Early education in Israel.

AuthorKhazan, Hala
PositionStatistical Data Included

In Israel, early education is widespread and well developed, in comparison with the United States and European countries.

In 1988-89, the national figures for early education attendance stood at 56.7% for 2 year-olds, 79.3% for 3 Year-olds, and 87.0% for 4 year-olds. (1) Attendance was especially high for Jews: 74.5% for 2 year-aids, 96.1% for 3 year-olds, and 98.5% for 4 year-aids. Although compulsory education begins at age 5, nearly all Jewish children are in some sort of educational framework by age three, and three-fourths of them by age two.

For Arab children, attendance is much lower. There are no figures for 2 year olds; the estimated attendance of 3 year-olds is 25%, and that for 4 year-olds, 53% according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), and 40% according to a report of the Follow-up Committee on Education of the Committee of Arab Mayors. (2)

In Israel, as elsewhere, early education began to expand during the 1960s. Between 1969-70 and 1979-80, the number of Jewish 4 and 5 year olds enrolled in kindergarten increased from 107,668 to 246,600. (3) Since the attendance of 5-year olds was high in the first period, most of the increase can be attributed to the expansion of preschools for 4 and 3 year olds.

The expansion of early education was due to a number of factors, among them the gradual increase in the work force participation of mothers: while in 1967, 25% of married women were in the labor force, in 1974, 30.8% were employed, in 1981, 40.0%, and in 1990, 47.3% (4)

A second factor was the development of a policy of early intervention for Mizrahi (Jews whose origins are in Muslim lands) children, designed to prevent or reduce the high failure rate in school The policy was reinforced by the report of the Prime Minister's Commission on Disadvantaged Children and Youth, setup in response to the Israel Black Panther demonstrations of the early 1970s. (5)

A third factor was the new interest shown by researchers and educators in preschoolers, as well as the entrance of public and private entrepreneurs into the preschool "market" (6) This interest produced a plethora of activities, clubs, and curricula, which fed into the urgency which young parents, especially those of the middle class, began to feel about preparing their children for school, at a time when the latter was becoming increasingly competitive. (7)

Similar demographic and cultural changes took place in Arab communities in Israel; for example, between 1975 and 1990, the number of Arab women in the work force nearly tripled, and the proportion of women among Arabs in the labor force increased from 10.1% to 15.8%. (8) However, the changes were not accompanied by increased involvement of the local or national educational system in the provision of early education services. Later, in the 1980s, private, partisan, and religious bodies began to set up kindergartens and day care centers. Unlike the corresponding Jewish associations, these organizations do not receive government assistance; some are able to obtain grants from international funds. The absence of government financing is reflected in the inadequacy of the facilities and equipment of kindergartens in Arab communities, and in their lack of qualified personnel.

Private initiatives have not succeeded in reducing the disparity between Jewish and Arab communities in educational services available to children under 5. The majority of Arab working mothers rely on relatives for child care or work part time. Some leave the work force or refrain from joining it, because the fees for child care or preschool, if such are available, take up a good part of their earnings.

The expansion of early education - which occurred mainly in Jewish communities - is reflected in the national expenditure on education: in 1965-66, kindergartens accounted for 5% of expenditures on education, while by 1988-9, their share had increased to 8.6%. (9)

While 96% of elementary education is financed by the state and by local governments, 30% of kindergarten revenues come from non-governmental sources - non-profit organizations or user fees. (10)

Who is Responsible for Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education can be described as the "last frontier" of the Israeli educational system. Unlike elementary education, which is under the Ministry of Education and operates according to uniform curricula and clearly defined general aims, early childhood education is characterized by the diversity of organizations offering services -- private, public (meaning: operated by NGOs supported by the government) and governmental. The field itself has yet to be mapped out, and reliable attendance figures are unavailable. Yet, the absence of central control does not mean that significant work is not being done: on the contrary, early education is characterized by an abundance of activity and innovation.

Direct governmental responsibility for early childhood education is divided between the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture. The former is responsible for the operation of day care centers and home services for children aged 6 months to 3 years. Guided by regulations set in 1968, based on the Supervision of Day Care Centers Act of 1965, it fixes standards for structures in which day care centers are housed (11) and helps finance day care centers through progressive fee subsidies based on income. The content of day care is the responsibility of the organizations running the centers, foremost among which are Naamat (Pioneer Women), WIZO and Emunah. These organizations develop curricula and employ supervisors to monitor the pedagogical aspects of the service. The latter receive guidance and training from the Ministry of Education.

The Compulsory Education Act of 1949 gives the Ministry of Education responsibility for kindergartens, which at the time were for 5 year olds only. In recent years the Ministry has been working to lower the age of children under its supervision. The Law of Supervision of Schools of 1969 gives the Ministry authority to grant licenses to bodies operating educational institutions providing systematic instruction to more than 10 pupils. (12) In effect, supervision has been extended to kindergartens for children aged 3 or older. In May 1992, the director-general of the Ministry promulgated a directive to extend supervision to institutions for 2 year olds. The directive took effect in September 1992 in the Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Ramat Gan districts, to be followed by others.

It should be pointed out that the control of both the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is not all-encompassing. The latter supervises day care centers run by non-profit associations, like Naamat, WIZO and Emunah, which serve only a small proportion of the 0-3 age cohorts. Many private organizations also offer services, with much less, or no governmental supervision. The same is true for the 3 and 4 age cohorts. Alongside local government preschools for children aged 3 and 4 and state kindergartens for 5 year olds, there are numerous private preschools, beyond the ken of the Ministry. No comprehensive list of institutions is available; as this report goes to press, the Ministry of Education is in the process of preparing a computerized list of kindergartens run by the state and by local authorities.

Who Utilizes Public Day Care

No government, public or private institution has complete figures for day care. The Ministry of Education has no computerized list of institutions or of children in day care. (14) The CBS publishes figures only for age 2 and above, based on questions addended to labor force surveys conducted annually on a sample of households. (15) The figures for age 5 are based on an estimate. (16) For ages 0-3, the only figures available are for children who attend day care centers under the supervision of the Department of Women's Employment and Status at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. According to a Department estimate, in 1990 some 60,000 children aged 0-3 were enrolled in day care, including children attending kindergartens adjoined to day care centers. This figure is evidence of a 6-fold increase in attendance since 1969, when the figure was 10,000. (17) Nevertheless, the 1990 figure represents only 15% of the age group.

The above figures refer to Jews only. In Arab communities, the number of day care centers receiving support from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is negligible. Comparable services, albeit on a smaller scale and, for the most part, at a lower level, are provided by local NGOs, like Dar al Tifl al Arabe, al Tufula, The Trust of Programmes for Early Childhood, Family and Community Education, and a number of church associations.

Available figures for 1989 show that the day care attendance rate for Jewish children aged 2 and 3 was highest amongst smaller households characterized by low housing density and working mothers. Thus the greatest patrons of day care are members of the middle class. Amongst 2 year olds born in Israel to foreign-born parents, the attendance rate for Mizrahim was higher than that for Ashkenazim. (18) The data also show that day care is an option utilized by 42% of working mothers of 2 year olds, compared with 20% of mothers not in the labor force. The highest day care attendance is amongst 2 year olds: in 1988-89, nearly a third of Jewish 2 year olds were in day care. (19)

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has established priorities for day care admission. At the top of the list are children at high risk in the family, who are referred to day care by social service agencies. These are followed by children whose mothers are employed in industry and in hotel services, in professional military and security services, and in hospitals. Lower on the priority list are children from one-parent families, children from families with 4 or more children who are referred by...

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