Novak Djokovic, the world’s top tennis player and a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, has visited a kindergarten in his native Serbia to spotlight the agency’s efforts to promote early childhood education in a country with low enrolment rates.
Mr. Djokovic, who became a national ambassador for UNICEF a month ago, toured the Pcelica (“Little Bee”) kindergarten in Smederevo yesterday and played with some of the children who attend the centre.
“I had a lot of fun… they were so eager to play and ask questions and show their little talents,” he said in a Twitter message. “I hope to see more of these kinds of institutions which integrate children from all areas, and children with disabilities and Roma children.”
Fewer than half of Serbian children aged between three and five attend pre-school, and the rate is as low as 10 per cent among some vulnerable groups, according to a press release issued by UNICEF.
Working with the Serbian Government, the agency has launched a five-year strategy to expand existing services and to develop specialized programmes to encourage early childhood education among marginalized groups.
“The starting line is not the same for all children,” Mr. Djokovic said after the visit. “Those born into poverty or on the margins of society require our extra support to realize their dreams. Pre-school programmes are essential to give every young child the maximum possibilities to succeed in his further education.”
Lesley Miller, the acting country representative for UNICEF, said the agency was especially pleased that Mr. Djokovic – who has won four Grand Slam singles crowns during his career – has chosen to focus on early childhood education.
“Our goal is that all children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have a good start in life,” she said.
Earlier this month, another national ambassador for UNICEF in Serbia, the female tennis star Ana Ivanovic, held a class for pupils from 10 primary schools to promote the importance of reading books. The class was held as part of an anti-bullying programme known as “Schools without Violence.”
Ms. Ivanovic, who was formerly ranked number one in the world, told the pupils about her favourite books and those titles that have made the biggest impact, and handed each child a book at the end of the class as a present to encourage further reading.