Protesters demand better daycare conditions.
(photo credit: LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI)
Hundreds of parents and children in Purim costumes filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Wednesday as part of a nationwide protest demanding local authorities fund a third caregiver per class of children aged three to four years old.
The protests, organized by the Preschool is not a Warehouse (Gan Ze Lo Mahsan) campaign, aim to draw attention to the overcrowded and understaffed conditions in preschools.
Preschool is not a Warehouse began as a “spontaneous grouping” of a few concerned parents and has expanded to include more than 5,000 supporters as well as the Association of Preschool Teachers and Educators, the Israeli Organization for Early Childhood Education, the Association of Caregivers and other social organizations.
The protests also aim to draw to attention to the inequality in the education system whereby wealthier municipalities pay for a third caregiver per class, while children in other municipalities have to do without.
“There will be a third caregiver in every preschool,” Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who led the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change after the 2011 social protests and is now No. 11 on the Zionist Union Knesset candidates list, told a skeptical crowd of parents and small children at Rabin Square.
As the man viewed by many as responsible for the preschool education reforms, Trajtenberg said the committee’s recommendations were not properly implemented because the government did not place this issue as a priority.
The Compulsory Education Law is set to be fully implemented for three- and four-year-olds beginning in the 2015/16 academic year.
The changed was approved in January 2012 with a three-year grace period for the Education Ministry and local authorities to prepare for its implementation. It was set to go into effect in fall 2014, but was delayed for a year to provide the ministry and local authorities more time to prepare to accommodate the additional children.
The Education Ministry said last month that it has taken steps to build additional preschools, train teachers and assistants, develop a pedagogical curriculum, and certify some 800 private preschools.
Many parents, however, have expressed dissatisfaction with the preparations.
Trajtenberg said the Zionist Union has a plan to introduce a third caregiver into every preschool nationwide, at an estimated cost of some NIS 450 million.
“I entered politics in order to see through all of the recommendations made by the committee,” he said. “With regards to preschool reforms, we are not only talking about adding additional caregivers but also about opening more classes and enabling better conditions with regards to nutrition, for example,” he said.
The parents at the protest demanded reduced class sizes and improved teacher-child ratios, proper facilities, certified caregivers (not National Service volunteers), earlier lunch times, nap time for the children, and expanded support staff to include early child development experts and psychologists.
“This is not just a struggle for an additional caregiver, but a struggle for the appropriate education for our children,” the organizers of the protest wrote on Facebook.
More than 90 percent of children aged three to four have already been integrated into the educational system and are currently receiving a free education.
However, to accommodate all the children entering the public school system, classes have grown in size to some 35 children aged three to four, usually staffed by two caregivers – a teacher and a teacher’s assistant.
“Last year I was lucky and had only 15 children in my class, but this year that number doubled,” Smadar Zichroni, a 29-year-old preschool teacher in Tel Aviv said in a video posted on Gan Ze Lo Mahsan’s Facebook page.
“I see a lot of preschools in this city, I hear my friends talking, and I remember the preschools I trained in as a student with difficult incidents whereby children were left with dirty diapers and nobody bothered to change them; these things stuck with me and I’m very worried,” she said.
“A three-year-old does not know how to open his lunch bag, does not know how to blow his nose, does not know how to tie his shoes, and they look for help, look for comforting hands, listening ears and another watchful glance,” she said.
Zichroni said teachers cannot handle the workload, watching over some 35 children, and must have additional staff to take care of the needs of the youngsters at a crucial state of their development.