After months of negotiations, a bill to establish a Council of Early Childhood is set for a final vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
The council is intended to provide recommendations for raising education standards, and coordinate among government ministries involved in early childhood development, all while saving taxpayer money.
On Monday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee voted to send the bill to the plenum for second and third (final) readings.
The legislation is sponsored by several lawmakers, including MKs Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) and Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu).
It aims to resolve problems such as the lack of authority over early childcare, which can be seen in the fact that anybody can open a daycare or nursery school. It will help coordinate among the Health, Social Services and Education ministries, all of which are involved with early childhood development but do not adequately communicate.
“The time has come for the ministries to communicate with each other, and not to act in isolation,” said Shasha-Biton.
“It is time to translate the lively public discourse into actions that will proved children with continuity from the age of one year. The Council of Early Childhood is not a luxury, but a necessity for the future of our children.”
Trajtenberg, chairman of the committee, said, “Today we are witnessing the biggest social revolution since the social protests of 2011. The establishment of the Council of Early Childhood will narrow the gaps in the most critical ages of a person’s development and will provide equal opportunities to all Israeli children.”
Ehud Uziel, Trajtenberg’s parliamentary adviser, discussed the significance of the legislation. “The most important thing in the bill is that for the first time in Israeli history, we have one governmental [entity] that is organizing a national plan for early age and early education,” he said.
Early childhood development is crucial to their development as adults, especially in regards to their personalities, education and health, he said.
“Every shekel that you invest in early education will give you the best benefits later on,” Uziel continued. “[It is the] most important investment for the government to make!” He described the motivation behind creating the council. A single mom had said that her son had a rare heart disease.
He child could not be put in an ordinary kindergarten due to his condition, but he did not have a place at a special needs kindergarten because he did not have a developmental issue. The dilemma was resolved through coordination between the Social Services and Health ministries, for the former is responsible for non-disabled kids while the latter takes care of special needs children.
The council would also provide guidance to parents.
Since many Israelis are immigrants, and the grandparents are often not in the country, they might benefit from this type of guidance.
Uziel said that the bill is widely supported and that the ministries want to work together to improve early childhood development. For example, if Tipat Halav, an organization under the Health Ministry that, among other services, checks children for developmental disabilities, finds out that a child’s parents are poor, the proposed council would link the Health Ministry to the Social Services Ministry and report its findings so that the parents could receive financial assistance.
The council would also, according to its backers, help the state and parents save money; if children’s developmental problems are discovered earlier, the problem will be easier to fix. Currently, parents typically find out if their child has a problem when he or she is three years old.
Trajtenberg discussed the many groups that would be helped by the council. “The biggest beneficiaries of the bill would the educators, the parents, and especially the children whom we place at the center [of our priorities],” he said.
Other nations, such as Colombia and Australia, are creating these types of early childhood development councils. The bill’s authors partially modeled their proposed council on a comparable Australian organization.
Uziel said, “It took a while for decision-makers and parents to understand the importance of early education.” Yet in 2011, there was a massive social protest movement calling for longer parental leave and additional staffers for kindergarten, among other things. This, along with a database that came out with research suggesting that any improvements in early education have a huge impact on children’s development, contributed to the creation of the bill.
The Knesset will be going on summer recess on Wednesday, and will not return until October, so it is squeezing in extra meetings and votes on bills such as the proposed Council of Early Childhood before the break.