strength of this project is the combination of the recognition and responsiveness of the CEB to the needs of the education system in Montenegro, and the commitment of the Ministry of Education to implement the project as an integral part of our comprehensive reforms of the preschool education sector.
These are the main factors of the success of any project and, despite the challenges involved, we’re certain it will be conducted in the way that will most benefit the children of Montenegro.”
Current enrollment rate for preschool facilities in Montenegro
EU goal of preschool-age children in early childhood education
CEB loan to co-finance construction of seven new preschool units and the refurbishment of all existing facilities