The Education Ministry has come under fire after announcing plans to recruit pensioners and final-year education students next year in a bid to staff some 1,500 new kindergartens.

The recruitment drive is caused by the implementation of the new compulsory education law, guaranteeing free kindergartens from the age of three.

Noah Grunfeld, head of the department for training new teachers in the Education Ministry, announced the plan Thursday, and requested that education faculties schedule studies for afternoon hours, so students in their final training year could work full-time in kindergartens while completing their studies in the afternoon.

The plan was slammed by students, teachers and former kindergarten teachers. Lilly Pokmonski, director of the kindergarten teachers' department at the Histadrut labor federation, insisted it was "a mistake to put a student in charge of a kindergarten. The student is still learning and as yet has no experience in administrative matters and working opposite parents. To build a whole system in this method is wrong."

Claudie Tal, head of the preschoolers' faculty at Levinsky College of Education, opposes the plan. "We recommend that the final year students refrain from running kindergartens. They would be better off working part-time, in several kindergartens, without full responsibility for a kindergarten."

Meital Cohen, a trainee completing her final year at Kibbutzim College, has first-hand experience: "I began working as a part-time teacher this year, because I knew it would be difficult for me to complete my studies while working full-time running a kindergarten," she said. "Unfortunately, two months ago the 'leading' teacher died and I had to replace her running the kindergarten.

"One can't compare working part-time and running a kindergarten," Cohen says. "Now I hardly have time for my studies because I'm busy preparing activities and talking to parents. It's very difficult and my studies suffer. I'm sorry I agreed to do it," she added.

The plan to recruit pensioners was mocked by Tali Carver, a kindergarten teacher from Petah Tikva who retired recently after 35 years. "I am one of those who retired after enjoying my work, and still I can say unequivocally: retired kindergarten teachers don't want to return to work. Do you know how many kindergarten teachers in Petah Tikva submitted retirement requests for next year? They're already completely fed up," said Carver.

"We won't have the full picture until the end of March," explains Michal Cohen, deputy director of the Education Ministry. "At this point we're making preliminary preparations. Apart from the natural growth, we will have to find 1,000 more teachers. We have to use our full personnel potential to staff the new kindergartens, and as a last resort, we'll ask retired teachers to return, as well as teachers who completed their studies but didn't start working in kindergartens," she said.

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