Kids in a kindergarten
Kids in a kindergarten. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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A new Education Ministry study shows a strong correlation between attendance in preschool and scholastic achievement in Israel.

The study, by the ministry's national authority for measurement and evaluation in education (known by its Hebrew acronym, RAMA ), was based on analysis of Israeli data in OECD reports. In December 2010, the OECD released the findings of its Program for International Student Assessment. The findings (based on 2009 figures ) emphasized that in virtually all developed countries, pupils who reported that they attended preschool had higher results than peers who say they were never enrolled in preschool establishments.

The findings suggested that the gap separating reading achievements of students who attended preschool compared to those who did not is highest in Israel. Concerned about this conclusion, RAMA decided to carry out its study.

The PISA findings are compiled every three years, and do not measure knowledge acquired directly in school. Instead, PISA probes a pupil's general orientation in core curriculum subjects. The OECD's goal in these surveys is to examine the extent to which 15- to 16-year-olds acquired basic learning tools, and have educational orientation sufficient to cope inquisitively with their surroundings.

Findings relating to Israel show that the 122-point gap between reading achievements of pupils who attended preschool and of those who did not, is the highest in the world. Even when socioeconomic parameters are filtered, the gap in Israel remains wide, and totals 91 points.

Large gaps have also been measured in math and sciences: in the sciences, the gap between students who attended preschool and those who did not is 115 points; in math, the gap is 111 points. These measurements are based on self-reporting made by 5,506 pupils, who were analyzed in two categories of Arabic-speaking schools and Hebrew-language schools.

When the results were broken down and analyzed in these two - Arabic and Hebrew - groups, the gaps appeared to reduce. In Hebrew-language schools, the gap between students who attended preschool and those who did not comes to 50 points; in Arabic-language schools, the figure is 45 points.

The RAMA study points to a major gap in terms of involvement in preschool education in the two sectors. A vast majority, 86 percent, of Hebrew-speaking children attended preschool for longer than a year; the figure among Arab-speaking children is 35 percent. Just 2 percent of Hebrew-speaking pupils never attended preschool; the figure among Arabic speakers is 16 percent.

RAMA's study reveals that there is considerable difference between official education ministry figures on preschool education, and what members of the Arabic-speaking community themselves report.

"Official ministry statistics do not accord with the situation in the field among Arabic-speaking pupils," RAMA's report concludes. While the authority established that 16 percent of Arab-speaking schoolchildren never attended preschool, official ministry data points to a figure of just 4 percent.

The authority's analysis concludes that since in Israel most children who never attended preschool are from the Arab community, PISA results among Arabic-speaking students are lower by some 100 points than those of Hebrew-speaking pupils.

RAMA recommends that attendance in preschool frameworks should be more closely monitored, particularly in the Arab sector. In addition, first-grade classrooms should have special plans regarding new pupils who never attended preschool.