The recent Education Ministry directive requiring preschools in Jewish areas of the country to begin each week by raising the Israeli flag and singing the national anthem has sparked a great deal of criticism among both teachers and parents.

"It's brainwashing," said Avivit, a nursery school teacher in Ramat Gan yesterday, adding: "In my opinion, there are things that are a lot more important in the children's education at that age. If they want children who love the Land of Israel, the way to achieve this is not by singing the anthem and raising the flag."

Inbar, a mother of a 3-year-old enrolled at a Ramat Gan preschool, said children at that age still did not have a formed individual identity and it was unreasonable to require them to shape their national identities too.

The Education Ministry directive was sent to principals in April as part of an effort to strengthen the children's Zionist and Jewish identities and improve their educational achievements; but Hagit Gur-Ziv, an education counselor at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College in Tel Aviv, said in response: "There's no problem turning preschool children in Israel into parrots, children who know a text by heart that they cannot understand."

She added: "It's an insult to the State of Israel that of all of its values and many achievements, its education leaders choose to attribute value only to one almost technical national aspect involving symbols."

It reminded her of education in a totalitarian society, Gur-Ziv said.

Service education bill okayed

In other education news, the Knesset yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill sponsored by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ) that would make it mandatory to educate the children of the country about the importance of military service or alternative national or civilian service.

The bill had the support of the government and of Education Ministry Gideon Sa'ar in particular.