Serbia: supporting inclusive education
CEB investment in student housing contributes to improving access to education for children in rural areas.
Four years ago, when she was 14, Teodora Milanovic left her family home in the village of Kovanica to continue schooling in Svilajnac, where she is studying to become a Food Processing Technician at the Secondary School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine.
She decided to move into the student dormitory so that she wouldn’t have to travel some 50 km from her village to Svilajnac. It was a difficult decision both for her and her parents, but it was a practical one.
There are currently 660 students attending the boarding school, of whom 438 are accommodated in the dormitory. School Principal Zoran Radosavljevic proudly points out that this educational institution has been among the top schools in Serbia while constantly receiving good evaluations from the Ministry of Education.
Part of the attraction for students from all over Serbia is the possibility to obtain a place in dormitory, but the ageing infrastructure and inadequate capacity had become a problem. The school management took matters into their own hands and successfully applied to receive funds for the construction of the new dormitory wing under a project financed by the CEB.
“We have primarily the Ministry of Education to thank for that, since it is the Lead Organisation of the project implemented by the CEB. The Municipality also contributed with 20%, whereas the remaining two phases were funded directly by the CEB.”
New facilities, stronger community
A triple room, separate bathroom for each room, Internet connection, modern classrooms… It is all that Teodora and her friends needed. Before the wing was built, they were accommodated in the old building with quadruple rooms and bathrooms for eight.
“This school offers everything – studying and spending time with animals or at the farm, and we have a number of activities and free time”, says Teodora.
Her friends Kristina Slavnic and Mila Ercegovcevic are of a similar opinion. They are studying to become veterinary technicians here and are also members of this large family of ‘dormies.’“I opted for this school because I love animals. I heard about this boarding school and decided to move in the dormitory so that I don’t have to commute.
Living in the dormitory is the best part of going to school because of the friends and the many things we are able to do – we have enough spare time, studying time, optional courses and the like”, says Kristina who comes from Velika Plana.
Mila Ercegovcevic moved in the dormitory a bit later. She spent her entire freshman year commuting from Grocka to Smederevo and back only to realize she wouldn’t have any spare time left for her basketball practice if she continued travelling.
That’s why this dormitory was a blessing for her.
“I had neither time to study nor to go to trainings. So, together with my family I came up with the idea to move here. Now I have the time for myself and for studying, as well as for physical activities,” Mila says.
The construction of the new dorm for the Secondary School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine is part of a larger initiative of the Serbian Ministry of Education whose aim is to
- Increase access to education of high school and university students living in rural areas or smaller towns
- Foster social inclusion of vulnerable children and students in education.
Financed by a €28.5 million loan from the CEB, the project encompasses 62 dormitories hosting around 31 000 students. 16 dormitories are co-financed from the CEB loan and will provide over 2 000 additional accommodation places.
The project benefited from technical assistance support provided by the CEB from the Spanish Cohesion Account (SCA). The assistance contributed to the definition of the project's scope and to identifying priority investments in line with the Government of Serbia’s overall objectives in the education sector.
This is a project of high social value. The accommodation capacity of the reconstructed dormitories increased on average by 50%. This, in combination with a better quality of the accommodation, made student housing attractive and affordable to a wider pool of students from places where secondary or university education is not available, and facilitated more gender-balanced allocation of the student accommodation.
Making education more accessible
“Children from rural environments or that’s to say from villages used to be predominant here. But that ratio has changed. Now we have enrolled children from cities, who are unable to work in agriculture, but can see their role and contribution to development of agriculture in the future,” says Zoran Radosavljevic, Principal of the Secondary School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Svilajnac.
This is very much the case for Mila Ercegovcevic who sees her future in her hometown, where she hopes to open a vet clinic once she obtains her diploma.
And if she hadn’t succeeded in enrolling here, what would she have done?
“I would have transferred to another school so that I would not have to commute that much… I would probably have taken an entirely different path.”
Photos by Goran Sivacki.
Interviews by Predrag Vujic.