Arab mothers often unable to enroll children in preschool - study

Given the overall low rate of employment among Arab women the likelihood of a given Arab toddler being accepted into a program that their parents can afford is minimal at best.

Preschool classroom (photo credit: FLICKR)
Preschool classroom
(photo credit: FLICKR)

Employment rates among mothers decline after birth, although the decline is much sharper among Jewish mothers than it is among Arab mothers, according to research recently published in the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies' 2022 annual booklet of selected research findings. 

The booklet is the work of The Taub Center Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality. The Initiative's goal, per their own statement, "is to assist in the advancement of effective policy to improve the environmental conditions of children in Israel during their early years of life, in order to improve their outcomes and reduce disparities due to socioeconomic background."

This year's booklet focuses on parental employment and children's participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC) outside the home.  

The sharp drop in employment after birth of Jewish mothers compared to Arab mothers is not quite as dramatic as it may first seem when taking into account the fact that the overall employment rate of Jewish women is significantly higher than that of Arab women.

The data from the Taub Center shows no significant changes in the employment rates of fathers of any demographic after their child's birth. 

 Mother and child (credit: INGIMAGE) Mother and child (credit: INGIMAGE)

The diploma makes the difference

Mothers with higher education, i.e. those that have a high school diploma, tend to return to work more quickly than those without, across demographics. These mothers also have a higher overall rate of employment and, according to the Taub Center, it appears that the process of returning to work after maternity leave takes much longer for those without a high school diploma. 

The study points out that mothers with low socioeconomic status face a difficult choice in deciding between staying home with children or returning to work. While working obviously adds income, it may not be enough to meaningfully offset the cost of ECEC outside of the home. 

Consequently, children from birth until 3 years of age who are born to formally educated mothers attend ECEC frameworks (preschools) outside the home at higher rates than those born to mothers without a diploma. This is particularly evident in the Arab sector where the rate of preschool attendance for children of educated mothers is almost double that of those whose mothers do not hold a diploma. 

What is more, Arab children tend to spend less time enrolled in an ECEC framework overall compared to Jewish children. The study states that 72% of Jewish children attend ECEC frameworks for at least four years. Conversely, only 20% of Arab children attend ECEC programs for at least four years although 43% do get three years. This is all to say that the overwhelming majority of Jewish children begin education outside of the home before age 3, while Arab children largely do not. 

Despite this gap, enrollment in ECEC frameworks does not appear to impact later academic achievement. The study examined reading proficiency data from fourth-grade students and compared Jewish and Arab children according to the amount of preschool attendance. Though there is a large discrepancy overall between Arab and Jewish children's reading levels, the average reading proficiency did not appear to correlate at all with years spent enrolled in an ECEC program. 

Barriers to enrollment and ineffective use of government funds 

Despite significant funding and social initiatives provided by the Israeli government and private activists, Arab enrollment in preschool between ages 0-3 is particularly low. Per the Taub Center's assessment, this is primarily due to two factors. Firstly, acceptance into ECEC programs gives priority to children of working mothers. Second, any relevant tuition subsidies are granted on the condition that both parents are working. Given the overall low rate of employment among Arab women - particularly mothers of young children- the likelihood of a given Arab toddler being accepted into a program that their parents can afford is minimal at best. 

What can be done to get kids into preschool?

The Taub Center presented its findings with the following proposed policy changes. The full study goes into more detail about each point and can be found at the Taub Center's website: 

  • Modification of planning rules to accommodate the complex reality in Arab society.
  • Increasing the resources allocated to Arab local authorities for the planning and approval processes for the construction of daycare centers.
  • Additional positions and the hiring and training of professional manpower in the Arab local authorities for thedevelopment of ECEC frameworks.
  • Running a pilot program in a number of towns in order to assess the repeal of the employment condition foreligibility and subsidies for ECEC placement. 
  • A comprehensive assessment of the registration process and uptake of subsidy rights.
  • Adoption of a more flexible public transportation system and the wider dispersion of supervised frameworksin Arab towns.
  • Increasing the subsidies of ECEC frameworks such that the tuition fees do not exceed NIS 1,000 per month.
  • Providing the possibility of a short school day in supervised frameworks.
  • Changing the way in which the tax benefit is provided to parents of young children and the full utilization ofthe tax benefit in order to reduce the fees for supervised frameworks.
  • Tax benefits for employers who finance their workers’ childcare.