Summary

Early education is key to the development of children from vulnerable communities

About

Increased participation of children from poor and underprivileged communities in early education has been proven to have significant and long-term impacts on later educational and life outcomes. According to Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, there is an economic benefit to equalising educational opportunities, since underdeveloped human potential burdens the economy and leaves it with a workforce unprepared for the global competition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDBb28cHLlk). Heckman and other scientists have claimed that every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education produces a ten percent per annum return on the investment.  

Following several years of increased kindergarten enrolment in Bulgaria, based on NSI data, the net preschool enrolment rate has been in decline since the 2013-2014 academic year, dropping to 79.4% in 2016-2017. Disproportionately low levels of participation and kindergarten attendance were found among children from vulnerable communities, especially the Roma[i]. Often, these are the children who would have benefited the most from participation in early education.    

In response to this challenge, the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) decided to launch the Springboard for School Readiness project. The project aims to provide policy-relevant information on approaches to increase involvement and kindergarten participation for children from disadvantaged families, as well as to promote their full inclusion in early education in Bulgaria. The World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund and Poverty Action Lab conducted an impact evaluation to check and verify the most cost-effective of all proposed interventions. This is the first time such nationwide survey has been done in Europe

The Survey

The impact evaluation report prepared under the Springboard for School Readiness 2014-2015 project was published in June 2017. The findings from the large-scale multi-arm randomised control trial show that removing the costs of kindergarten reduced the share of children aged 3-6 not registered in kindergarten by half, while also significantly increasing attendance by about 20%. Additional financial incentives of either BGN7 or BGN20 monthly conditional on attendance had no clear impact on registration and attendance, suggesting that financial cost is a more important barrier than the anticipated attitudes and the need of complementary financial incentives. The information sessions on the importance of kindergarten organised in the communities also did not result in significant gains in participation. However, they were effective at slightly improving parental perceptions of the benefit of kindergarten and raising parental aspirations for their children, especially for girls. Overall, removing kindergarten costs was found to be the most cost-effective strategy to increase kindergarten participation.

The full text of the Report can be found on the World Bank website at (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/918071497277705261/pdf/116056-BULGARIAN-REVISED-JUNE13-Supporting-Disadvantaged-Children-bg.pdf).

Springboard for School Readiness 2016-2018

TSA took the strategic decision to continue the Springboard for School Readiness project and to provide financial support for regular kindergarten attendance to the children involved in the project in 2015-2016 until the completion of their mandatory preschool preparation and advancement to school. This decision was prompted by our belief that it is the best form of support we could give them. Moreover, this continued participation in preschool education would provide a basis for measuring its long-term impact on their lifetime achievements. The latter will enable the World Bank research team to conduct an independent evaluation by collecting additional data and drawing valuable conclusions on the impact of preschool education on children from vulnerable communities in Bulgaria.

Given the limited financial resources, we decided to optimise the structure of the project by separating the enrolment and monitoring functions from those related to payment of kindergarten fees and monthly reporting. Thus, in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 reporting functions are concentrated within and implemented by six NGOs, whereas the functions related to monitoring, enrolment and communication with local communities and institutions are performed locally by all 14 partnering organisations.

In the 2016-2017 the project supported 1,125 children from 116 vulnerable communities, enabling more than 600 of them to successfully finish kindergarten and advance to school in September 2017. 2017-2018 will be the final project year, during which we envisage to support the remaining nearly 520 children from 100 communities to complete preparatory pre-school group.

Springboard for School Readiness 2015–2016

In the first year of the implementation of the Springboard for School Readiness project we identified the strong need of ongoing interventions to support the enrolment and regular kindergarten attendance of children from vulnerable communities. Owing to effective management in 2014-2015, we were able to extend the project activities into 2015-2016, albeit at a smaller scale due to funding constraints. In 2015-2016 we continued our collaboration with 16 NGOs in 177 vulnerable communities (https://www.google.bg/maps/@42.6936648,23.9212469,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!6m1!1sz94DocGvETGA.kH5jJ3siRoz4?hl=en). A total of 125 communities participated in the implementation of the Free Access intervention, and 52 communities were included in a control group. We supported nearly 2,100 children from vulnerable communities by covering their visible and hidden kindergarten costs.

The evaluation of the project will provide the World Bank and Poverty Action Lab with valuable information on its impact on enrolment and kindergarten attendance. The Food Coupons conditional on Attendance and Information Sessions measures were not extended into the second project year in order to measure their long-term impact on participants’ behaviour after their discontinuation.

Springboard for School Readiness 2014–2015

At the end of June 2014, in partnership with 23 local NGOs and with the support of municipalities and kindergartens in 235 populated areas throughout the country, we started work on the national project Springboard for School Readiness 2014-2015(https://www.google.bg/maps/@42.7508911,24.1732597,7z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!6m1!1szeywR-2QhP-M.kKaWBxjGExog?hl=en)

The areas involved in the project were pre-selected by a team of Open Society Foundation Sofia, and their independent surveyors randomly chose up to 25 children from each community to participate in the project. 

The project involved four types of financial interventions, randomly assigned among the communities in the 235 populated areas covered by the project (link to video). The interventions were: free access (1,190 children); free access plus a BGN7 food coupon conditional on attendance (1,058 children); free access plus a BGN20 food coupon conditional on attendance (1,155 children); and a control group without interventions (1,241 children). In addition, the parents of 2,334 children received a series of information sessions on the value of early childhood education.   

For many parents in Bulgaria’s poorest villages and towns the hidden costs of kindergarten attendance, such as medical checks, books and supplies, proved to be an unbearable financial constraint. To ensure enrolment in kindergarten, we helped 600 children undergo their mandatory medical checks. Over 1,600 children aged 3-4 received free books and aids. 

In June 2015, together with our partners, we organised a National Children’s Drawing Competition Springboard for School Readiness! Its goal was to encourage children at kindergarten aged 5-6 to express their excitement about the expected advancement to school, as well as to allow them to show what they had learned in preparation for the first day of school. The award ceremony took place on 8 July 2015 in Kristal garden in Sofia. It was accompanied by the opening of an exhibition of drawings from the competition, together with photos of children involved in the project and their own family stories.  

Springboard for School Readiness 2013–2014

Between September 2013 and June 2014 we implemented a pilot project in four communities with a total of 100 children. It facilitated the preparation of the national Springboard for School Readiness 2014-2015 project.

Donors

The full funding for the Springboard for School Readiness 2014-2016 project was provided by America for Bulgaria Foundation. In 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 the project budget totalled BGN2.6 million, of which BGN 2 million were grants and donations to the partnering organisations implementing the project, BGN0.4 million were direct TSA costs, and BGN0.2 were indirect costs.

In the autumn of 2015 TSA began work to ensure financial sustainability for the project components. We believe that the business sector has a strong interest in the full involvement of children in kindergarten. Business executives are becoming aware that school leaving issues start at a much earlier stage of children’s development.  

TSA reaches out to all entrepreneurs willing to support the children from the poorest communities in Bulgaria. We wish to thank Logos of America for Bulgaria Foundation, Bulvest-Anubis, Prosveta, Slovo, Hemusmark, Office1, Devin, Prestigе for their contributions.

Partner Network

To implement the project activities TSA works in collaboration with 23 NGOs throughout the country. They build rapport with mayors and directors, assist parents to enrol their children in kindergarten, monitor attendance, and make the necessary transfers to the kindergartens. Our colleagues also conducted the information sessions and distributed the food coupons in 2014-2015. The trust our partners enjoy in the supported communities and the respect of the kindergarten staff they have managed to gain enable a rapid rollout of best practice and ideas.

Our partner network has a tradition of meeting twice annually to exchange experience and further develop the common strategy to achieve our goals. At our last meeting in Sofia, held between 25th and 27th November 2015, we took a collective decision to work for eliminating or reducing fees in five municipalities over the next three years.

The names of our partner organisations and information on project funding can be found under Grants. (link)

 Who helps us

The successful implementation of such a large-scale project is only possible with the efforts of really many people. The enthusiasm of our volunteers and trainers [Е1] is an endless supply of motivation for us at TSA, for which we are deeply grateful.

We would like to thank our volunteers Hristina Velcheva, Aleksandra Baryakova, Asen Milushev, Diko Yordanov, Zlatina Aleksandrova, Ivan Miglenov, Kamelia Tseneva and Petya Daneva, as well as our collaborators and helpers Vanya Kaneva, Yoana Marinova, Natalia Miteva and Trayan Trayanov, who generously dedicated some of their time to the early education of children from vulnerable communities.

Queries andalerts hotline

TSA has opened a hotline for project-related queries and alerts. To let us know of an issue or a problem, please record your message on +359 2 424 6691.

To be able to respond to your message, we kindly ask you to provide:

  • Your first and your family name, and your connection to the project;
  • A brief description of the issue or problem;
  • Who can we discuss the issue or problem with;
  • Contact number for the person with whom the issue or problem can be discussed (which can also be you).

You can also file an anonymous alert, but you must present valid evidence to justify the commencement of an investigation of the circumstances. Since it is impossible to interview people filing anonymous alerts, such allegations are more difficult to verify and an investigation is, therefore, less likely to commence.

How can I help?

Your cash contribution will enable regular kindergarten attendance for some of Bulgaria’s poorest children, as well as good preparation for advancement to school. You can find our bank details below.

BGN: BG07BGUS91601002307301 USD: BG78BGUS91601102307300 BIC CODE: BGUSBGSF

Bulgarian-American Credit Bank AD, Sofia Account holder: Trust for Social Achievement Foundation

Kindergartens are in constant need of books and toys. You can bring your donation to our Sofia office or to any of our partners’ regional offices (see map here). We will make sure to send it where it is most needed.

TSA is also looking for volunteers to assist with the office and administrative project management activities. Our volunteers can enjoy English language courses in respectable educational institutions, as well as training in Microsoft Excel.

Please send your project-related queries or comments to: kindergarten240@tsa-bulgaria.org