Levinsky College - Tomer Appelbaum - January 2012
Students at Tel Aviv’s Levinsky College learning how to teach math to toddlers who attend the college’s in-house preschool. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Some 1,500 new kindergartens will be built over the coming year, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced this week, but teachers' colleges say there is a shortage of preschool teachers as it is - never mind filling the new positions that will be created.

The new preschools will be built, at a total cost of NIS 1.3 billion, as part of a law mandating free education from the age of 3 years.

Officials at the country's teacher training colleges say 2,500 new preschool teachers will be needed in order to implement the government's promise in full - 1,500 of them in time for the 2012-2013 school year. But according to a survey conducted by Haaretz this week, two weeks before the start of kindergarten registration for September, neither the Education Ministry nor any other state agency has contacted teacher training colleges about coordination.

"There aren't even 500 new kindergarten teachers who are available to work next year," said Prof. Tamar Ariav, who heads the council of academic colleges and is president of Beit Berl College. "There'll be an academically certified preschool teacher in every kindergarten on September 1? What is their basis for saying this? If they work out a five-year plan together with us, with budgets allocated to marketing and recruitment, and everything built the way it should be, there's a hope of getting it going in another five years," Ariav said.

"This is an amazing example of the disconnect between the decision makers and the people in the field. Where will we get the professors, where will the money to pay for training so many more preschool teachers come from?" Ariav said, adding that there is already a serious shortage of kindergarten teachers.

"It makes it hard for teachers to retire early and is the reason for the constant rise in the number of children in each kindergarten - up to 35, with one teacher and one teaching assistant - a completely unacceptable ratio for children of that age," Ariav said.

According to the colleges' governing council, a total of about 4,000 students are enrolled in kindergarten-teacher programs, in courses of from two to four years. At best, around 1,000 graduates each year are absorbed into the existing system.

Ariav emphasized that teaching colleges don't have the resources to expand their early childhood education enrollment even if they wanted to. "We welcome the cabinet decision, but it's important to plan ahead," she said.

"The budgetary problems of the teaching colleges are enormous and chronic," Oranim Academic College president Prof. Yair Caro said. "It takes suitable equipment and resources to train good preschool teachers, and significant scholarships to aid and attract greater numbers of good students," he said.

On Wednesday the Union of Local Authorities in Israel sent a letter to Sa'ar and to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz demanding additional state funding to cover the costs of building and operating the promised new kindergartens. "Without this we will find it difficult to begin implementing the plan to open new kindergartens in September," the letter said.

The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment and referred Haaretz to the Finance Ministry, which said in a statement that the full costs of implementation have been considered and budgeted. "We are aware of the practical challenges, both in terms of construction and staffing, and the Education Ministry is working hard to find both short- and long-term solutions," the statement said.