Study: Free public preschool regulation problematic

Taub Center for Social Policy Studies finds more teachers, kindergartens needed to implement free early education law.

Netanyahu visits Henrietta Szold Elementary School 370 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Netanyahu visits Henrietta Szold Elementary School 370
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
The implementation of the legislation making public education free for children aged three and four will require additional teachers and the establishment of hundreds of new kindergartens, according to a study conducted by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
About 50,000 children are expected to be added to the education system next year.
The free preschool regulation was decided upon in January and was put into effect on August 27, as the new school year began.
According to the Education Ministry, out of the 317,000 children in the relevant age group, 269,000 have already made use of the new law and are attending kindergartens for free.
“We thought the process would take three years to complete but at the rate it’s going, all of the kids will be joining public preschools much sooner,” a spokeswoman for the Education Ministry said.
The findings, based on a study by Taub Center researchers Nachum Blass and Haim Bleikh, were presented at a conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday and specifically showed that with the implementation of the law, 2,000 preschools will need to be built, even if the government increases the average number of children per classroom, which is currently set at 35.
Half of the new preschools established will have to be in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where the number of children expected to join the public system next year is estimated to be half of the overall 50,000 in Israel.
“In Jerusalem, the main groups are children from East Jerusalem and haredi children,” Blass explained, adding that he found a large gap between how many children live in the capital and how many of them attend preschools, which is due to the fact that Israeli-Arab children largely don’t attend institutions controlled by the Education Ministry.
In addition, he said that most haredi children in Jerusalem attend preschools that are not supervised by the ministry.
The study also detailed that in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the main obstacle for building new education facilities is the lack of space to do so, a problem Blass suggested could be solved by turning existing facilities such as community centers or sports centers into schools.
“Obviously, we need to build new facilities and so far, local governments have been using temporary buildings while they build new kindergartens.
It’s a process,” said the Education Ministry spokeswoman, “but the difference now is that previously, local governments used to deal with making these decisions and funding them on their own, here, the government subsidizes the kindergartens.”
Sharon Luzon, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council, explained that the city owns a number of fields and abandoned buildings that are suitable to use for kindergartens, after refurbishing and adaptation but “the problem is that the municipality ‘saves’ these assets in order to adventure in real estate and other such things.” Luzon mentioned several examples of abandoned schools and community clubs for the elderly that could be taken advantage of for educational purposes, according to him.
“Mayor Ron Huldai only needs to want to make a decision and get the process of building the necessary additional preschools without delay,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
In addition, the data in the Taub Center study revealed a serious need for skilled preschool teachers and staff, an issue that has already surfaced with this year’s implementation of the legislation.
The Israel Teachers Union had indeed complained back in September that some of the new children in the younger age bracket are not potty-trained, which puts additional strain on the teachers and increases the need for extra classroom assistants.