Right to education is guaranteed for everyone by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Furthermore, the Law on the Foundations of the Education System (2017) further states that persons with disabilities have the right to education with respect to their educational needs, together with individual or group additional support in teaching and learning or in a special educational group or school. Additional educational, health or social support can be provided for children and adults from vulnerable groups in the cases of:
- social deprivation,
- developmental and other disabilities,
- learning difficulties and
- other conditions requiring additional support.
Until 2009, inclusive education in Serbia relied on a number of international documents as well as a series of pilot projects through which the concept of inclusive education was developed. Between 2000 and 2009, a series of projects were implemented that contributed to the creation of resources and practices that further led to the changes at the system level.
The legal foundation of inclusive education came with the Law on the Foundations of the Education System in 2009. Bases set in this law have been further elaborated through a series of by-laws and specific laws.
The most important elements of a legally regulated inclusive education policy in Serbia include (see more on Eurydice chapter 12: Educational Support and Guidance):
- prohibition of any discrimination and segregation;
- identification measures for children in need of special / additional support;
- right to free education and additional financial support;
- the possibility of education through individualized work and three types of Individual Education Plans (IEP) that may involve the adjustment of: curricula, teaching methods, materials or grading and achievement standards and learning outcomes;
- customized assessment and evaluation policies: formative assessment, assessment according to IEP, customized final examination, external evaluation by quality standards that includes a number of indicators relevant to inclusive education ;
- engagement of pedagogical and personal assistants, set standards of competence for the teaching profession, formulated priorities for professional development including inclusive education;
- formation of expert teams for inclusive education, inclusion of representatives of parents of children from vulnerable groups in the Parents Council, new support policies, local inter-ministerial commissions for assessing the needs for educational, health and social support;
- existence of special education schools available for parents who prefer their children to attend a school of this type, usually in case with severe conditions of disability or learning difficulties etc.
As mentioned, disabled pupils and students may receive financial support for their schooling. Students from socially disadvantaged families are entitled to social scholarships. National student scholarships and credits (Učenički i studentski krediti i stipendije) are non-refundable if the student fulfils some of the obligations of the legal contract (e.g. finishes high-school/ graduates on time with certain average grade). The scholarships are provided by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.
The Fund for Young Talents of the Republic of Serbia (Fond za mlade talente Republike Srbije), under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, provides scholarships and rewards as well. Annually over 3,300 students receive the financial support from this Fund.
Some of the major national inclusive education support projects upon its introduction in the legal system:
- DILS – Delivery of Improved Local Services was a four-year long project (2009-2012) funded by the World Bank loan that contributed to the inclusive education by elaborating procedures for inclusive education at school level, enabling national training for all schools, providing grants for schools’ inclusive projects, developing manuals and guides for inclusive education, establishing and coordinating an Inclusive Education Support Network and conducting a national wide survey on inclusive education.
- IPA project "Education for All" is a conceptually elaborated project “Roma assistants” through which the inclusion of Roma assistants in teaching began. Later a new profession of teaching assistants was piloted and then regulated.
- IPA project "Second Chance" from 2010 deals with expanding the network of schools that offer additional education to adults who have left the education system before the end of primary school, which includes.
Non-formal education for persons above a certain age is acquired through the system of Publicly Recognized Activity Organizers (PRAO), organizations that offer adult education programs. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development adopted bylaws on non-formal education in 2015. Primary and secondary schools as well as other organizations that meet the requirements prescribed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development can be PRAOs. These may include nongovernmental organisations, cultural institutions, associations, open universities, career centres, consulting and training centres, private schools or any other institutions registered for educational programmes implementation.Social cohesion and equal opportunities
The institutional framework through a series of legal acts prescribes accessibility, non-discrimination and quality conditions for education of all RS citizens, regardless of their physical, intellectual, age, religious, cultural, national and other characteristics. Some of the main legal documents are:
- Constitution of the Republic of Serbia
- Strategy for Development of Education in Serbia by 2020
- National Gender Equality Strategy (2016-2020) with the Action Plan 2016-2018
- Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma (2016-2025)
- National Youth Strategy (2015–2025)
- Law on Gender Equality
- Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination
- Strategy for poverty reduction in Serbia
Besides the measures mentioned above related to inclusive education, all primary and secondary schools have the obligation to implement citizenship education as a optional classes which include topics of human rights, fighting discrimination, social awareness, democratic principles and values, solidarity and similar. Citizenship education is organized as a separate subject from ISCED 1-3 in both general and vocational education at ISCED 3. Every year pupils/parents have to choose between having classes of Religious Education or Citizenship Education. Professional training and guidelines for teachers in the area of citizenship education are provided in order to qualify them for the classes.
The National Youth Strategy (2015–2025) as one of the main strategic goals defines the improved quality and opportunities for gaining qualifications and developing the competences and innovation of young people. To achieve this goal, a number of measures are envisaged to create the conditions for the development of creativity, innovation and initiative of young people, acquisition of competences within lifelong learning, as well as the promotion of equal access to education for all and support for young people from vulnerable social groups.
The objectives and measures for the promotion of gender equality in Serbia are defined by the umbrella National Gender Equality Strategy (2016-2020) with the Action Plan 2016-2018. The Strategy approaches the role of education by striving to improve gender awareness and eliminate gender stereotypes and prejudices through the improvement of educational programs in terms of gender-responsive content at all levels.
Increasing educational attainment and gender equality in Roma education is one of the key strategic goals of the Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma (2016-2025). The first strategic objective is to ensure full inclusion of Roma children and young people in quality pre-school, primary and secondary education, to achieve greater coverage of Roma students in the student population and to support the education of young and adult ELET students with effective guidance and effective mechanisms for combating discrimination and achieving the conditions for the enjoyment of all rights for Roma in the education system.
In light of migrant crisis, an organized process of inclusion of children and young migrants / asylum seekers / refugees in the education system of Serbia was initiated during the 2016/17 school year. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development drafted an Expert Instruction for the inclusion of migrants, refugees / asylum-seekers in the education system. The Instruction was followed by the development of a manual intended for school employees. These actions confirmed the strategic commitment for providing the necessary systemic conditions necessary for successful implementation of this process.
Moreover, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development implements numerous activities and campaigns against violence in schools and among peers. Umbrella programme for these activities is the programme “School without Violence” (“Škola bez nasilja”). The programme aims to prevent and reduce violence in schools, with the ultimate goal to support development of the enabling and stimulating school environment and safe surroundings for students. The programme has begun in 2005 and still remains active.
Another important initiative is the project “Stop Digital Violence” (“Zaustavimo digitalno nasilje”) of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development. Within this project, following activities are being conducted: promotional campaigns, educational trainings and conferences, development of manuals, etc. All these activities target students and pupils active on the internet. One of the important outputs of the project is the manual “Digital Violence – Prevention and Response” ( “Digitalno nasilje – prevencija i reagovanje”).