Now that the government has decided to provide free preschool education for children, it is important that the right priorities be established in initiating this important educational venture across all segments of society.
First in line should be the disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, those where the immediate family, for one reason or another, is not in a position to provide young children all the care and education they require. First and foremost are the young children of the Bedouin living in the Negev.
The Bedouin in Israel, like the Bedouin in the neighboring countries, are faced with the problem of undergoing a transition from their ancient traditional nomadic life style to urbanization - a sedentary life in towns and villages.
This traumatic transition into the 21st century is particularly challenging in Israel, where unlike Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, it is accompanied by the need to find their place in a modern industrial society with a high-tech economy.
Here the process of urbanization needs to be accompanied by accelerated improvement in the educational system to provide the young Bedouin, both men and women, the skills needed to become productive citizens in Israel's economy.
It continues to be Israel's greatest social problem; it has suffered from government neglect for many years.
Whereas the 70,000 Bedouin in the Galilee have for many years already settled down in villages and begun to adjust to living and working in modern Israel, the 200,000 Bedouin in the Negev still have a long way to go.
Half of them are settled in the Bedouin towns that have been established over the years, which have not been sufficiently attractive to draw all of the Bedouin out of the desert. The other half, about 100,000, are scattered across the northern Negev, some in the so-called "unrecognized" communities, which do not receive even the most elementary services.
Unbelievably, many Bedouin men still practice polygamy and father a large number of children. The birth rate among the Bedouin in the Negev is not only the highest in Israel, but is also among the highest in the world, and breeds vandalism and juvenile delinquency.
No wonder that under these circumstances the educational system leaves much to be desired. Despite herculean efforts made by Ben-Gurion University, financial contributions made by individual philanthropists, and a few local success stories, the overall level of the educational facilities among the Negev Bedouin is in need of vast improvements.
The need is greatest when it comes to children at an early age, those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the government's free preschool program. Starting educational initiatives early will provide the most significant advances for the Bedouin in the Negev. If properly implemented, the government's initiative could be just what is needed.
Needless to say, the Negev Bedouin community, at this stage, cannot provide immediately all the nursery school teachers that the program requires. To jump-start the program among the children of the Negev Bedouin, the Israel Defense Forces can be mobilized to meet this need, until a sufficient number of Bedouin preschool teachers can be trained.
Here is an opportunity for the IDF to provide an important national service. Female soldiers, after going through a short course in spoken Arabic, could fill the immediate need. The IDF has in the past contributed to the education of various segments of Israeli society. It could do so again.
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