Supporting local governments to build comprehensive early childhood services – experience from Slovenia
For the past two years, ISSA Member Step by Step Center for Quality in Education (Slovenia) has been piloting the Primokiz approach in eight municipalities in Slovenia to establish integrated early childhood support systems for families with young children by developing local strategies approved by the respective municipal councils.
The Primokiz approach outlines the main arguments for investing in early childhood services and offers a structured seven-phased process for building local leadership to develop, tailor, and improve local early childhood services, across sectors, with the contribution of trained Primokiz facilitators. Moreover, it provides guidance for every step of the process — building capacity at the local level to identify and respond to the needs of children and families.
As a result of the pilots, early childhood development is now on the political agenda in the municipalities involved. They are committed to a long-term, strategic vision and increased capacity of local actors. The pilots have set the groundwork for sustainable, intersectoral coordination to provide responsive services for children and their families. This increased focus is highlighted by the recommendation of one municipality to establish an ombudsperson to oversee the issues and priorities in the field of early childhood.
In February 2023, the ISSA Secretariat hosted an introductory Primokiz workshop in Bucharest, Romania. Experts from the ISSA Secretariat accompanied by experts from Step by Step Center for Quality in Education (Slovenia) and Centrul Step by Step (Romania) provided training to four peer organizations in the network on using the Primokiz methodology. The newly trained ISSA Members learned how to provide technical support to municipalities in assessing the needs of families, enhancing cooperation among sectors, developing, and implementing early childhood strategies.
After the workshop, ISSA spoke with Jerneja Jager, Head of the Step by Step Center for Quality in Education, and Mateja Rezek, researcher at the Center, to learn how this workshop was beneficial for their process and how their experience can benefit other ISSA Members.
Can you share how helpful and useful the Primokiz approach was in your work with municipalities?
In our case, the Primokiz approach was very helpful for working with municipalities because before Primokiz we were mainly working with the education sector—with teachers. Now, through Primokiz we expanded the focus of our work. While we have worked with municipalities before, especially to address the inclusion of Roma children in ECEC services, through the Primokiz approach we expanded our focus to all children and families.
Through the Primokiz approach we also moved to a system level change. If before we were more focused on content, now we are supporting systemic change. We think this is really important, but this was also a big change for us. And systemic change also means involvement of political actors, who are quite important in this work.
What are your key takeaways from the Primokiz workshop in Bucharest?
For us, it was really helpful to be a part of this learning process because we had an opportunity to reflect. Although we have had a lot of opportunities to reflect on our work over the past two years, this workshop had an intensive reflection component, and helped us really grasp the essence of our experiences. It seemed like a good starting point if we were to start the process over again – to discuss what to focus on, and what is really important.
As an ISSA Member, how is it to have the opportunity to share your rich experiences in implementing the Primokiz approach in Slovenia with fellow ISSA Members that are present here?
First of all, we are very honored to be in a position where we have the opportunity to implement this initiative in Slovenia and share it with other ISSA Members. We have been an ISSA Member from the very beginning (1999), and we learned a lot from other Members. Now we are really happy that we can contribute with our experiences to other Members’ learning as their peers, as their mentors… this makes our organization stronger. It makes it stronger especially in the international field, but also at the national level. Because when we are disseminating this approach, we always mention that this is an international initiative, which is very important in this field.
It's a nice flow of knowledge growing. When we started with the Primokiz implementation, we got theoretical knowledge from the ISSA Secretariat and information on concrete experiences from Centrul Step by Step in Romania (ISSA Member). Now we were able to give back our experience to other Members. I think it's really nice how this knowledge and understanding of the process is growing and spreading to other Members and how this transfer of knowledge is going on and on.
Could you share some highlights or feedback that you got from fellow ISSA Members, related to what we have been talking and sharing here.
Colleagues shared that this exchange of experience is meaningful and valuable for them because it's a new process they are starting. Although they are really experienced in other areas, this is new for them. And they feel safe because they know that in this ISSA family, they have someone they can always rely on and always ask if they have questions if they have doubts. It's really important that you feel you have support. It's a big network of support they can have through ISSA.
If I reflect on the beginning of implementing the Primokiz approach, the support we got from our peers was a very, very big help. When we started, we got this support from our Romanian colleagues who started the process a little bit before us. While we got that general framework from ISSA, when we connected with Romanian colleagues, it really gave us an additional perspective in a more practical way. It was great to have someone in the network to rely on, to ask concrete questions. And that really helped us in planning the initiative in our country.