Children aged three to four will be able to enroll next year in certified private preschools as well as public preschools, the Education Ministry announced this week.
The ministry backtracked on its earlier policy regarding private preschools and made the decision following protests by parents and parents groups, who claimed that the conditions in public preschools need to be improved and it is their right to choose whether or not to send their children to a public or private school.
The Compulsory Education Law for age three is set to go into effect beginning in the upcoming academic year (2015-16). This new law, one of the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee, requires all children aged three to four to enroll in preschool.
“Studies in education establish that early childhood education has a decisive influence on the development of a child.
As part of preschool, children acquire skills and tools including: friendship, games, the ability to express themselves, curiosity, interest, exploration, construction of identity, and other skills that are key to proper development, to physical and mental health and success,” said Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry.
According to the ministry, the preschools will be under its supervision, which will include a “pedagogical, health, and security response.”
In the first stage, the ministry said it will not implement enforcement measures against preschools, in an effort to allow the uncertified private schools to complete the process of receiving their licenses and adhering to the law.
The compulsory education law was established in January 2012 with a three-year grace period for the Education Ministry and local authorities to implement. The law was initially intended to go into effect this past academic year, but was delayed for one additional year.
The gradual implementation of the law was intended to provide the ministry and local authorities the time to prepare to absorb all the new children into the education system. As such, the Education Ministry said it has taken steps to build additional preschools, train teachers and assistants, develop a pedagogical curriculum, and certify some 800 private preschools.
To date, more than 90% of children aged three to four have already been integrated into the educational system and are currently receiving a free education.
“The data for the demand indicate a vote of confidence in the education system, and the desire of the parents to integrate their children into the public school system,” the ministry said in a statement.
However, many parents are very unhappy with the overcrowded and understaffed conditions in preschools.
To accommodate all the children entering the public school system, classes have drastically grown in size to some 35 children aged three to four, staffed by only two caregivers – a teacher and a teacher’s assistant – to care for the needs and well-being of the toddlers.
“It does not make sense to force parents to send a toddler into a framework that is not ready, such as a municipal preschool. The damage to children is huge and we will only be able to measure this in a few years. I will not send my daughter to participate in the ‘experiment’ they are conducting on our children,” wrote Eti Dahan Noked, founder of the Facebook group “Association against the compulsory education law for children aged 3.”
The group, which currently has some 2,500 members, is demanding that every parent have a right to choose whether to put their child in a private or public preschool. In addition, the group is calling for improved conditions in public preschools, including a teacher- child ratio of 1:8, certified caregivers (not National Service girls), earlier lunch time, and nap time for the children.
In conjunction with the growing social media protest movement, some two weeks ago parents of preschoolers in Tel Aviv and Eilat held a oneday strike demanding local authorities fund a second teacher’s assistant per class.
The strike, backed by the National Parents’ Association, called on the government to allocate a second caregiver for every class of children aged three to four years old.
The Education Ministry is, however, well aware of the growing discontent among the parents and has stated that it is reviewing options to address these issues.
“We are aware of this, that the educational staff working in preschools for the well-being of the children is not enough, and as such we have acted to increase the preschool staff by including some 1,000 National Service girls. This response is incomplete, and as such the ministry is constantly striving to find solutions to ease the workload in preschools,” Cohen said in a statement.